Making the big plays in the big games, that’s what greatness is about. Beyond numbers and stats. Kevin Hogan, a freshman quarterback who took over the starting role midway through the 2012 season for Stanford, was also the man who won them the game, the Pac-12 Championship and a rare berth to the Rose Bowl.

It’s been over a decade since Stanford went to the Rose Bowl, also winning their last conference championship under Ty Willingham. Even Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh, as successful as they were together, couldn’t change that. Quite surprisingly, second year head coach David Shaw (who went to the Fiesta Bowl last year) and freshman Kevin Hogan are the names written under Stanford’s 13th conference championship.

There wasn’t much excitement in the state of California over the game, with only 60% of the seats being filled at Stanford stadium. The Cardinal, one of the best defensive teams in the nation, beating UCLA 35-17 just last week, had trouble from the start. They allowed 129 rushing yards in the first quarter, more than they’ve allowed in any quarter against anyone this season. They couldn’t stop Johnathan Franklin, who finished the game with 194 yards and two touchdowns.

One turnover by quarterback Brett Hundley set up a Stanford touchdown, which seemed to be the difference in the 27-24 win by the Cardinal, who were chasing the Bruins for most of the game. Stepfan Taylor was handled well by the Bruins, who kept Stanford at 4 yards per carry. But they couldn’t completely contain Hogan, who finished with 155 yards on 16-22 passing, including the touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to small wide receiver Drew Terrell that tied the game at 24, setting up the stage for Jordan Williamson to kick the winning field goal.

Hogan also ran for 47 yards on 11 carries, including a touchdown in the first quarter that put Stanford on the board for the first time in the game. His heroics, along with the defense playing like most of the season during the second half, ensured Stanford went on to win an 11th game for the third season in a row, making it to a third consecutive BCS Bowl game.

Even more than the rise of Hogan, coming out of nowhere midway through the season to provide some stability at quarterback instead of the disappointing Nunes, this win and this season shows just how good Stanford have become once again. Three years of success, despite the talent that left. Stanford players and head complain about never being appreciated, but they’re a constant figure in the top 10 for the past couple of years.

Is this the signal of change in the Pac-12? Oregon are still probably the better team, and with their 11-1 season will go to a BCS Bowl, regardless of not winning the conference. Stanford aren’t going to be the favorites next year to win the North division, and you never know how long this USC dry spell in the South is going to last. Probably not very long.

For now, Stanford have a Rose Bowl, in which they’ll be the favorites, regardless of the opposition – Nebraska or Wisconsin. They have one of the best defenses in the nation, playing with a chip on their shoulder, and a Freshman quarterback who keeps throwing surprises at everyone, showing us this program, an elite program, is here to stay for a few more years.

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