This article is part of our Summer Stock series, a three-week look at the programs generating the most buzz coming out of spring practice.
Consistency and continuity are key factors for programs at the top of the college football world. There are some surprises each fall, but the contenders for the BCS championship game don't come out of nowhere. Each of the participants in the past 10 title games has been ranked in the top 20 of the Program FEI (PFEI) ratings heading into the year. Program FEI measures possession efficiency over a five-year stretch, evidence that it takes time to build a program that can contend for the ultimate prize.
The Stanford Cardinal sit just outside that top-20 PFEI threshold heading into the 2011 season, but no other program is on as positive a trajectory. Stanford's spectacular 2010 campaign featured a school-record 12 victories, eight of which were by at least three touchdowns. Last season helped the Cardinal leap 32 spots in the PFEI ratings, the best single-season bump in 10 years. The next-best leap made by a program in recent history belongs to Alabama from 2007 to 2008 (24 spots) -- which just so happened to set the stage for the Crimson Tide's championship run in 2009.
Departed head coach Jim Harbaugh led the program's ascension over the past four seasons, but now former offensive coordinator David Shaw takes the reins. Has a foundation been built in Palo Alto for Stanford's program to remain on the rise?