How far will Stanford fall without Andrew Luck?
By: Athlon Sports | 5/7/12, 6:50 AM EDT
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PAC-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: David Shaw, 11-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Pep Hamilton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Derek Mason
Subtract arguably the nation’s top offensive player the past two seasons, and growing pains are in order. But questions about Stanford’s offense aren’t limited to replacing All-America quarterback Andrew Luck. The Cardinal’s new quarterback, whether it be sophomore Brett Nottingham or junior Josh Nunes, will need some wide receivers to throw to. Sophomore Ty Montgomery figures to take a more prominent role after catching 24 passes last season. But one-time highly regarded recruits Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell need to make an impact as seniors. The good news for the passing game is that the Cardinal still have dynamic tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
Despite the deserved superlatives directed toward Luck, Stanford’s pro-style offense is predicated on its running attack. Stepfan Taylor is arguably the Pac-12’s top returning tailback after rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. He will be counted on more than ever this season as the passing game goes through an overhaul. Stanford lost two All-America offensive linemen to the NFL but still should have a strong unit up front with center Sam Schwartzstein, left guard David Yankey and right tackle Cameron Fleming returning.
How Many Pac-12 Games Will Stanford Lose in 2012?
Stanford could have one of the top linebacker groups in the country if Shayne Skov is fully recovered from the ACL tear he suffered during the third game of last season. The Cardinal’s leading tackler in 2010 also faces disciplinary action after an offseason DUI arrest. Chase Thomas broke out last season and enters 2012 as one of the nation’s top outside linebackers. Younger players like James Vaughters and Noor Davis could give the unit a further boost.
Stanford also is strong up front, led by All-Pac-12 second-team pick Ben Gardner at end. But the Cardinal face a challenge replacing three-year starter Matt Masifilo on the other end.
There are questions in the secondary after the departure of both safeties, Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. Terrence Brown returns at one corner spot, while the other should be taken by Wayne Lyons, a projected starter there last season before he was sidelined with a foot injury.
Andrew Luck, QB
Luck helped to raise the bar in Palo Alto, leading the Cardinal to 31 wins and two BCS bowl appearances over the last three years. He finished his career with 9,430 yards and 82 TDs, while adding 957 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Stepfan Taylor, RB—The running game will be more critical than ever in the post-Andrew Luck era. Taylor will deliver.
Shayne Skov, ILB—Needs to overcome knee injury (torn ACL last fall) and DUI arrest. Talent is not an issue.
Chase Thomas, OLB—Turned into one of the conference’s top playmaking linebackers last season.
|Sept. 1st||San Jose State|
|Sept. 27th||at Washington|
|Oct. 13th||at Notre Dame|
|Oct. 20th||at California|
|Oct. 27th||Washington State|
|Nov. 3rd||at Colorado|
|Nov. 10th||Oregon State|
|Nov. 17th||at Oregon|
|Nov. 24th||at UCLA|
Kicker Jordan Williamson was an All-Pac-12 second team-pick, but his 2011 season will always be remembered for his two late missed field goal attempts in an overtime loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Coach David Shaw calls Williamson a future NFL kicker. Daniel Zychlinski is back as the No. 1 punter after losing his job to David Green last year. Stanford features a strong return game. Terrell led the Pac-12 in punt returns last season, and Montgomery was fourth in kick returns. Shaw may take a look at a different kick returner, because Montgomery will be asked to do a lot on offense this season.
Stanford will be hard-pressed to reach a BCS bowl game for the third straight year, but don’t expect the Cardinal to completely fall out of the national picture simply because Luck is gone. Stanford has recruited well in recent years and still has extensive talent in the program.
If the new quarterback and receivers can provide enough punch to complement Taylor and the running game, the offense still has potential. And the defense, which showed marked improvement in 2011 despite not having Skov for most of the season, looks sound again. The schedule is tricky, though, with road games at Oregon, Notre Dame and Washington and a home game vs. national title contender USC.