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August 16, 2008

Preseason Stanford Preview

Stanford rising? You bet. The Cardinal not only shocked the heavily favored Trojans in LA, but they snapped their losing streak to Cal, and just in general looked like a team headed in the right direction? Can that continue this season? Stanford is quietly recruiting well, but those guys won't be on campus until next season. The Cardinal will look to build on last season's total of four wins and garner their first bowl bid since 2001, Ty Willingham's last season in Palo Alto.

Last Season

2007 commenced with a crushing 45-17 loss to UCLA, in which the Bruins amassed over 600 yards of total offense. The Cardinal did get in the win column in the next contest by routing San Jose State, and fought gamely with Oregon before being worn out. Arizona State hammered Stanford in Palo Alto by 38, knocking out starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander. The Cardinal faced the monumental challenge of facing USC in Los Angeles without Ostrander, and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of college sports thanks to some timely offensive execution, a barrage of USC turnovers, and John David Booty's broken finger. Stanford tried to parlay the huge victory into a winning streak, but they came up just short against TCU, falling by two points. Still, they had already doubled last season's win total by midyear.

The good feeling continued when Stanford got another road win: a one point decision in Tucson against the Wildcats. Then things went dry for a while. Oregon State's defense battered the Cardinal offense into a minus eight yard rushing day in an ugly loss, and Washington ran for almost 400 yards and held Jim Harbaugh's team to nine points. A visit to Pullman ended with a career day for Alex Brink and a Cougar win, and the next week featured a bad loss to Notre Dame's worst team in decades. The season ended sweetly though by handing Jeff Tedford his first ever loss to the Cardinal in a 20-13 squeaker in Palo Alto. Stanford finished the season 4-8, 3-6 in the Pac-10.

Quarterback

You would think that the player who engineered the upset of #2 USC would be the shoo-in to start at quarterback with Ostrander gone. You would be wrong. Junior Tavita Pritchard made seven starts last season, but statistically, he was nothing to write home about. He completed half of his passes and threw five TDs against nine INTs. Even in the SC win, he completed 11 of 30 passes. So he has to fight it out this fall. Pritchard is a tall kid with good mobility, but he doesn't have great arm strength, and obviously, accuracy is a problem.

As a result of the uncertainty with Pritchard, Michigan transfer Jason Forcier is getting an opportunity. Forcier has a higher upside than Pritchard, and is just as good an athlete. Alex Loukas, a sophomore, will also get an opportunity. The Cardinal need to find some stability here if they are going to make a bowl game. For now, Pritchard is the favorite.

Wide Receiver

Richard Sherman has been a pleasant surprise for Stanford. He's a big guy with some speed who has led the Cardinal in receiving yards the last two seasons. He could sneak on to the all conference team if the Cardinal get decent quarterback play. After that, things are a little sketchy. Sophomore Doug Baldwin and junior Nate Wilcox-Fogel are competing for the other wide receiver spot. Baldwin had 11 catches last year, and averaged a measly 8.5 yards per reception. Opposing defenses will put a fair bit of focus on Sherman as a result. Beyond Sherman, there isn't much talent now that Mark Bradford and Evan Moore are gone.

Tight end Ben Ladner is back for his junior season, and he boasted 27 catches a season ago. The Cardinal have a lot of depth at tight end, including former prep star Jim Dray and Notre Dame transfer Konrad Reuland, who will have to sit four games before he is eligible. Stanford's tight ends could be a large part of their offense with the uncertainty at receiver and quarterback.

Running Back

Anthony Kimble and Toby Gerhart are both back to platoon at tailback. I'm not a big fan of either. Kimble has some quickness, but he doesn't scare anyone. Gerhart is too slow to play tailback and should be a fullback. Jeremy Stewart isn't as good as Kimble or Gerhart. Fullback Owen Marecic had a solid 2007 as a lead blocker, and one coach voted him to the all conference team. The backs are extremely low on talent, so maybe freshman Delano Hall can provide a spark.

Offensive Line

This group has a lot of experience…when it comes to getting beat. Stanford showed some improvement last season in the running game, but it was nominal, and the pass protection continued to be brutal. The Cardinal surrendered 48 sacks in 2007. This unit has been a problem for Stanford since Willingham left. They do have a good one in center Alex Fletcher, who was second team all Pac-10 in is third year as a starter. Junior tackle Chris Marinelli has improved over the last couple of years. Allen Smith was the starting left tackle until he was injured last season, and his misfortune cleared the way for Ben Muth, who inherited the job and appears to have retained it.

Gustav Rydstedt has moved from the defensive line to right guard, and could start there if he can hold off Bert McBride, who played a little last season. Andrew Phillips will trot out to left guard when Stanford takes the field against Oregon State. He is pretty raw. The Cardinal will have to continue to hit the recruiting trail hard for offensive linemen. It will be hard to make a bowl game with a group like this.

Defensive Line

The Cardinal got better performances from these guys last season. Pannel Egboh had a breakthrough year with six sacks, and he gives the team an experienced pass rusher. Trojan fans are familiar with Stanford's other starting end: Erik Lorig, who is still learning the position after being recruited as a tight end. Junior Levirt Griffin provides a useful option as a third defensive ende, and he makes the move from tackle this season after starting in the middle in 2007. Ekom Udofia is an extremely talented played at tackle, but the injury bug has bit him over and over again. Brian Bulcke and Matthew Masifilo will duke it out for the other tackle spot, and that spot is a concern for the staff. Still, this group has the potential to be one of the better defensive lines in the Pac-10.

Linebacker

The Stanford backers are a seasoned group and should be a team strength. Middle backer Clinton Snyder had a big year in 2007 with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He isn't known for speed, but he is extremely aggressive and fits in well in Stanford's gambling scheme. Pat Maynor roams the strong side, and he put up big numbers last season as well with 16.5 tackles for loss. Chike Amajoyi stepped in mid season as a true freshman and wreaked some havoc as well. This defense is a linebacker's dream because of all of the stunting, blitzing, and game playing. Will Powers has played a lot in his career, and Nick Macaluso could be the most talented player of the bunch. The Stanford linebacker corps will continue to be productive and make big plays this season.

Secondary

This group took a beating last year because of the scheme. Stanford gave up 266 pass yards per game, and allowed opponents to complete 61% of their passes. This could improve in 2008, but I'm not sure it will if the Cardinal continue to blitz without conscience. Kris Evans started late last season at CB and raised the level of play at the position. Still, he is competing with sophomore Corey Gatewood for the starting job. Wopamo Osaisai has blazing speed, but he hasn't been able to translate into lockdown ability. The star of this group is free safety Bo McNally, who led the team in tackles and chipped in two INTs. He is often utilized in blitz packages. Austin Yancy returns to man the strong safety position. Despite the presence of McNally, this is not one of the better groups in the conference, and the constant gambling that the defense takes part in doesn't help.

Special Teams

This group is a huge question mark for Stanford. Aaron Zagory did some kicking a couple of season ago, but did a poor job. Redshirt freshman David Greencould win the job, but he is recovering from back surgery. There is similar confusion at punter, where Green will battle freshmen Daniel Zychlinski and Matt Zubyk. Doug Baldwin could handle both return duties this season, and he was solid on kickoff returns in 2007. Kimble and Gatewood will get a look as well. The coverage teams were mediocre at best last season.

Outlook

I like what Jim Harbaugh is doing at Stanford. He immediately changed the attitude of the team, and he is working hard to upgrade their recruiting efforts. The team made huge strides last year, and could improve in 2008. But the Cardinal won't be sneaking up on anyone this season. The season opens at home against Oregon State, and then Stanford ventures to ASU and then TCU back to back. 0-3 is a distinct possibility. The team also travels to Notre Dame, UCLA, and Oregon. Then the season ends with a home game against SC and a trip to Berkeley: both games against teams who will be itching for revenge. I just don't think a bowl trip is in the cards this season. The offense is still going to spotty, and the defense is feast or famine.

Questions, comments, or info? Contact me at tvenegas@comcast.net


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