Stanford's long wait ends tomorrow

Tomorrow is the judgment day

Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store!

One more dawn

One more day

One day more!

-- Ensemble, "Les Miserables"

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Even as the sweet and sticky nectar of orange was trickling down the bearded chins of Stanford’s football players, on their lips, they still had the sour taste of duck. The Ducks. It was the lone stain on an otherwise Clorox’d season. The black eye on their runway-model complexion.

Not even a victory in the Orange Bowl last season -- one of the prestigious BCS bowl games -- was enough to satisfy those who would return for another season and another chance to face Oregon.

So here we are. One year, one month and nine days later. Just 35 hours to go. One more day. One more day until we learn whether Stanford is truly ready to skyrocket itself into national legitimacy. Or whether the Cardinal are what the rest of the country thinks they are -- a cute little story with an overhyped quarterback that will get its comeuppance when it finally plays a "real" team.

"It's not just some pill that we are going to take or something that we listen to on an iPod that will all of a sudden get us pumped up and make us ready," said Stanford cornerback Johnson Bademosi. "This is all about preparations we've made throughout the offseason and in the preseason. We've been evolving. We're prepared for this."

Since David Shaw was given the keys to Stanford, he's been subtly directing his players' eyes on the biggest prize -- taking down the Oregon Ducks.

There are little things -- like during spring ball, when the team would break from a practice, in lieu of the usual "Team!" or "Stanford!" it would be "Beat Oregon!" During individual workouts, sometimes the defense would have the offense run a little spread-option, just to work on angles.

On more than one occasion during the course of his weekly meetings with the media, Shaw made indirect references to Oregon:

  • "These are the sorts of things you have to do to beat the best team in the league."

  • "This is what the best team in the league does, so it's what we have to do better."

We know Shaw can play chess and think moves ahead. He admitted as much following the USC game, explaining why he kept his starters in during some early-season blowouts. It was to prepare them in the event they play a physically and emotionally taxing game. The USC game was.

Tomorrow could prove likewise.

It's one of the reasons the Cardinal have a no-huddle, hurry-up offense of their own. Yes, they have the quarterback to run it in Andrew Luck. But it's also another thing Oregon has to prepare for. Stanford might never run a single no-huddle play the entire game -- but you know Oregon had to take time away from prepping for Stanford's base offense to study up.

Stanford might not run a single play out of the Wildcat this week. But you know Oregon had to dedicate time this week to preparing for the possibility that Tyler Gaffney will work at least a few plays out of the shotgun.

Same with the handful of gadget plays we've seen from the Cardinal's offense this year. The more there is on film, the more time someone has to spend studying it.

Shaw has been taking indirect steps every week to prepare his team for this game.

For the players, it's a relief to be able to say the "O" word.

"We finally get to talk about [Oregon]," said safety Michael Thomas. "We've been preparing for this since the last time we played them."

One year, one month and nine days to let anger and frustration marinate. Just one more day.

Always the image of poise, Luck said last year's game, where the Cardinal led 21-3 before falling 52-31, is not a factor for him.

"I try to put it out of my memory," Luck said. "To me, it was last year. Maybe some guys will use it as revenge. But last year really has no bearing on this year -- teams we beat, teams we lost to -- it's a new year and I approach it like that."

If that's true, he has even more poise than we thought. Some of his teammates weren't as composed.

"It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth," said running back Stepfan Taylor.

Added wide receiver Griff Whalen: "You don't ever want to feel like that."

Even the younger players who are expected to play big roles in tomorrow's game felt the charge this week in practice.

"The older guys are putting something out there -- I can't describe it -- but it's something," said linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who redshirted last season. "We're feeding off it. I don't know what it is, but you get it."

Tomorrow will be one year, one month and 10 days since the Stanford Cardinal last lost a football game. That's a long time. A long time to go undefeated. An even longer time to lament the mistakes of the past.

In just 60 minutes tomorrow, Stanford can erase 584,640 minutes of heartbreak. And change the opinion of a nation.