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Stanford actually has a bit of momentum heading into 2008 despite posting a 4-8 record last season. Wins over both USC and California gave Jim Harbaugh reason for optimism, as did a surprisingly solid recruiting class.
Tavita Pritchard will have to fight to keep control of the quarterback position.
Offense?6: G Alex Fletcher, TB Anthony Kimble, FB Owen Marecic, T Chris Marinelli, T Ben Muth, QB Tavita Pritchard.
Defense?7: E Pannel Egboh, E Erik Lorig, LB Pat Maynor, FS Bo McNally, CB Wopamo Osaisai, LB Clinton Snyder, SS Austin Yancy.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
The linebacker corps will be the centerpiece of the defense as the Cardinal return two starters. Rising junior middle linebacker Clinton Snyder finished the season with 96 tackles and led the team with eight sacks. Senior strongside linebacker Pat Maynor finished second in the Pac-10 with 16.5 tackles for losses. Chike Amajoyi emerged late in his freshman season with seven tackles for losses, four sacks and an interception in the final six games. Four seniors return on the offensive line, led by Alex Fletcher. Fletcher, who has started 31 games in his career, will work out at center in the spring after starting at right guard in 2007.
HELP IS NEEDED
Wide receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore began their careers with much promise but injuries derailed their careers. The two combined for 1,123 yards and four touchdowns last season. Leading receiver Richard Sherman (39 catches, 651 yards, four TDs) returns, but there is little experience behind him. Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen combined for 12 catches as freshmen. Stanford will have to make do with that trio for now until four-star freshman Chris Owusu arrives in the fall.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Here are four players who have a chance to win starting jobs this spring.
QBs Jason Forcier and Alex Loukas: Tavita Pritchard, who led Stanford to a win over USC in his first college start, does not have a stranglehold on the starting position. Forcier, a junior, is eligible after his transfer from Michigan - where he signed as a three-star dual-threat quarterback. Loukas, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, is a sophomore.
DT Matthew Masifilo: Stanford has only two defensive tackles on the roster who have seen college action. Cardinal coaches are excited about Masifilo's potential and hope the sophomore can solidify that position.
CB Corey Gatewood: Injuries pushed Gatewood into emergency tailback duty as a true freshman. The speedy Gatewood should move back to cornerback in 2008, where he will push for playing time behind Kris Evans and Wopamo Osaisai.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Defensive tackle Ekom Udofia had an encouraging freshman season in 2006 but was limited by injuries last season. The key to Stanford's rebuilding defense will be an improved defensive line, starting with a healthy Udofia at tackle.
The win over California to end the season as well as a solid recruiting class - led by four-star quarterback Andrew Luck - gives Stanford momentum into spring practice. Second-year coach Jim Harbaugh added veteran Ron Lynn to the coaching staff during the offseason to replace Scott Shafer, who was hired as Michigan's defensive coordinator. Lynn, a defensive coordinator for three NFL teams in the '90s, came out of retirement to serve as Stanford's co-defensive coordinator. The 2008 season begins with conference games against Oregon State and at Arizona State before a road trip to TCU.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.