Stanford lost some key pieces to the draft in April, but that doesn’t mean another Top 25 finish isn’t on the horizon.
The Cardinal offense might not be as explosive as last season when Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Coby Fleener propelled the team to school records for points scored (561) and total yards (6,361). But coach David Shaw’s team still has the size and strength to play the smash-mouth football he likes.
“Nobody in the country is going to talk us out of running the ball,” Shaw said. “That’s just what we do.”
Junior Josh Nunes won the competition to replace Luck in camp. But Shaw doesn’t need him to put up Luck-like numbers; he just needs an efficient manager.
“The main job of the quarterback is to make sure we’re getting to the right play at the right time,” Shaw said.
The offensive line lost experience and leadership with DeCastro’s and Martin’s departures, but the Cardinal has more than enough size up front to move the ball. Returning starters Cameron Fleming (6-foot-6, 314 pounds) and David Yankey (6-5, 301 pounds) look destined to join their former linemates in the NFL after college and senior Sam Schwartzstein (6-3, 292 pounds) is a rock at center. The arrival of three five-star recruits — Andrus Peat (6-7, 308 pounds), Kyle Murphy (6-7, 280 pounds) and Joshua Garnett (6-5, 325 pounds) — gives Shaw plenty of options if a hole needs to be plugged.
If the big boys dig the holes, the Cardinal have the depth in the backfield to run all day. Shifty senior Stepfan Taylor starts the year 1,264 yards shy of the school career rushing record and power back Anthony Wilkerson is poised to bust out this year.
When Nunes does drop back, he’ll have plenty of targets to hit. Sophomore Ty Montgomery can fly and if defenses load up with eight in the box, he can burn them for six over the top.
The Cardinal also have two big tight ends, 6-6 junior Zach Ertz and 6-8 sophomore Levine Toilolo, who create instant matchup problems for any defensive secondary.
But Stanford shouldn’t need to score 43.2 points per game again this year to be successful. The defense might have the nastiest front seven in the conference.
Last season, Stanford ranked third in the nation against the run, allowing 84.4 yards per game, and the line should be overpowering in the trenches again this year with junior end Ben Gardner and senior nose guard Terrence Stephens returning.
Stanford will boast one of the top linebacking corps in the nation with first-team All-Pac-12 selection Chase Thomas (52 tackles, 8.5 sacks) and senior Trent Murphy creating havoc on the outside and Shayne Skov, who will return in Week 2 from a knee injury that ended his 2011 season, patrolling the inside.
The team’s biggest challenge will be shoring up the secondary, which lost three starters, including both safeties. The Pac-12 boasts three of the nation’s top five receivers (USC’s Robert Woods and Marquise Lee and Cal’s Keenan Allen), so the learning curve will need to be fast.
But Shaw said he has a lot of talent to work with.
“Defensively, we’re really good,” Shaw said. “I can’t wait for them to play against somebody else other than our offense.”
Last year, Taylor was only the third Cardinal running back to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His 1,330 yards in 2011 were the second-highest total in school history behind Toby Gerhart's 1,871 in 2009. Without Luck, Taylor will need to rack up another 1,000-plus-yard season to keep defenses honest.
The sophomore receiver's breakout game in the Fiesta Bowl (seven catches, 120 yards and a touchdown) was a glimpse of what might be ahead this season. Montgomery's speed on the outside should make defenses think twice about loading up the box to stop the run.
The senior linebacker was all over the field in 20120, but he missed most of last season with a knee injury. As a sophomore, Skov recorded 84 tackles. With Chase Thomas on the outside, Skov's return, which won't come till Week 2 because of a suspension, gives Stanford one of the deepest linebacker corps in the country.
2012 Cardinal Schedule
|Sept. 8||vs. Duke||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 15||vs. Southern Cal||4:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 27||at Washington||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 6||vs. Arizona||TBA|
|Oct. 13||at Notre Dame||12:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 20||at Cal||TBA|
|Oct. 27||vs. Washington State||TBA|
|Nov. 3||at Colorado||TBA|
|Nov. 10||vs. Oregon State||TBA|
|Nov. 17||at Oregon||TBA|
|Nov. 24||at UCLA||TBA|