|Stanford's 2013 schedule|
The Pac-12 title game is Dec. 7.
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
It began on the night of Nov. 17, 2012, when Stanford upset the Ducks 17-14 in Eugene, holding them to 28 fewer points than any other regular-season opponent. "The Oregon game showed people -- which we had been saying, but no one had been listening -- that we have speed on the defensive side of the ball," said coach David Shaw. That defense, which finished No. 5 nationally against the run (97.0 yards per game) and helped lift Stanford to a Pac-12 championship and a 20-14 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, has eight starters back, including the safety tandem of All-America Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards and standout linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov -- as well as nickelback Usua Amanam, the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal may have the most loaded D outside of the state of Alabama. Meanwhile, they remain formidable on the offensive front, led by All-America guard David Yankey, while sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan (5-0 as the starter) is now far more versed in the offense.
The case against
Stanford had only 47 plays of 20 yards or more last season, less than half that of leader Texas A&M (100) and 92nd nationally. The Cardinal need more big strikes but lack proven playmakers at running back, receiver and tight end.
The slate is overwhelmingly backloaded -- the Cardinal don't even play a game on opening weekend -- but at least the majority of their toughest games are in Palo Alto. Over the last six weeks, Stanford visits Oregon State, hosts Oregon, visits USC and hosts rival Cal before finishing with Notre Dame.
4.07: The number of sacks Stanford's defense averaged per game in 2012, the highest mark in the nation. Fifteen different Cardinal players recorded sacks last season, led by Murphy, who had 10.
OT Andrus Peat: A five-star recruit in the class of 2012, the sculpted 6-7, 310-pound Chandler, Ariz., native takes over the starting left tackle position after playing backup as a true freshman last season. Peat's performance in the spring drew raves from coaches and teammates and keyed an offensive line that gelled more quickly than expected. "Andrus has been phenomenal," Shaw said after one scrimmage. The son of former NFL lineman Todd Peat, Andrus is more athletic than many of Stanford's recent All-America blockers.
Freshman to watch
TE Greg Taboada: Though hardly the most touted member of Stanford's small 2013 freshman class, the 6-5, 235-pound Atlanta native -- who picked the Cardinal over Alabama -- fills a position of need. Shaw has no plans to abandon Stanford's frequently used two-tight end sets, and either Taboada or fellow three-star tight end recruits Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper may have to step into one of those spots. "The multiple tight end sets are not going anywhere," said Shaw. "We'll find guys to put in there, we'll make it work."
WR/RB Kelsey Young: Speedy 5-foot-10, 189-pound sophomore Young plays the "Kelsey." In 2012 the hybrid WR/RB piled up 412 yards on 30 touches, and he'll see more action this year. "He's proven when he gets the ball, the first guy won't make the tackle," said Shaw.
Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)
QB Kevin Hogan: 2,790 passing yards, 23 TDs; 446 rushing yards, 4 TDs
RB Barry Sanders: 860 rushing yards, 7 TDs; 280 receiving yards, 2 TDs
WR Ty Montgomery: 650 receiving yards, five TDs; 1 kickoff return TD
Coach speak: David Shaw
SI: What does the return of Tyler Gaffney from minor league baseball mean for your backfield?
DS: We've got five guys [Gaffney, Barry Sanders, Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright and Kelsey Young] who we believe would start most places. The job for us as coaches is to make sure we use these guys.
SI: How much further along is quarterback Kevin Hogan from the end of last year?
DS: We're no longer where he's learning what to do, which is great. We're at the point where he's learning how to do it better. He knows the offense. We need to get to the point where he masters it.
SI: Who will emerge as the playmakers on offense?
DS: We've got some guys on the outside who we think are going to make plays for us. [Wide receiver] Ty Montgomery is finally healthy. Some young receivers too -- Michael Rector has come on; Kodi Whitfield is making plays; Devon Cajuste as well.
SI: What's your biggest concern?
DS: What I'm watching for -- hunger and consistency. Don't let accomplishment extinguish the fire.