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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Expect Oregon’s quarterback rotation to continue for the next two weeks

AP Photo

Oregon touched the ball 15 times in its 41-24 win over Colorado on Saturday night. Jeff Lockie played seven of them, including the first. Taylor Alie played eight.

As long as Vernon Adams nurses his broken finger, this appears to be the plan for the Ducks.

“They’d both done enough good things in practice last week to merit playing,” head coach Mark Helfrich told the Oregonian. “We just felt looking at the game plan we could parcel out aspects with each.”

“Of course you want to get into a better rhythm but that’s how it goes,” Lockie said. “We’re just going to play the best we can and as long as we’re winning games, there’s no problem with me.”

Lockie completed 8-of-11 throws for 54 yards with an interception while rushing five times for 18 yards. Alie connected on 4-of-9 throws for 83 yards and a touchdown while adding 22 yards on five carries. Not quite Marcus Mariota numbers from either signal caller.

“It’ll just depend on the game plan,” Helfrich said of Alie and Lockie. “I think those guys they have differences. There are some strengths and weaknesses to different areas of their game and so we’ll think about that going forward of just how the Washington State game plan comes out.”

With Oregon playing Washington and Washington State (combined Pac-12 wins thus far: zero) before a tough closing stretch, Helfrich and company have time to alternate signal callers.

SEC shut out of AP top five for first time in half a decade

Stephen F. Austin visits Amon G. Carter Stadium to play the No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs.
AP Photo

The polls are meaningless. Especially any poll that isn’t the College Football Playoff top 25 and even then, as the TCU learned late last season, even the penultimate ranking is as meaningless as the paper they’re metaphorically written on.

Still, they’re catnip to college football fans and observers. Place them in front of us and we can’t help but gnaw on them.

And with that said, a bit of milestone was reached in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25, as the SEC was completely shut out of the top five.

That group breaks down as follows:

  1. Ohio State
  2. TCU
  3. Baylor
  4. Michigan State
  5. Utah

An SEC free top five hasn’t happened in nearly five full years; October 10, 2010 was the last time such a thing occurred. Oddly enough, two of the same five culprits occupied that ranking as well:

  1. Ohio State
  2. Oregon
  3. Boise State
  4. TCU
  5. Nebraska

Underscoring the lesson of the first paragraph, eventual national champion Auburn checked in at No. 6. Those Tigers moved up a spot the following week and never looked back.

None of this means anything at all, until it does. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun along the way.