Stanford Football Predictions
David Shaw led Stanford to an 11-2 record in his first season as head coach. That was with Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Without Luck under center in 2012, wins won’t come as easily for Shaw’s Cardinal. Making a third consecutive trip to a BCS bowl isn’t likely. However, Stanford should remain one of the top teams in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal ranked second in the Pac-12 in both scoring and total offense in 2011 with 43.2 points and 489.3 yards per contest. Because defenses had to respect Luck’s ability to burn them down the field, Stanford was able to average an impressive 210.6 rushing yards per game.
The Cardinal will be even more dependent on their running attack in 2012, but they won’t have as much success running the football if defenses don’t respect the passing game. The new quarterback, sophomore Brett Nottingham or junior Josh Nunes, must make them respect it.
Stanford loses a pair of All-Americans up front, but it should still put a solid line on the field with the other three starters back. Because of the quality up front, senior running back Stepfan Taylor should turn in another strong campaign. He has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons. He racked up 1,330 yards and 10 scores on the ground last year.
Some players are being asked to step up in the receiving corps, most notably sophomore wideout Ty Montgomery and junior tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
Stanford’s stop unit often didn’t get the praise it deserved because Luck and the offense got so much of the attention. The Cardinal finished second in the Pac-12 in both total and scoring defense with 337.6 yards and 21.9 points allowed per contest. They were lights out against the run, leading the league with only 84.4 rushing yards allowed per game. With six starters returning in the front seven, they should punish ground attacks again in 2012.
The defensive line is led by second-team All-Pac-12 end Ben Gardner. The linebacker unit is among the best in the entire country with Shayne Skov, who was the team’s top tackler in 2010, returning from a knee injury to join Chase Thomas, Trent Murphy and A.J. Tarpley. Thomas exploded with an 8.5-sack campaign last year.
The secondary is the weak link after losing safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. The cornerback spot should be just fine with Terrence Brown and Wayne Lyons.
PAC-12 North Prediction: 2nd Place
Not only will Stanford have to adjust to life without the best quarterback in the country, it will have to do so while taking on a tough schedule.
The Cardinal make trips to Washington, Notre Dame and Oregon. Those are all potential losses. They get USC, who they defeated in triple-overtime last year, in Palo Alto, but defeating Matt Barkley and company again won’t be easy.
Stanford will take a step back after losing Luck, but it should still take second place in the North and play in a quality bowl game.
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