List the school most likely to have two of the most physical players in college football.
Alabama under Nick Saban is the no-brainer favorite, right? LSU, USC and Florida State have to be on the short list, followed by other historic powers like Ohio State, Michigan and Texas?
Wrong. Stanford, the West Coast Ivy in Silicon Valley's backyard. Stanford, the program that suffered through the indignity of a 1-11 season in 2006, has two of Daniel Jeremiah's five most punishing players in the game in defensive end Ben Gardner and outside linebacker Trent Murphy. Stanford.
If that takes more than a moment to sink in, Cardinal head coach David Shaw understands.
"Changing perception is like turning a cruise ship, it's not going to be a tight turn. It's going to take a while," Shaw said at Pac-12 media day.
Maybe the problem is that Stanford doesn't have a natural recruiting base. It doesn't immediately bring to mind big boys from the South, corn-fed Midwesterners or sun-soaked Californians. Instead, the Cardinal must pull from across the country out of a pool of about 225 high school prospects that can meet the school's demanding academic requirements, including being admitted before ever signing a letter of intent.
"We're recruiting against geography because there is no one school that we are recruiting against all the time," Shaw said. "A great kid from Georgia, we're recruiting against Georgia. Great kid from Michigan, we're recruiting against Michigan and Ohio State. Great kids on the West Coast, we're recruiting against Oregon and SC, so for us we don't have one battle that is always going on."
That is reflected in the geographic make-up of Stanford's dominant defense. Murphy is from Arizona, Gardner a Wisconsin product. The projected starting front seven includes players from six states and Mexico.
And while that adds up to a lot of frequent flier miles for Shaw and his staff, it is an approach that has taken Stanford to three consecutive BCS bowls. Combine that with a demanding, physical style on both sides of the ball and Shaw sees a program that will remain in the national spotlight for the foreseeable future.
"Our hallmarks aren't going to change," Shaw said. "Our offensive line is going to determine how our team plays. Our front seven is going to show our attitude, the attitude that we play with."