BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -Stanford fell just short of reaching the measure of success for coach Jim Harbaugh's second season, finishing one win shy of making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2001.
Before the disappointment of this year's finish had settled in following a 37-16 loss to rival California on Saturday, Harbaugh raised the bar even higher for next season.
``Our goals next year won't be to get bowl eligible,'' he said. ``Bowl Championship Series eligible is what we're aiming for. I really feel like our seniors got us on the right track.''
The Cardinal (5-7, 4-5 Pac-10) haven't been to a top-tier bowl since Tyrone Willingham won the conference and led them to the Rose Bowl following the 1999 season. Stanford made it to the Emerald Bowl in Willingham's final season in 2001 but have not been back to the postseason since.
as a goal might seem a little lofty, the Cardinal players believe it's the next logical step for a program that has made steady progress the past two seasons.
``That's our goal. A bowl is not enough at this point,'' quarterback Tavita Pritchard said. ``This program, as you guys see, is on the way up. As things get better, expectations rise. That's what we expect to do next year, win a Pac-10 championship.''
Harbaugh has rebuilt a program that won just one game in 2006 under Walt Harris. The Cardinal went 4-8 in Harbaugh's first season, posting memorable upsets against USC and California but often looking overmatched.
They were competitive in almost every game this year, but struggled to close out games and then ending the season on a three-game losing streak. Despite the clear improvement, the end result was only one more victory than a year ago.
The Cardinal played their worst football of the year in the third quarter against the Golden Bears, allowing three touchdowns in a 4:06 span to ruin any chances of a bowl.
hurting for the seniors. They have to be killing to not go out with a win in the Big Game and not go to a bowl game.''
What haunts the Cardinal most are the games they feel they let slip away, particularly last-minute losses at UCLA and Oregon in the second half of the season.
They allowed an 87-yard drive in the final minutes to lose 23-20 to UCLA on Kevin Craft's TD pass to Cory Harkey with 10 seconds left on Oct. 18.
Then two weeks ago with Stanford up by one with 2:18 to go, Oregon moved the ball 76 yards to win on LeGarrette Blount's 3-yard run with 6 seconds to go.
``There's positives to take away from it but ultimately we didn't reach our goals as a team. It's back to work,'' Pritchard said. ``We have to finish games. There were too many times this year when things were in our grasp and we just didn't finish. We have to make plays when they're there. We just have to finish.''
The talk of close calls is a far cry from what the Cardinal were talking about the last two times they left Berkeley. In 2004, they had just lost their fifth straight game to end coach Buddy Teevens' third season with the Cardinal and he was fired just days later.
Two years ago, the Cardinal set a school record with their 11th loss, losing the Big Game 26-17 just two days before Walt Harris was fired.
everything has changed for the Cardinal.
``I'm just thankful Coach Harbaugh came in, thankful we have such a good coach. As seniors we tried our best to get back in a bowl. Our best wasn't good enough,'' center Alex Fletcher said.
``We left a lot of things on the table. We could have done better as seniors. But there's a lot of continuity here. This is going to be a great program. Maybe we'll look at these days in 2007, 2008 as the building blocks.''

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