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Originally published Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh sees bright future for Cardinal

Last season, Stanford upset USC, a 41-point favorite, and beat rival California. Coach Jim Harbaugh says that is just the beginning of good things to come for the Cardinal.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Cardinal at a glance

2007: 4-8. Pac-10: 3-6.

2008 Pac-10 media pick: 9th.

Playmakers: C Alex Fletcher, WR Richard Sherman, LB Clinton Snyder, S Bo McNally.

Worth noting: Well-traveled Ron Lynn, whose most recent jobs were in the NFL, is co-defensive coordinator with Andy Buh, previously linebackers coach; Stanford had four different defensive coordinators in the past four seasons. ... Stanford hasn't had a back top the 524-yard rushing mark since 2001.

Pac-10 previews

For a while there, the tendency was to look at Jim Harbaugh, the Stanford football coach, and conclude he might be a little ... well, crazy.

Hardly had he hung photographs on walls in his new office in 2007 when he proclaimed he had it on good information that Pete Carroll, dreadnought-in-headphones of the Pac-10, was going to hang 'em up as USC coach after last season.

Harbaugh was so upbeat, he made Dick Vitale look gloomy. He looked the part of a refugee from a Division I-AA program (San Diego) who might not know what he was getting into.

Well, Harbaugh struck out on the Carroll prognostication. But his team did the next-best thing, dropping a who'd-a-thunk-it 24-23 upset on the Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The 41-point betting spread before the game makes it the largest documented shocker in the history of college football.

A few weeks later, Harbaugh's first Stanford team had also thwarted California, 20-13. Beat USC and the Bears every year, and a Stanford coach could keep his job for some time. The last guy to do it was Tyrone Willingham in 2001, right before he made the ill-conceived leap to Notre Dame.

So now, we need to pay more attention when Harbaugh waxes weird, as he did recently.

"Sometimes I go by, and hear the weights clanking and the chalk flying," he said almost mystically, referring to his players working out. "Guys come in and watch extra tape. I see guys being more accountable — watching what they put in their bodies and with decisions they make off the field.

"All those thousand little things everybody thinks are insignificant end up being significant. I can feel something special going on with our team."

Indeed, the Cardinal is chugging Harbaugh's Kool-Aid.

"Coach Harbaugh being here has just changed the mind-set of everybody," standout center Alex Fletcher said.

Tavita Pritchard, the junior quarterback from Clover Park High School in Lakewood who helped engineer that USC upset, vouches for the beehive of iron-pumping.

"It was a sight to see this summer, people in the weight room, just staying late," Pritchard said. "By the last couple of weeks, we had strength coaches kicking us out of the weight room. They've got to go home — they've got families, too."

It is hard to pinpoint the athletic equivalent of what Pritchard pulled off Oct. 6. He had completed one college pass and was making his first start against the Trojans. Pritchard was a mere 11 of 30 for 149 yards, but was money on a clinching, comeback drive.

"You don't want to dwell on the past," he said. "It's kind of water under the bridge. At the same time, you know what you're capable of."

Pritchard finished the season with modest numbers — five touchdown passes, nine interceptions and 50 percent completions. But he appears to have nosed out sophomore Alex Loukas and Michigan transfer Jason Forcier for the starting job against Oregon State in seven days.

Harbaugh says he wanted Pritchard to become thicker physically, and he stacked on about 15 pounds in the weight room. Throwing accuracy was another mandate, and Pritchard tried to address that as well — some of it recently on a field in Seattle's Magnolia area.

There, his uncle, ex-Washington State great Jack Thompson, helped school Pritchard and Washington State quarterback Gary Rogers. Pritchard drove up from Tacoma, Rogers down from Mukilteo.

"Boy, those are two really impressive quarterbacks," Thompson said earlier this week.

As for Pritchard's weight gain, Thompson jokingly said, "His Samoan genes need to come out a little more than they have been. He's so slender. But he's definitely thicker than he was. He's looking really good."

Harbaugh said he believes the strength of the team in is the lines, usually a good place to start. Fletcher, second-team All-Pac-10 last year, is the best offensive lineman.

The defense has nine starters back, led by end Pannel Egboh, linebacker Clinton Snyder and safety Bo McNally.

Stanford has the look of a team that could be better than the ninth-place forecast of Pac-10 media.

Said Harbaugh, "I don't know if I've ever been as excited for a football season as this one."

Unless it was the last one.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Schedule
All times Pacific
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 28 vs. Oregon St. 6 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Arizona St. 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at TCU 4 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. San Jose St. 6 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Washington 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Notre Dame 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Arizona 2 p.m.
Oct. 18 at UCLA 1 p.m.
Nov. 1 vs. Wash. St. TBA
Nov. 8 at Oregon TBA
Nov. 15 vs. USC 4 p.m.
Nov. 22 at California TBA

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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