Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey speaks at the Pac-12 NCAA college football media day in Los Angeles Friday, July 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Reed Saxon
July 15, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) All it took was three Pac-12 titles in four years for Stanford to finally get the nod in the preseason media poll.

It marked a first for the Cardinal in the 56-year history of the poll, having previously never been slotted higher than second in the Pac-12 North in the five seasons since adding divisional play and a title game, a span that coincides with head coach David Shaw's tenure.

The newfound admiration is taking a little getting used to.

''It truly shows that you have no idea what you are doing,'' Shaw jokingly told reporters Friday.

''It feels strange,'' defensive lineman Solomon Thomas said. ''We're thankful for that, but we're just going to keep our head down and have that tunnel vision.''

After years of finding reasons not to vote Stanford in the top spot ranging from the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh to the exit of quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal seemingly have earned the benefit of the doubt despite losing four-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan, three dominant offensive linemen and stalwart inside linebacker Blake Martinez. Shaw pointed to the back of the ballroom on the fifth floor of the Hollywood and Highland complex, where running back Christian McCaffrey was holding court, as the reason for that confidence.

''It's a sign of respect and I think it has a lot to do with the guy in the back left corner of the building there, but once we start practicing and playing games, all of that goes away,'' Shaw said.

McCaffrey was the undisputed star of the otherwise sleepy Pac-12 media days, with last season's Heisman Trophy runner-up detailing everything from his encounter with pro wrestler Ric Flair at the ESPY Awards earlier in the week - ''I just shook his hand. I didn't whoo. I couldn't get it out.'' - to his pet potbellied pig named Tarance.

''He died of obesity,'' McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey shredded Iowa for a Rose Bowl-record 368 all-purpose yards in Stanford's dominating 45-16 win, finishing his sophomore season with 2,019 yards rushing. Shaw expects opposing defenses to focus on McCaffrey, especially as redshirt senior Ryan Burns or redshirt junior Keller Chryst settles in at quarterback, but believes the presence of other returning skill position players could allow him to surpass his record-setting season.

''That's why you have a great team,'' Shaw said. ''Having all those guys around him with experience, with playing ability . helps Christian be what Christian can be and maybe make him even more dangerous knowing that he has more dangerous guys around him.''

And while the Pac-12 negotiated for earlier television broadcast windows to avoid the stretch of late-night games Stanford had to play last season, McCaffrey had no interest in the idea that Heisman voters right actually see him play rather than just looking at highlights and box scores.

''As far as exposure goes, I could care less,'' McCaffrey said. ''Whether I have the greatest season ever and everybody sees it or I have the worst season ever and no one sees it, if I'm playing football that'll bring me peace and that's where I am happy.''

That mentality of never being satisfied has been a constant during Stanford's football renaissance. McCaffrey said the underdog attitude that permeated the locker room and caught his eye as a recruit is still there, even coming off a conference championship and the expectations of winning another.

''Nothing's changed,'' McCaffrey said.

Maintaining such commitment might allow Stanford to avoid continuing the dubious history of the preseason media poll. Only two of the previous nine selections actually won the Pac-12 that season.

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