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Pac-10 Q&A: Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

If you think Stanford plans to just give it the ol' college try Saturday against Oregon, you don't know coach Jim Harbaugh and the mindset he's installed at Stanford.

Notch an upset against the nation's No. 8 team? Settle for finding a sixth win at some point during a brutal home stretch against four ranked teams and obtain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2001? That's not what Harbaugh and his team are pondering.

The Cardinal (5-3, 4-2) are still thinking Pac-10 championship. They plan to beat the Ducks. Then they plan to win at USC (again!). Then beat rival California. Then Notre Dame.

It may not happen, but Harbaugh clearly has high expectations for his program, now and into the future.

He stopped by for a quick chat.

Got a note from a Stanford fan about your experiment with two-way players during spring and preseason practices: How many guys have seen action on both sides of the ball this season?

Jim Harbaugh: Owen Marecic (at fullback and linebacker), James McGillicuddy (offensive and defensive lines) and Richard Sherman (cornerback and receiver). So, three guys.

Did you guys back off that a little bit?

JH: It's the way it's always been -- you try to get the best players on the field. Some of them are contingency plans. If someone gets hurt, then you have someone prepared and trained at that position who might be your best player.

So, Oregon: What did you see from the USC game tape?

JH: A high level of execution. Fast tempo offensively. Physical defensively -- across the board. Special teams are outstanding. They're second in the country in kickoff returns. A secondary that tackles very well in space. No weak link. A very formidable team.

Any chance your guys will be intimidated by the Ducks?

JH: That question keeps getting asked but, no, I've never seen our guys intimidated.

You guys have established a reputation for physical football. Is the next step getting faster?

JH: You always want to get more physical, more athletic and faster. Stronger. Those are always things you are striving for.

That leads into my next question: How do you sell Stanford in recruiting?

JH: It really comes down to identifying what the youngster is looking for from his college experience. For someone to come to Stanford, they have to achieve as much as they possibly can academically and achieve as much as they can athletically. That's the perfect guy. If a guy just wants to achieve athletically and just kind of work his way through the academics -- not have to work as hard for that degree -- there are better places to go than Stanford. It's the idea of, 'You work hard now, you won't have to work as hard later in life.'

Quarterback Andrew Luck has impressed everyone thus far. What does he need to get better at?

JH: It's just playing the position. The experience. In terms of coaching him, he's one of those special guys who come along. Like [defensive back] Delano Howell, for instance. Delano was a freshman last year playing running back and receiver. I told the coaches, "Don't overcoach him. Don't ruin this guy. This guy is a football player and he is going to do things that are going to really amaze you.We don't want to coach that out of him." Similar but different with (Luck). The quarterback has to be coached. He has to be trained on the football side, the game plan side each week. But mechanically, physically, we're letting him play the position and learn as he plays. Does that makes sense? I don't want him to be a victim of over-coaching. Some guys with special talent, you've got to let them play. Therefore they learn how to play their game. That's where Andrew is making the most strides right now -- learning to play his game. He's a special talent.

You guys have four games remaining against ranked teams. You have to win one to become bowl-eligible. Do you use a bowl game as motivation? Do you sell that to your team?

JH: No. We're all about this is like an NFL playoff. That's the closest you can compare it to what we're going through. We're entering the wild-card weekend. You win, you stay eligible for the Rose Bowl. The championship. If we lose, then we're out of that. We know we've got games after this one, but that's our mentality. You win and you keep going, you stay eligible for the conference championship.

Big picture: No question Stanford has become a formidable team. How close are you guys to being a championship-quality team, that team that's going to be atop the Pac-10?

JH: I don't think there's been an opportunity like this in the last 10 years, like Stanford football has now, what we have this week. We have a chance to express what this team is and what it is all about.