2011 Record: 11-2 (8-1 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: David Shaw (second year head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Fiesta Bowl: lost to Oklahoma St 41-38
Revenge: 11/17 at Oregon
Stats to Cheer: converted 52.57% of third downs (1st in Pac-12); scored on 97.1% of red zone trips (1st in Pac-12); only allowed 11 sacks in 2011 (2nd in Pac-12); held opponents to 31.1% on third down conversions (1st in Pac-12)
Stats to Fear: Andrew Luck and his 37 TD passes from last season are in the NFL
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 7; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Jarek Lancaster (70 tackles), LB Chase Thomas, LB Shane Skov, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, DT Terrence Stephens
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Stefan Taylor (1330 rush yds, 10 TD), RB Tyler Gaffney (449 yds rush, 7 TD), WR Ty Montgomery (24 rec), TE Levine Toilolo (25 rec, 6 TD), TE Zach Ertz (27 rec, 4 TD), OG David Yankey
Top Recruits: OG Joshua Garnett (Scout.com's #3 OG), OT Kyle Murphy (#4 OT), C Graham Shuler (#4 C), RB Barry Sanders Jr (#9 RB), OT Andrus Peat (#9 OT), S Alex Carter (#9 S), OLB Noor Davis (#10 OLB), DT Aziz Shittu (#14 DT)
Inside Scoop with The Saturday Edge:
CFBZ: Who is the lucky guy who gets to replace Andrew Luck?
The Saturday Edge: Sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes emerged in spring from an original pack of five candidates to replace Andrew Luck at quarterback. Stanford head coach David Shaw said their two-man battle will continue into fall practice.
Neither brings much experience to the position. Nottingham played in 6 games last season as Luck’s backup, completing 5 of 8 passes for 78 yards, including a 39-yard TD pass in the season opener against San Jose State. Nunes did not play last year because of a toe injury. He played in 4 games in 2010 and attempted two passes.
Neither will be the next Andrew Luck, but it is important to mention that both Nottingham and Nunes were four-star recruits and each has considerable potential. It is also important to mention that with Stanford’s bruising running game, neither QB needs to emulate Andrew Luck either.
"They know the quickest way for these guys to lose the competition is to try to be Andrew," Shaw said. "That will lose someone the competition."
What Stanford needs at the QB position is a good game manager who isn’t going to make mistakes and who can also make some plays in the passing game.
CFBZ: What are the strengths of this Cardinal team?
The Saturday Edge: As mentioned above, one of the biggest strengths of this Stanford team is their running game. Stanford has one of the best running back groups in the PAC 12 led by senior Stepfan Taylor. In the past two seasons, playing in Luck’s shadow, Taylor has quietly put up some really solid numbers: 465 carries for 2,437 yards (5.24 ypc) and 25 TD’s.
Despite losing two NFL draft picks along the offensive line, the line still projects to be a team strength. The Cardinal return 3 starters including sophomores Cameron Fleming at right tackle and David Yankey at left guard. Both earned honorable mentions on the All-Pac-12 team last season. Stanford has also recruited really well along the offensive line over the past few years and HC Shaw essentially said he expects a few highly touted incoming freshmen to be in the mix on the O-line.
The Stanford front seven could be one of the best in the country this season, especially if All-American linebacker Shayne Skov returns to full health by fall. The Cardinal return six starters to their front seven, including another potential All-American at linebacker in Chase Thomas. The depth is outstanding and Stanford will also add five-star defensive end Aziz Shittu, four-star tackle Jordan Watkins and four-star linebacker Noor Davis in fall.
CFBZ: What areas do you see as Stanford's biggest potential weaknesses this year and who needs to step up in those areas?
The Saturday Edge: Andrew Luck was blessed with exceptional TE’s to throw too last season, but he never really had a receiver that could stretch the field. Stanford’s best receivers this year again appear to be TE’s Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, who combined for 52 catches, 689 yards and 10 TDs last year. Once again the Cardinal lack a proven deep-threat. Sophomore Ty Montgomery needs to become a playmaker at wide receiver if Stanford is going to continue to have success in the passing game this year.
The Stanford secondary struggled last year against the more athletic teams on the schedule (Oregon, USC, Oklahoma State) and they will probably regress this season. Gone are two outstanding safeties, Michael Thomas and Delano Howell and cornerback Johnson Bademosi. All three were multi-year starters.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The Saturday Edge: There is no way Stanford is going to replace the production and leadership of Luck. But this team is still loaded with talent throughout the lineup. They have a solid defense, especially the front seven and they will continue to play physical, smash mouth football on offense. If the new QB can successfully grasp the “manger” role, this is a 9 win team.
However, the schedule makers did Stanford no favors this season. At Notre Dame and at Oregon are likely losses. They get USC in Palo Alto, but have had to outscore the Trojans the past few years. Without Luck at QB I don’t think they can do that for a third straight season.
Games at Washington, at Cal and at UCLA are all potential losses, but Stanford has a talent advantage over each of those teams, so I do not see them losing all three. Therefore if they can take 2 out of 3 from this group and end the regular season 8-4 and go to one of the PAC 12’s better bowl games (Alamo or Holiday), I believe that will be a successful season.
Jim Harbaugh took over a Stanford team that won just one game in 2006 and by 2010 he had them turned in a complete 180 degree direction as they only lost one game that year. Harbaugh changed the culture and created a foundation that David Shaw has been able to maintain so far. The big question is now that Andrew Luck is gone, can Shaw continue the success?
I think he can because Stanford has built itself up from the interior. Stanford losses a lot from the offensive line but they still have a strong line and they went out and landed an extremely impressive recruiting class of offensive linemen. Stanford also has a good defensive line that is among the best in the Pac-12 and they have one of the best linebacker corps in the country. Along the lines of scrimmage, Stanford will be solid and that is where a lot of games are decided.
Over the last four years, Stanford has been in the top twenty in the Nation for rushing yards per game every year. That goes back before Andrew Luck when Tavita Pritchard was the starting QB (yeah, I've never heard of him either). Another interesting thing to note is that in all four of those years, Stanford has also been in the top twenty in yards per carry. For the last three years, when Andrew Luck was the QB, Stanford was also in the top twenty in the Nation for rushing TDs. No matter how you slice it, the Cardinal have had success running the football and that simply is not going to go away this year.
What Stanford will lose is offensive efficiency. They won't be as successful in the red zone and they won't be as good on third down. That will hurt when they play the tougher teams on their schedule. The Cardinal's success will come down to the defense. Stanford's defense was among the best in the Pac-12 last year (second in points allowed, first against the run, second in total defense, first in third down conversions). I don't see Stanford taking much of a step back on defense.
Stanford should be able to ground and pound their way past a lot of their Pac-12 opponents. Where they will struggle is when they are faced with teams who have potent offenses (Oregon, USC, Washington). Without Andrew Luck, can they score enough points to keep up with these teams?
2012 Prediction: 9-3
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#23 Oklahoma State
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