Stanford, as a university, is the home of innovation and cutting-edge thinking.

Stanford, as a football program, is the home of traditionalism and cutting off right tackle.

I confirmed this again Tuesday, as the new college season approaches. I asked Cardinal coach David Shaw if he had ever considered switching from the team's longtime prostyle West Coast offense to the spread offense that is all the rage in college football today.

"No," Shaw said quickly, then twitched his neck a bit. "You just kind of gave me the shivers there."

Really, you'd have to call this one of the great cultural anomalies in sports:

Here is Stanford football, located in whiz-bang Silicon Valley full of revolutionary technology.

Here is Stanford football, playing in the whiz-bang Pacific-12 Conference full of wild flash-and-dash-and-fling offensive attacks.

And yet here is Stanford football, running basically the same offense that Shaw first learned when he played wide receiver for the Cardinal in the early '90s. If the Stanford offense were a mobile device, it would still be a pager.

Of course, if a pager still gets the job done, why buy an iPhone?

"I ran the spread in high school," quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "It was fun. But I like what our offense does here. ... I've talked to guys from other schools, and they're in awe of what we do. ... We like to line up and tell you we're running the ball and tell you where we're running it and see if you can stop it."


Advertisement

The answer is almost always no. That's a big reason why Stanford, once more, is ranked so high in preseason polls -- No. 6 by the Sporting News, No. 11 by Associated Press, No. 12 by Athlon. The only other schools that have won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons are Alabama, Florida State and Oregon.

The Stanford defense is also a big factor in the team's success. But the offense is responsible for the scoreboard numbers trending in the right direction. Last season, Stanford gained 2,904 yards on the ground, best in school history.

Shaw enjoys defending the offense to folks who suggest that Stanford is in danger of becoming too predictable or stuck in a rut. He notes that his offensive philosophy was developed while he either played or served as an assistant coach for the likes of Bill Walsh, Dennis Green, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden.

None of them, you may recall, was considered a conservative football fundamentalist.

"I call myself a West Coast purist," Shaw said. "But there are principles of the spread offense that can be found in the West Coast offense. ... If you're a longtime 49er watcher, as I am, you can look back and see that every year Bill Walsh was there, he did something a little different in terms of the way he used the personnel and the way he attacked defenses."

And so it will be in 2014 for the Cardinal. But if there were ever a season when spread-offense principles might find a home at Stanford, it would appear to be this one. After the departure of big bell-cow runner Tyler Gaffney, Shaw has decided that the top backfield spot will be rotated among five smaller guys. Also, the Cardinal returns Hogan at quarterback along with a talented group of experienced wide receivers.

It sounds like a perfect setup to send out all of that skill into the secondary to find open spaces and have Hogan fire the ball. We could see some of that. But it seems we'll be looking at the grunt work still setting the tone.

The only other Pac-12 teams with prostyle offenses are USC and Oregon State. In most conferences, the ratio is the same. It makes you wonder how Shaw goes into living rooms and persuades quarterback and wideout recruits to sign up for four or five years of the Cardinal method.

"There are certain places that tout statistics," Shaw said. "We talk about preparing to play at the next level. The No. 1 question they often ask about quarterbacks is, can you read our NFL defenses? And that's all we train our quarterbacks to do."

Hogan, who has NFL ambitions, has never once been jealous of his spread-offense opponents -- for the same reason.

"If I'm lucky enough to have an opportunity at the next level, that should help me," he said.

Sadly, before Hogan could elaborate, his interview session was over and he left the room. I think he heard his pager buzzing.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.