CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 10 Stanford

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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 GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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.

THE UNKNOWN
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. 

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Iowa linebacker announces transfer

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been known to have a program that could play some solid defense more often than not, but the depth at linebacker just got a bit more shallow this Memorial Day weekend. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Garbutt has announced he is leaving the program.

“After prayer, consulting with my family and Coach Ferentz, I have made the decision to leave the University of Iowa,” Garbutt announced in a statement on Twitter. “I am thankful for my years as a Hawkeye and will continue to support the franchise.”

Garbutt went on to announce he will make a decision after going through a recruiting process. No timeline for his decision was announced.

Garbutt still has three more years of eligibility remaining, although he has already burned one redshirt year after joining the Class of 2015 at Iowa. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the upcoming 2017 season and lose a year of eligibility in the process. He would be available to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a lower division football program.

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey still not a fan of early signing period

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The SEC will gather in Destin, Florida this week for the annual spring meetings. This will be the first time the conference has come together since the adoption of an early signing period in college football, which is something that has not been well-received by some in the SEC. Among the dissenters in the early signing period conversation has been SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who says he is still no fan of the new recruiting calendar.

I still don’t think that’s best,” Sankey said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

“I think the early signing date has an impact on high school football,” Sankey said. “I think moving the recruiting calendar has an impact on high school football. I think we all have to be concerned about football and its strength and health at every level. Whether it’s a minority voice or a singular voice, I think those are important issues to consider.”

The stance by some around the SEC against the idea of the early signing period is notably different compared to just a few years ago. At the spring meetings in 2014, the SEC football coaches voted unanimously in favor of an early signing period starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, however, expressed his preference to keep the only signing day in February.

As far as the voice coming from the commissioner’s office in the SEC is concerned, the narrative has not changed following the changing of the guard.