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Top 25 team preview: No. 2 Stanford Cardinal

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Linebacker Shayne Skov (right) and Stanford's defense ranked fifth nationally against the run last year.

Stanford's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Sept. 7vs. San Jose State
Sept. 14 at Army
Sept. 21 vs. Arizona State
Sept. 28 at Washington State
Oct. 5 vs. Washington
Oct. 12 at Utah
Oct. 19 vs. UCLA
Oct. 26 at Oregon State
Nov. 7 vs. Oregon
Nov. 16 at USC
Nov. 23 vs. Cal
Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame

The Pac-12 title game is Dec. 7.

Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

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.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

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.

Schedule analysis

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.

Key stat

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.

Breakout player

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."

X-factor

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.

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