If the defense is as good as last year, Stanford will challenge Oregon in the Pac-12 North.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/18/11, 1:00 AM EDT
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Pac-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: David Shaw, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Pep Hamilton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Derek Mason, Jason Tarver
With quarterback Andrew Luck’s surprising return to Palo Alto, Stanford should once again have one of the nation’s top offenses. The Cardinal need to replace receivers Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen, but senior Chris Owusu is healthy again after getting into just eight games last season. Owusu is a big-play threat who adds a different dimension to the offense.
As good as Luck is — he was expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft had he left school — he has benefited the past two seasons from one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country. That unit will have to undergo some rebuilding as it loses three starters, including first-team All-America center Chase Beeler. But two other All-Pac-10 first-team selections — left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro — return to The Farm.
The Cardinal should once again have a strong running attack, led by 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor. Stanford can go four-deep at tailback, where it returns over 90 percent of its rushing yards from last season. The Cardinal also have a deep group of tight ends, led by Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz. And that’s not even counting Levine Toilolo, who was Stanford’s projected starter before suffering a season-ending injury last year. But it all revolves around Luck, who enters the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite after finishing as the runner-up to Auburn’s Cam Newton last season.
Andrew Luck is the best player in the country.
The Cardinal showed immense improvement from 2009 and have the pieces in place to have another strong defense.
Inside linebacker Shayne Skov finished the season on a strong note and should be one of the conference’s top defensive players. Stanford also is solid in the back line with returning safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. Cornerback Richard Sherman will be missed, however.
The Cardinal face the difficult task of replacing nose tackle Sione Fua, who consistently commanded double-teams. Incoming freshman James Vaughters could get into the playing rotation immediately at linebacker. Stanford also will be adjusting to new defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who replaced Vic Fangio when he followed Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.
Andrew Luck, QB Heisman runner-up’s return to campus makes Stanford a conference contender again.
Shayne Skov, LB Strong finish to 2010 makes him an All-Pac-12 candidate this season.
Stepfan Taylor, RB Had seven 100-yard games last season, including five straight in one midseason stretch.
|Sept. 3rd||San Jose State|
|Sept. 10th||at Duke|
|Sept. 17th||at Arizona|
|Oct. 15th||at Washington State|
|Oct. 29th||at USC|
|Nov. 5th||at Oregon State|
|Nov. 26th||Notre Dame|
One of Stanford’s most significant losses is kicker Nate Whitaker, who was named first-team All-Pac-10 after connecting on 17-of-19 field goals. His younger brother, Eric, is battling Jordan Williamson for the right to replace him. David Zychlinski and David Green are competing at punter. Zychlinski punted most of last season, but Green started the final two games. Owusu is a dangerous kick returner — he returned three for touchdowns two years ago — and Drew Terrell is back as punt returner.
The Cardinal have the personnel and experience to make another run at a BCS game, but the biggest question is how they will function in the absence of Harbaugh, who set a certain tone and culture for the program. New head coach David Shaw was Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator, so there is some continuity there.
The Cardinal should once again put up a lot of points. If they can withstand the losses of Fua, Sherman and inside linebacker Owen Marecic on defense, they should challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 North title. Stanford’s only loss last season was at Oregon, and the Cardinal get the Ducks at home this season.