CFT preseason No. 3: Stanford

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2010 record: 12-1, 8-1 (2nd Pac-10)

2010 bowl: 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 4th/4th

Coach: David Shaw, first year

Offensive coordinator: Pep Hamilton, first year

2010 offensive rankings: ninth, scoring offense (40.3 ppg); 14th, total offense (472.5 ypg); 17th, rushing offense (213.8 ypg); 29th, passing offense (258.7 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Derek Mason, first year; Jason Tarver, first year

2010 defensive rankings: 10th, scoring defense (17.4 ppg); 21st, total defense (322.9 ypg); 19th, rushing defense (120.9 ypg); 35th, passing defense (202 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 5

Returning defensive starters: 6

Location: Stanford, Calif.

Stadium: Stanford Stadium (grass; 50,000)

Last league title: 1999

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot: Before we get started, and to answer your question, yes, I’m fully aware of the crap I’ll take for placing the Cardinal this high in a preseason ranking. Yes, this is likely the biggest reach in my Top 25 — well, until you get to No. 2, anyway — if for nothing more than the departure for the NFL of Jim Harbaugh, the head coach responsible for scraping the Cardinal football program off the scrap heap and transforming it into a West Coast power. The fact that Harbaugh’s longtime offensive coordinator, David Shaw, replaced his former boss lends some familiarity and continuity to a situation that could’ve otherwise led to quite a bit (more) uncertainty and upheaval.

And then there’s Andrew Luck. The Heisman runner-up surprised, for some reason, many observers by eschewing a shot at the NFL draft and the millions of dollars he stood to make by returning to the Palo Alto school for one more season of college football. Simply put, if the quarterback had decided to leave early, the Cardinal would’ve been nothing more than a middle-of-the-road team in its own conference. With him, they have a shot at, once again, being a player on the national stage.

While the schedule makers did the Cardinal few favors with road games at USC, Oregon State and Arizona, they did draw a home game for what’s expected to be their toughest test of the season — Oregon in the middle of November. Additionally, they’ll get Notre Dame at home at the end of the season as well.

On the field, a top-10 defense returns somewhat intact, losing just five starters. Stepfan Taylor, last year’s leading rusher, is one of five offensive starters who will return in 2011. Luck will, though, have to adjust to at least a couple of new receiving target as their top two pass-catchers from a year ago have departed, as did three members of the starting offensive line.

Given all that’s gone on with attrition on both the coaching staff and the roster, it’s by no means guaranteed that they’ll repeat — or trump — last year’s 12-win season; in fact, it might be more likely that they stumble to three or four losses than duplicate that magical last season under Harbaugh. Still, the presence of Luck, and the continuity brought about by Shaw’s promotion, has me feeling that the Cardinal may have a lot more magic left in them.

Make-or-break game: Nov. 12 vs. Oregon

There are no-brainers, and then there’s this game, a notch above a no-brainer. For both teams, if things play out the way it’s thought they will, this will be the game of the year. Of course, thanks to the addition of Utah — which Stanford will not play — and Colorado, and the fact that the Cardinal and the Ducks were placed in the same division, this won’t technically be for the conference title. In reality, though, it will as those two schools are clearly the class of the Pac-12 this season. And, unlike last year, the Cardinal gets the luxury of hosting the Ducks. Of course, if Stanford coughs up another big first-quarter lead like it did last year it won’t matter where the game’s played, but the table could be set for the Cardinal to both exact a measure of revenge and put themselves in the position for an appearance in the conference’s first-ever title game.

Heisman hopeful: Luck

Luck finished a distant second to Cam Newton in the voting last year but, thanks to the Auburn quarterback’s early leap to the NFL, the redshirt junior enters this season as the prohibitive favorite to finish one spot better in the 2011 race. Luck threw for over 3,300 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. Again, losing his top two receivers from a year ago may hurt in the short-term, but Luck’s the type of player, the type of QB who will make work whatever he has at his disposal.

Postseason projection: Rose Bowl

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

Pac-12 preview, vote

Stanford adds linebackers coach with NFL experience

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Stanford added a new coach to the program on Monday with the hiring of Eric Sanders. Sanders was named Stanford’s assistant coach for inside linebackers.

Sanders comes to Stanford following a season with the NFL’s New York Jets. Prior to his brief stint with the Jets, Sanders was a defensive assistant for three seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Sanders has also coached with the Oakland Raiders.

This is a return to Stanford for Sanders. Sanders coached with the program in 2015 as a defensive assistant.

“Eric was with us for our 2015 Rose Bowl Championship season and he was so smart, energetic and detailed that I knew someday we’d bring him back,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said in a released statement. “Eric has great comprehensive knowledge having worked with the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs throughout his career, and he’s spent the last three years with Gregg Williams who is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL.”

Sanders has also held college coaching jobs with his alma mater, UC Davis, and Utah State in addition to Stanford.

Wisconsin TE Luke Benzschawel medically retires after fourth knee surgery

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Wisconsin redshirt senior tight end Luke Benzschawel is calling it a career. The senior announced he is medically retiring from the sport of football following his fourth knee surgery.

I consider myself fortunate to have been part of the Wisconsin football program for the past four years. I have not been as fortunate when it comes to my health,” Benzschawel said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Monday. “However, after undergoing a fourth procedure on my knee, and despite giving everything I have to get back on the field, my doctors and I have decided that the time has come for me to step away from the game.

Benzschawel played in 15 games during his injury-plagued college career with the Badgers. Benzschawel is the younger brother of former Wisconsin offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel. Benzschawel injured his knee during fall camp last August and did not see the playing field during the 2019 season as a result.

Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran leaving Tide for new on-field coaching role at Georgia

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One of Alabama’s most recognized sideline personalities appears to be heading to another SEC program. Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, a man whose identity has become as well known as any strength coach can possibly be over the last few years, is reportedly heading to Georgia to take on a brand new role.

There have been many reasons for Alabama’s overall success with Nick Saban as the head coach. Having Cochran on his staff has certainly been one of the key reasons because he has been recognized as one of the nation’s top strength and conditioning coach (he’s won the award for top strength coach twice). And it may not be much of a coincidence that Cochran has been one of the only assistants on the staff for each of Saban’s national championship seasons between Alabama and LSU. His voice and energy seen on the field in warmups and on the sidelines has become a draw for television cameras in more recent years and he has been one of the leaders in the movement to recognize more strength and conditioning coaches during gamedays.

It should come as little surprise Cochran would be an attractive option for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, a former Alabama defensive coordinator who worked alongside Cochran in Tuscaloosa. What role Cochran will be taking on remains to be confirmed, however, as reports say he will not be Georgia’s strength and conditioning coach. That role is currently held by Scott Sinclair in Athens.

No matter what role Cochran takes at Georgia, and how that ultimately pans out for the Bulldogs, this is a notable loss for Saban and Alabama. Granted, Alabama should be able to find a more-than-qualified strength and conditioning coach to take over the very lucrative (and high-paying) job, so it’s not like this will turn Alabama football into a doormat (much to the dismay of Alabama haters around the SEC and beyond).

UPDATE (6:38 p.m. ET): Alabama head coach Nick Saban has issued a statement regarding the departure of his longtime strength coach:

Ole Miss QB John Rhys Plumlee, RB Jerrion Early also starting for Rebels’ baseball team

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John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Early were two of the best athletes on Ole Miss’s football team in 2019. The pair, both true freshmen, led the club in rushing; Plumlee rushed for 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns while also throwing for 910 yards and four touchdowns, and Early ran for 722 yards and six scores on nearly seven yards per carry.

But it’s actually an understatement to limit the backfield mates’ athletic ability to just the football team. They’re two of the best athletes at the school, period.

The Rebels’ baseball team, ranked No. 13 in the country by Baseball America, is off to a 6-1 start with both Plumlee and Early contributing.

Early, a 31st round selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Jackson Prep in Walnut Grove, Miss., has appeared in five games with three starts at center field. He’s 1-of-8 with four walks, three runs scored and three stolen bases in as many attempts.

Plumlee has appeared in four games to date, starting Saturday’s win over Xavier in left field. He’s struggled at the plate thus far, going 0-for-7 with five strikeouts, though he has scored one run and stole a base in his only attempt.

The Hattiesburg native is not only juggling college classes while playing two sports, but he’s also in the midst of a quarterback battle with fellow rising sophomore Matt Corral while learning a new offense under new head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Both players are giving it a go on the diamond, but their new head coach has made it clear where their bread is buttered.

“We want that to be (Plumlee’s) first priority, because if you’re going to be in something, I just think you go with it, and whatever time he has left he’ll come to us,” Kiffin told OM Spirit.

“I talked about it with baseball…let’s see how it goes,. They’re (Plumlee and Ealy) all in right now on baseball, and then let’ see. If they’re having a significant role, they’ll stay in there. If they’re not, then they’ll probably come back and do more football,” said Kiffin.