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Stanford seniors set elevated standard in football

May go down as best class in Cardinal football

For Shayne Skov and his fellow seniors, it's been a long, interesting trip from recruiting trips to Rose Bowl redux. Stanford's 38-14 victory over Arizona State on Saturday put this group of seniors in rarefied air.

The seniors For Shayne Skov and his fellow seniors, it's been a long, interesting trip from recruiting trips to Rose Bowl redux. Stanford's 38-14 victory over Arizona State on Saturday put this group of seniors in rarefied air. The seniors may go down as the best class in Cardinal football victory.

Linebacker Skov and his fellow seniors were recruited on the heels of Stanford's worst football season ever. It took a leap of faith to commit to a program that had recorded seven consecutive losing seasons.

On the eve of his final college game, Skov reflected on the 1-year recruiting process that allowed them to get to know each other well.

"As the recruiting process went on we became a close-knit group," Slov said Sunday, when the fifth-ranked Cardinal (11-2) officially accepted its invitation to play No. 5 Michigan State (12-1) in the Rose Bowl at 1:30 p.m. on New Year's Day. "We gained confidence within the group of us that we were going to play in a BCS bowl game. It was a matter of getting the ball rolling."

Over the past four years, Stanford has played in the Sun Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl. That's a pretty nice collection of bowl games, something that seemed so foreign before Jim Harbaugh took over in 2007 and what David Shaw has continued.

"I remember going to a bowl game my first year and how all the guys who came before us were so ecstatic being bowl eligible for the first time," Skov said. "We've held on to that same desire. No one takes anything for granted. We've set standards for ourselves that have become such that there's a genuine sense of being upset for not winning a title."

Shaw said the senior class can stake its claim as the best ever at Stanford. With a record of 46-7 and appearances in four BCS bowl games, it's a legitimate claim. The previous four-year best was a combined 37-4-1 mark between 1913-16.

"We're talking about unprecedented things," Shaw said. "They lost one game at home. It's a phenomenal group, a bit legendary. They don't have a nickname yet but I'm sure the will. There has not been a class like this ever at this school."

Michigan State and Stanford last met in the 1996 Sun Bowl under Tyrone Willingham, a game the Cardinal won, 38-0, featuring quarterback Chad Hutchinson and fullback Jon Ritchie.

Hutchinson, who also played baseball for Stanford, played briefly in the major leagues (St. Louis Cardinals) and then came back to play briefly in the NFL (Dallas Cowboys). Ritchie played with the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cardinal owns a two-game winning streak against the Spartans, also winning in 1962. Michigan State won the first three meetings between the schools in a series that began in 1955.

"It's going to be my last game, the 100th Rose Bowl," Skov said. "It's incredible. Three weeks ago we didn't know where we were headed. To be here now, I'm feeling incredibly fortunate."

The Cardinal beat Oregon on Nov. 7 to gain the inside track into the Pac-12 title game, but a loss at USC the following week knocked Stanford out of the championship race.

While Stanford was beating California in the Big Game, Arizona was busy beating Oregon, putting the Cardinal back in the conference title game.

Stanford took advantage of its second chance, beating Arizona State, 38-14, on Saturday.

"We always talk about winning championships," Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey. "Doing it again is even harder. We got to the Pac-12 title game like we wanted."

The Cardinal will take most of the week off to concentrate on resting bodies and taking finals. Linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who knocked heads with safety Ed Reynolds, failed to pass a concussion test and missed the end of the Sun Devils game.

Shaw said Tarpley should be fine by the time the team leaves for Pasadena on Dec. 26. Reynolds was determined to be OK and finished the game.

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