Stanford head coach David Shaw, at left, celebrates with this team after a 27-24 win over UCLA during the Pac-12 championship NCAA college football game in
Stanford head coach David Shaw, at left, celebrates with this team after a 27-24 win over UCLA during the Pac-12 championship NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. The Cardinal (11-2) will play the winner of the Big Ten title game between Nebraska and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Who has the spotlight now?

For several hours Tuesday, a sporting nation's eyes will be on Stanford when the Pac-12 champion Cardinal plays Wisconsin in Rose Bowl.

There are few brighter spots -- or moments -- than this one for any football team, in any year.

But this is not a limited engagement on the grand stage for Stanford football, not by any measurement.

In big and lasting ways, the Cardinal program has stretched out, grabbed at glory and expanded its influence across the sport.

The 2013 Rose Bowl is not a one-off for Stanford -- it's a glittery capstone for a program making its mark everywhere you look. Among the highlights:

  • The Cardinal is only one of three teams -- along with Oregon and Wisconsin -- to reach a Bowl Championship Series game in each of the last three seasons.

    In the same span, traditional powers Notre Dame and Oklahoma have reached the BCS once apiece, and USC and UCLA have failed to make it to a BCS game.

  • Stanford produced 2012 NFL No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, who led the Indianapolis Colts into the playoffs this year after the team finished 1-15 last season.

    "Andrew is so excited right now," Stanford coach David Shaw said at a Rose Bowl news conference in Los Angeles last week.

    "It's the one negative about making the playoffs is he can't come to the Rose Bowl."

  • The string of successes started in 2007 when Stanford hired now-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who revived the Cardinal before taking his Stanford mojo -- and winning style -- to the NFL before the 2011 season.

  • Shaw, Harbaugh's replacement, is a Stanford alumnus. He just signed a long-term extension and appears to be staying for a while, while so many other coaches seem ready to leave their programs at the next big offer.

    Stanford’s David Shaw confers with a referee in the fourth quarter at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. The
    Stanford's David Shaw confers with a referee in the fourth quarter at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. The Stanford Cardinal beat the USC Trojans, 21-14. (Jim Gensheimer/Staff) ( Jim Gensheimer )

    Stanford hasn't won a national title and hasn't won a Heisman Trophy in the last half-decade of rising glory, but it has been close.

    Running back Toby Gerhart finished second in the 2009 Heisman race, and Luck finished second in 2010 and 2011.

    Those players have gone, Harbaugh has gone, and yes, Stanford (11-2 this season, its first conference title since the 1999 season) might only be getting better.

    "I know the nation still doesn't really buy into Stanford football, but sooner or later they will when they realize we don't go away," linebacker Shayne Shov told reporters in L.A.

    "Everyone counted us out when Harbaugh left, when Gerhart left and when Andrew Luck left. To keep coming back, that's the style we are. We don't rebuild, we just replace."

    Stanford coach David Shaw leads his team as they take the field at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. The Stanford
    Stanford coach David Shaw leads his team as they take the field at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. The Stanford Cardinal played the USC Trojans. (Jim Gensheimer/Staff) ( Jim Gensheimer )

    That is not the way it used to be for Stanford, of course.

    There have been intermittent great seasons, great coaches and great players through the decades, from Jim Plunkett to John Elway to Bill Walsh.

    But even then, all the greatness was mixed with long stretches of mediocrity or worse.

    But Harbaugh's arrival came with a new universitywide commitment to the football program, including a friendlier climate for admissions.

    Stanford decided it wanted the football team to win, and it hired the right men -- Harbaugh, and then Shaw (Harbaugh's offensive coordinator) -- to make it happen.

    If this continues, Stanford football could make itself into a West Coast version of Mike Krzyzewski's Duke basketball empire, both respected and feared, equally victorious and admired.

    "Is this a chance to elevate on that next level? We think we're there," Shaw said at the news conference.

    "We've elevated ourselves based on how we've played. ... So for us, this is just an opportunity."

    Harbaugh was the perfect guy to start it and transfer his energy to other places, and Shaw was the perfect man to extend and improve the journey.

    What's the Cardinal formula? As the trend in college football has pushed toward going small, using speed, trickery and the spread formation, Harbaugh installed a total power style at Stanford.

    Shaw has ramped that up by lining his defense with big, fast, instinctive players, and recently Stanford has been building a massive young offensive line for the future.

    "When everybody else was running sideways in the conference, we started running north and south with really big guys and physical guys like Toby Gerhart," Shaw said of the early days with Harbaugh.

    "There were just so many things that fit perfectly, and we've been able to continue to recruit to what we do."

    It's the way Harbaugh's 49ers play. It started at Stanford and it is still at Stanford, but it has carried a lot further, too.

    That's what happens when something works, and when it is right.

    Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.