2013 record:11-3 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 (1st overall in Pac-12)
2013 postseason: Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State (24-20 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 11/No. 10
Head coach: David Shaw (34-7 overall; 34-7 in three years at Stanford)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bloomgren (4th season at Stanford)
2013 offensive rankings: 22nd rushing offense (207.4 ypg); 92nd passing offense (197.9 ypg); 69th total offense (405.5 ypg); 45th scoring offense (32.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Lance Anderson (8th season at Stanford)
2013 defensive rankings: 3rd rushing defense (89.4 ypg); 96th passing defense (253.8 ypg); 16th total defense (343.1 ypg); 10th scoring defense (19.0 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Palo Alto, California
Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000; grass)
Last conference title: 2013
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Everyone knows exactly what to expect of Stanford. The Cardinal will have a smash-mouth offense and a hard-nosed defense. Stanford overwhelms at the point of attack, and that won’t change any time soon. Stanford head coach David Shaw won’t allow the program to veer off course. When Shaw had to replace Derek Mason as defensive coordinator after four years with the program, the head coach promoted from within his coaching staff. Enter Lance Anderson as the new Willie Shaw Director of Defense. Anderson was originally hired when Jim Harbaugh took over the program. He’s coached the defensive line and linebackers. And now Anderson will provide stability to one of the most physical and intimidating defenses in the country. Continuity has become a staple of the Cardinal program.
There is no way to replace what Stanford lost when Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds exhausted their eligibility and are now members of NFL teams. Skov led the team with 108 tackles. Murphy led the FBS with 15 sacks. And Reynolds was the team’s leader in the secondary. Junior Blake Martinez takes over for Skov, while senior A.J. Tarpley will become the leader of the defense. Senior Kevin Anderson will step in as Murphy’s replacement, but he only registered 1.5 sacks in 14 games last season. Kodi Whitfield will be the team’s new starter at safety. Each will live up to the team’s standards as well-coached and disciplined defenders, but it’s hard to imagine these three players replacing the production Stanford lost.
Since Harbaugh took over the program and Shaw replaced him, the big uglies have become Stanford’s calling card. Each week, whatever opponent Stanford plays absolutely knows they are going to get punched in the mouth by an overwhelming offensive line. Stanford plays with six or seven offensive linemen at any given time and situation. However, talent doesn’t always trump continuity up front. The Cardinal lost four of its five starting offensive linemen to the NFL after last season. Kyle Murphy (right tackle), Joshua Garnett (right guard), Graham Shuler (center) and Johnny Caspers (left guard) will replace Cameron Fleming, Kyle Danser, Khalil Wilkes and and David Yankey. The only mainstay is left tackle Andrus Peat, who just happens to be projected as first-round talent for the 2015 NFL draft. Good offensive line play demands proper communication, technique and an understanding of what the man next to you is going to do each and every play. Stanford will once again feature a tremendously talented offensive line this season, but at what point during the season will this group completely gel and play at the level expected of them?
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. USC
This could easily be Oregon in this slot, but the Cardinal have beaten the Ducks two years in a row and the team will have the utmost confidence facing them again during the upcoming season. USC, meanwhile, was one of the Cardinal’s key losses last season. The Trojans were playing extremely well down the stretch and stole a 20-17 victory that was decided by a field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the game. The timing of Stanford’s meeting with USC this year is also important. The Cardinal hosts the Trojans the second week of the season with a national audience prepared to watch the game. The last time Stanford lost a game that early in the season was five years ago when it fell to Wake Forest 24-17. A win against the Trojans will help set the table in Pac-12 play and spur national conversation. A loss will likely place Stanford in the background as other teams programs roll through their early-season schedules.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Ty Montgomery
Stanford doesn’t run an offensive scheme where a wide receiver (or any other skill position) will post the level of individual numbers necessary to win a Heisman Trophy. After all, Andrew Luck was the best quarterback in the nation for two seasons, and he finished as the runner-up for the award twice. Montgomery, however, is one of the most dynamic offense weapons in college football. The wide receiver’s numbers are meager when compared to other receivers that play in spread offenses. Last year, Montgomery registered 61 receptions for 958 yards. While those numbers should be expected to improve during his senior campaign, Montgomery doubles as one of college football’s top kick returners. He was named a Walter Camp All-American as a kick returner. Stanford is expected to contend in the Pac-12 Conference again this season. Big plays from Montgomery in big moments might help Heisman voters overlook the fact he’ll never put up eye-popping numbers as a wide receiver.
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