After back-to-back trips to the BCS, the Stanford Cardinal must get used to life without Andrew Luck. Al Dannity says they should be just fine and will once again be a contender in the Pac-12.
The schedule Stanford’s early slate is tame enough, with non-conference games against San Jose State and Duke. Things change dramatically on 15 September when the Cardinal host the USC Trojans. The BCS title hopes of both teams may rest on this match-up. Washington will be no pushovers on the road but the Cardinal will be favored, as they likely will be through a seven game stretch that includes The Big Game at Cal and a road test at Notre Dame. The Cardinal finish the year with two road games, the most notable being a trip to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks on November 17.
The players Offensively the Cardinal return 6 starters from last year. Despite losing two linemen to the draft, the offensive line looks stout and with Stepfan Taylor at tailback Stanford should once again be an effective power-running team. The big question is at quarterback where Stanford must move on without Andrew Luck. Brett Nottingham is the most experienced option but he only had 8 passing attempts in all of 2011. Fortunately for Nottingham the Cardinal won’t lean on the passing game and they have some solid depth at tight end, providing him safety valves. On defense Stanford look scary. With 8 starters back including Shayne Skov, the Cardinal should be one of the meanest units in the nation. Add in the impressive kicking talents of Jordan Williamson and Stanford look set to remain a force even without Luck.
The outlook Much like last season and indeed 2010, this year is going to come down largely to the games against USC and Oregon. With USC looking loaded for a run at the BCS National Championship, it’s going to take something incredible for Stanford to extend its winning run to four. The trip to Eugene is also going to be a tough ask for Stanford. Jim Harbaugh never solved the Ducks and David Shaw didn’t come close to doing so in his first season as head coach. With Oregon once again stacked, it’s difficult to see a road upset. Stanford however possess the talent to pull off one upset so don’t be shocked if they cause some consternation in the battle for Pac-12 honors. The rest of the slate should go their way. It’s not impossible to see 11-1 but a 10-2 finish looks the more likely record for Stanford in 2012.
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