“Enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” With this line, Stanford head football coach Jim Harbaugh has made it clear that spirits are high for the Stanford football team for the upcoming season. Coming off a 5-7 year, Stanford is expecting to have their best team in close to a decade as they return 17 of 22 starters. It may finally be time for the Cardinal to move into the top half of the Pac-10 for the first time since 2001. However, the Cardinal will be facing a Pac-10 that looks to be the strongest it has been in a while.
Offensively for the Cardinal, there are two focuses: tailback Toby Gerhart and redshirt quarterback Andrew Luck. Gerhart, who will be entering his final season with the Cardinal, was third in the Pac-10 in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns a year ago. Alongside Gerhart in the backfield will be stud junior fullback Owen Marecic, who has gained widespread respect in the conference for his toughness, physical play, and ability to create opportunities for the tailback.
With this powerful duo in the backfield , opposing defenses’ first focus will be stopping the run, which could result in big play opportunities for Stanford’s new quarterback. Luck, a five-star recruit out of Houston, has earned the starting job this year through great talent, composure, and a feeling for the game rarely seen in young quarterbacks. Though not yet tested in a game, Luck has great promise and should give Stanford a formidable passing attack to complement the rushing game. He will throw to a solid core of receivers and a talented group of tight ends. The offensive line for Stanford looks to be solid as well as it returns three starters with a set of newcomers developing well. Overall, the Cardinal offense should be much improved from last year with an improved passing attack, eight returning starters, and more depth.
Defensively, the Cardinal return eight starters as well. The defense will be led by senior safety Bo McNally, who will be in command of a secondary that appears to be the big question for the defense. The linebackers will be lead by senior Clinton Snyder and will be joined by a strong group, which includes also fullback Owen Marecic, a true two-way player. Known at Stanford for his fullbacking skills, Marecic was a star linebacker in high school and should excel on the defensive side of the ball as well. Finally, the defensive line will be very strong with Erik Lorig and Tom Keiser on the ends and Ekom Udofia, Sione Fua, and Brian Bulcke in the middle. Questions remain, however: Some have questioned the unit’s speed and its ability to keep up with the explosive offenses of the Pac-10. Nevertheless, the defense will be much improved and should be effective at stopping the run.
The Cardinal should expect to be test consistently through the year. Stanford will have tough games against Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon State as those teams all look to move up the ranks in the conference. The end of the season will be especially brutal with the Cardinal’s last four games coming at USC and then at home against Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame. The three Pac-10 teams are predicted to be the class of the league and compete for the top spot, while Notre Dame is said to have the potential to make a BCS game.
The marquee game for the Cardinal will be, as always, the Big Game versus Cal. This year it will be at home giving them a good advantage. Last year, sloppy play and the inability to finish off great drives with scores led to an easy Cal victory. The Golden Bears will present quite a challenge once again.
The Pac-10 will be improved from last year and should prove to be a difficult test for its teams. The conference is loaded at running back this year with five players named to the Doak Walker Award Candidate list for the best college running back. On top of these five, USC’s quintuplet of running backs is as formidable a rushing attack as any in the country.
The favorite to win the conference is once again USC. Though the Trojans lost several stars, the y fill those spots with a new set of stud athletes and potential superstars. The Trojans will be led by their group of star running backs and by devastating safety Taylor Mays, who is considered to be one of the best defensive players in the country. USC has questions at quarterback though, and this could very well be the year they are knocked off their throne.
Both Cal and Oregon have legitimate chances of taking the Pac 10 crown with high-powered offenses and strong defenses. Cal’s Jahvid Best is considered to be the best running back in the country and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, while Oregon’s quarterback-running back duo of Jeremiah Masoli and LeGarrette Blount make up a ground attack that averaged over 200 yards per game last season. Oregon State is another team to watch for as they are often a dark horse in the Pac-10 and had a shot at the Rose Bowl last year. If they can find success at the quarterback position, they could very well threaten the Trojans as well. Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State, and Arizona will all be vying in that middle spot to climb up the ranks into the top 3.
The Year Ahead
Stanford appears to have its best team in a long time. With depth on both sides of the ball, a great running game, a young talented quarterback, and great enthusiasm, Jim Harbaugh’s squad could rock the Pac-10 and emerge amongst Cal and Oregon as a top threat to USC. However, the Cardinal could also remain middle of the road like last year. If the Cardinal can manage to compete with the speed and athleticism of the Pac-10’s premier teams, they should find great success. If the team can limit turnovers, penalties, and injuries and play consistently through games, it could be a breakout year for Stanford football.