Brett Nottingham, Josh Nunes, Kevin Hogan

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 23 Stanford

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2011 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st-tie North)

2011 postseason: Fiesta Bowl (41-38 OT loss to Oklahoma State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 7

Head coach: David Shaw (11-2 overall in one season at Stanford)

Offensive coordinator: Pep Hamilton (third season at Stanford, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (210.6 ypg); 22nd passing offense (278.7 ypg); 8th total offense (489.3 ypg); 7th scoring offense (43.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: six

Defensive coordinator: Derek Mason (third season at Stanford, second as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 3rd rushing defense (84.4 ypg); 95th passing defense (253.2 ypg); 26th total defense (337.6 ypg); 30th scoring defense (21.9 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Stanford, Calif.

Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000; grass)

Last league title: 1999

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Despite the one huge loss, there are several positives for the Cardinal heading into the post-Andrew Luck era.  1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor (no relation) came back for his senior season. Almost the entire front seven from the top statistical defense in the Pac-12 returns as well. Additionally, Jim Harbaugh built a program with an eye toward sustained and long-term success, and his successor, David Shaw, has continued the philosophy ingrained by his predecessor. Such a tack will help the Cardinal weather the annual personnel attrition, although some departures most certainly hurt more than others.

The Bad
Speaking of which, how do you replace a player like Luck who has meant everything to the program the past three seasons? Not easily, obviously. Making the task of replacing the Heisman runner-up and consensus All-American all the more difficult is also being forced to adjust to the loss of two All-American offensive linemen. Add in being forced to travel to Pac-12 North rival and preseason Top 5 Oregon, and 2012 has the makings of a rebuilding season — at best — for the Cardinal.

The Unknown
Of course, this all goes back to Luck yet again.  Charged with the unenviable task of replacing one of the greatest quarterbacks in the school’s history will be either sophomore Brett Nottingham (pictured, No. 7) or junior Josh Nunes (No. 6). The former is the perceived front-runner heading into camp, although either one could emerge with the job. Thanks to what should once again be a very solid run game and above-average defense, neither should have to shoulder the load carried by Luck, although some resemblance to the former QB certainly wouldn’t hurt the Cardinal’s chances in the Pac-12.

Make-or-break game: vs. USC, Sept. 15
While this may not be a make-or-break game when it comes to the Pac-12 North, it will prove to be a very good gauge for where the inexperienced quarterbacks stand against the best the conference as a whole has to offer. Last season with Luck at the helm, it took the Cardinal three overtimes to finally put away the Trojans in Los Angeles. While sans Luck this season, the Cardinal does actually catch a break on at least one front as they will host the Trojans in mid-September.

Heisman hopeful: running back Stepfan Taylor
Given the situation at quarterback, especially early on in the season, Taylor should expect to both literally and figuratively carry an even greater percentage of the Cardinal’s offensive burden this year.  With 242 attempts last season, Taylor rushed for 1,330 yards and touchdowns while adding 25 catches and two touchdowns in the passing game.  Expect those numbers, particularly the amount, to increase exponentially as a new signal-caller is eased into his role as a first-time starter.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Nebraska won a bidding war with Arkansas to hire Bob Diaco

PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 2: Head coach Bob Diaco of the Connecticut Huskies watches his team practice before they play the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 2, 2015 in Provo Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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Nebraska and Arkansas have met just once on the field, in the 1965 Cotton Bowl. But the Huskers and Hogs have now met twice in the only college athletics competition more cutthroat than the actual games — hiring coaches.

Arkansas famously held off Nebraska for Houston Nutt‘s services in 2004 (before you scoff, Nutt led the Hogs to the 2006 SEC West title, and Nebraska wound up hiring Bill Callahan) and now the Cornhuskers have returned the favor.

Nebraska hired Bob Diaco as its defensive coordinator this week, nabbing the former Connecticut head coach and Notre Dame defensive coordinator after he’d finished an interview with Arkansas. Sean Callahan of Husker Online explains from here:

Head coach Mike Riley said they stopped Diaco’s plane in the air on his way back from Arkansas and got him to fly to Lincoln last Thursday from Chicago. Riley said from there, they weren’t letting Diaco leave Lincoln until he accepted the job.

The money didn’t hurt. Nebraska handed Diaco a 2-year contract worth $1.7 million in total, making him the highest-paid assistant in program history.

Report: Auburn offensive coordinator search getting thorny

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 08:  Head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers reacts during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Auburn does not have an offensive coordinator yet, which is odd. The Tigers have an explosive offense with a lot of returning parts. They have Jarrett Stidham coming in to play quarterback. They have a boatload of money. And they have a boatload of money.

According to a report from James Crepea of AL.com, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and “people with influence over the program” can’t agree on who should replace Rhett Lashlee.

Malzahn is said to prefer Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and NC State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. Lindsey and Drinkwitz worked for Malzahn previously, and Malzahn has built a working relationship with the Briles family — Stidham and running back Kam Martin transferred from Waco to Auburn, and Art Briles visited a Tigers practice this season.

But Auburn donors, Crepea writes, have nixed those choices, saying Briles is too inexperienced and Lindsey and Drinkwitz are too close to Malzahn.

Instead, donors preferred Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone (who has already been crossed off the list) or Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich (ditto). Mark Helfrich does not seem like a viable option at this time.

With less than two weeks until National Signing Day, the urgency to bring someone to the South Plains only grows stronger.

Forza Blu? Michigan reportedly planning spring practice in Italy

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines directs a drill during warm ups prior to playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 29, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Undeterred by recent NCAA legislation, Jim Harbaugh is reportedly going international.

As noted by the Detroit Free Press, a post on Rivals affiliate TheWolverine.com reports that Michigan is planning to spend the final week of football spring practice in Rome, Italy. The team would not only practice several times on Italian soil, but would allow the team to visit the sights in the area and even leave players in Europe to study abroad for a semester.

The move would no doubt ruffle even more feathers in the football and NCAA communities after Harbaugh famously took the Wolverines to the IMG Academy down in Florida for spring practice last March. That prompted recent legislation that was passed at the NCAA convention in Nashville this week — a Harbaugh Rule if you will — that prohibited off-campus practice during a vacation period outside of a playing season.

While it would seem that would rule out trips away from Ann Arbor for spring football practices, it appears the Michigan athletic department is going to push forward by exploiting a slight loophole in the language of the rule. While vacation periods may be off limits like spring break, it appears the Wolverines would be looking to leave town at the end of April, which would be after the semester ends  and does not fall into any scheduled vacation time.

We’ll see if anything becomes of this report and if Michigan indeed announces such an unprecedented trip. While foreign tours are common in sports like basketball at the NCAA levels, it really hasn’t happened in football aside from occasional games overseas so it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend, or is just another case of Harbaugh being Harbaugh.

Wisconsin extends head coach Paul Chryst’s contract through 2022

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 2: Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers points toward head coach Paul Chryst  as the two celebrate following the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Wisconsin defeated Western Michigan 24-16. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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Winning a New Year’s Six bowl and outperforming nearly every preseason expectation typically results in a nice boost to a head coach’s bank account and that is the case at Wisconsin this year.

The Badgers announced on Friday that the school’s athletic board had extended head football coach Paul Chryst another year, running through January 31, 2022. Additional contract terms such as a potential raise or incentives were not announced, meaning this was likely just tacking another year onto the former Wisconsin quarterback’s original deal in Madison.

The move isn’t new for the program, which pulled the same extension almost to the day a year ago after Chryst led the Badgers to a 10-3 year in 2015 that was capped off with a Holiday Bowl victory over USC. The coach one-upped that performance in 2016, winning the Big Ten West title and getting selected for the Cotton Bowl, which the team won over previously undefeated Western Michigan.

Chryst’s original contract he signed two years ago was for a term of five seasons through 2020. He originally made around $2.3 million a year but should be hitting the $2.5 million mark heading into 2017 with various increases incorporated.