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Watching the USC/Stanford game on Versus. The spread is 40 1/2 in most of Vegas, 41 at Stations. Over/under is 57 1/2 in Nevada, 58 on the Internet.

It appears Stanford is not intimidated by the number 1 or number 2 (depending on the poll) team in the nation. The Cardinal are tackling crisply and blocking with power. USC has been on my watch list since they played Washington and squeezed out an ugly 27-24 win. So, going in, I didn't think they'd cover. I thought they were good for a 17-, 14-point win.

Incredibly, Stanford is in this game. They've playing well and every break has gone their way. The last 13 seconds in the first half is the game's major tell. The Trojans are up, 9-zip, have 4th down on the Stanford one-yard line. USC tries a run-off right tackle and Stanford holds!

I'm interested in Stanford this year because of their head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who, until ten months ago, was the head coach at the University of San Diego. Harbaugh got a battlefield promotion from a non-scholarship Division II football program to the Division I, Pac-10 beauty section.

That happens about as frequently as your cable company lowers its rates. So, the question of the moment is, "What the deal with Harbaugh?"

He played college ball at Michigan, started all four years, finished third in the 1986 Heisman vote. He was drafted in the first round, 26th pick, by Chicago in '87. Played for the Bears, Indianapolis, Baltimore, two years with the Chargers, and Carolina. His career lasted 15 years, which is rare by NFL standards -- extremely rare for NFL quarterbacks.

I didn't like Harbaugh as a quarterback. I pegged him as a little north of mediocre, just good enough for a team to keep him and hope, rather than go to the draft or free agency and try for a quarterback who could make a difference.

Harbaugh was voted to the Pro Bowl once, awarded Comeback Player of the Year and AFC Player of the Year. But it was his life after NFL World that intrigued me.

Retired NFL players usually drift into some form of sales: beer distributorships, front man for a real estate developer, automobile dealership, financial services, and so on. Harbaugh went to work for his father, who was head football coach at Western Kentucky. He was an unpaid assistant coach. In fact, he was an unpaid assistant coach during his last eight NFL seasons. Among other duties, he scouted and recruited high school players. Picture him courting high-school prima donnas with phone calls, e-mails, letters, camping out in the family living room, charming mom, dad, and wunderkind, all the time selling the glory that is Western Kentucky University. Eight years of it. (By the way, WKU won the Division I-AA national championship in 2002, the year Harbaugh took a job with the Oakland Raiders.)

There are other parts to him I like: Harbaugh Hill Foundation, the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children, the Jim Harbaugh Foundation, and the Uhlich's Children's Home. And, just to even out all that goodness, he's part owner of Panther Racing, an Indy Racing League team and two-time IRL champion.

I mentioned he went back to the NFL as Raiders offensive assistant coach in 2002. He took the University of San Diego coaching job before the 2004 football season began, which is where I picked up his story.

USD seemed like a strange choice. The Toreros play football (but no other sport) in the Pioneer League, which is an odd-duck conference. It's a Division I-AA football league, consisting of eight teams scattered in California, Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida. Not one of its schools award football scholarships.

Under Harbaugh, San Diego won the Pioneer Football League Championship twice, and was NCAA Division I-AA Mid-Major National Football Champion. In other words, USD is number one when measured against other non-football scholarship schools.

Not bad, but not the best of it either. USD has been ranked as high as 15th in the Division I-AA CSN Coaches Poll. That's a big deal. Harbaugh went up against every scholarship-bloated I-AA college in the land. Big schools. Big stadiums.

Here are the latest CSN Coaches Poll rankings: Number 1 is University of North Dakota (Great West Conference, undergraduate enrollment is 12,026, in-state tuition $4360). Number 2 is University of Montana (Big Sky Conference, undergraduate enrollment 11,280, in-state tuition $4712). Number 21 is Georgia Southern University (Southern Conference, undergraduate enrollment 12,648, in-state tuition $1842). All these schools award scholarships even WKU, his dad's college, had 63 football scholarships at its disposal.

University of San Diego's undergraduate enrollment is 4,793, zero football scholarships, in-state tuition of $30,704.

You know he can recruit, you know he can coach, and now Stanford knows it. I wonder if SDSU knows it.

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