Midseason review: Stanford

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Stanford is clearly a much improved under Jim Harbaugh, but it's still struggling to make the next step as a program -- see three painful road losses that doused high expectations.

The Cardinal started with a decisive win at Washington State and then led homestanding Wake Forest 17-3 at half. They looked like a physically imposing team on both sides of the ball at that point.

But Wake Forest figured out how to pressure the defense with superior speed on the perimeter and came back to win 24-17. That would become the blueprint for beating the Cardinal.

San Jose State, Washington and UCLA couldn't, however, figure out how to do that, and three consecutive victories had Stanford on the cusp of a national ranking for the first time since 2001. Running back Toby Gerhart was getting Heisman Trophy hype.

But Oregon State quickly ended that, jumping the Cardinal for a 31-7 advantage at halftime before coasting home. A heartbreaking loss the next weekend at Arizona has Stanford's bowl hopes in question, considering the rugged schedule ahead.

The good news is Stanford has good young talent, topped by redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck. The Cardinal seems to be trending up. The issue is how much of that upward trend will be realized this year.

Offensive MVP: Gerhart ranks first in the conference and fifth in the nation with 124 yards rushing per game. His 12 touchdowns rank second only to Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers (13). His powerful style is complemented by good feet and surprising speed. If the NFL had questions about him, it seems he's probably answered many of them.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Clinton Snyder has started 42 of 43 games over the past four seasons, so he's a mainstay in the middle of the Stanford defense. He's tied for third in the Pac-10 with 56 tackles -- 8.0 per game. He's also got a sack, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.