2012 Recap: Stanford lost early to Washington and in overtime on a controversial call to Notre Dame. They improved after replacing quarterback Josh Nunes with redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. The Cardinal beat four-straight ranked opponents (including Oregon at Autzen) to win the Pac 12 and held on against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2. They were a missed field goal against Oklahoma State away from three-straight BCS bowl wins.
Offense: This team wants to pound you. They have one of the nation’s best offensive lines, with their impressive 2012 recruiting haul just starting to have an impact. They have talent and depth at running back. Kevin Hogan, though projections of him vary, will do what Stanford wants, be accurate in short range and not turn the ball over. They lose four of their top five pass catchers from 2012, but deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least at tight end. Expect good enough, but not great production and few turnovers.
Defense: Probably the best in the country, non-SEC edition. Stanford returns seven senior starters up front. Seven really damn good senior starters, from a Top 15 defense last season. They have one of the best lines in the country and perhaps the best linebackers and safeties. Trent Murphy at OLB and Ed Reynolds at safety are coming off All-American caliber seasons. MLB Shane Skov is finally healthy. It will be ridiculously hard to move the ball against this team.
Schedule: It’s a lot tougher than Oregon’s. The Cardinal play Notre Dame non-conference. They play Arizona State and USC while Oregon do not. Finishing undefeated would require Stanford to beat six Top 25 teams in their last seven games. The seventh is their major rivalry game against Cal.
Ceiling: 12-0. The offense hits its potential. They avoid injuries up front on defense. Stanford has a tough schedule, but bulldozes its way through it.
Floor: 9-3. A great defense and a great offensive line take you a long way in college football. A run of injuries. A problem bedding in receivers on offense. Poor luck in one-score games. It’s conceivable Stanford could drop a few games against their better opponents.
Prediction: 11-1. With the tight ends from 2012 and the quarterback from 2011, this might be the team that could end the SEC drought. It still might be as constituted. But Stanford is not as imposing at home as most major programs. I think they drop a game, and that game is probably against an Oregon bent on revenge.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]
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