Pac 12

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Stanford Cardinal

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 8-5, 6-3
Bowl Game: Sun Bowl (L 31-27 vs. Oklahoma)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: T-2nd Pac-10
Offensive rank: 19
Defensive rank: 90

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Toby Gerhart, 1,871 yards, 28 TD
Passing: Andrew Luck, 2,575 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT
Receiving:
Tackles: Bo McNally, 83 total tackles; Delano Howell, 78 total tackles
Sacks: Tom Keiser, 9 sacks (8 solo, 2 assisted))
Interceptions: Delano Howell, Richard Sherman and Bo McNally, 2 interceptions each (Sherman, 1 touchdown)

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 11 @ UCLA: The conference opener down in Los Angeles will pit Andrew Luck and The Cardinal offense against a Bruins team replacing several departed defenders. Linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore are among the conference's best at their respective positions, but with several newcomers in the starting lineup, this may present an excellent opportunity for Luck and the Stanford offense to grab an early season conference win. Still, this could be a trap game for a Stanford team expecting success in 2010.

September 25 @ Notre Dame: Ok, ok, ok. The Irish aren't relevant the way they once were, but what team wouldn't relish the opportunity to travel to South Bend and beat the Irish on national television? The answer is no team.

November 20 @ California: Finishing strong against Cal in the Big Game with just one more to go would be a great way to close the season, especially if Stanford hopes to insert themselves in the conference title race at the end of the year.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)

AP: N/A

Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Toby Gerhart, RB; Jim Dray, TE; Ekom Udofia, DT; Bo McNally, S

Key Returning Players

Andrew Luck, QB; Ryan Whalen, WR; Chris Owusu, WR; David DeCastro, OG; Jonathan Martin, OT; Chase Beeler, C; Owen Marecic, LB/FB; Thomas Keiser, DE; Sione Fua, NT

Offensive Overview

The Cardinal will be without leading rusher Toby Gerhart in the backfield, but will put one of the conference's best quarterbacks under center. Andrew Luck emerged as a redshirt freshman last season and with a year of experience under his belt appears ready to take his game, and his team, to the next level. Luck looked great in the spring and has developed into a real leader on the offense.

The Cardinal will be without leading rusher Toby Gerhart in the backfield, but will put one of the conference's best quarterbacks under center. Andrew Luck emerged as a redshirt freshman last season and with a year of experience under his belt appears ready to take his game, and his team, to the next level. Luck looked great in the spring and has developed into a real leader on the offense.

The offensive line may be the best in the conference. Chase Beeler returns at the center position where he earned all-Pac-10 second team honors lasts season (he's also been named to the preseason All-American second team by The Sporting News). Tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro each started extensively in their freshman seasons, both earning Freshman All-American recognition. Andrew Phillips also returns at guard for his third year as a starter. At the wide receiver position, Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen return as the starters, but depth is a concern with few proven players behind them. .

Replacing Gerhart will likely be a team effort. After all, it's not easy to replace 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground. Gerhart single-handedly rushed for more yards than 60 teams in the nation last season and scored more rushing touchdowns than 101 teams. Stepfan Taylor was Gerhart's backup as a true freshman, rushing for 303 yards and two touchdowns of his own. He's considered the favorite in the backfield, but Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam will challenge for playing time. Watch out for fullback Owen Marecic as well. He's listed as the starting fullback (where he's been an all Pac-10 honorable mention) and a starting inside linebacker.

Defensive Overview

Defensive woes, particularly through the air, hurt Stanford last season as they finished ranked eighth in the conference in scoring defense and ninth in total defense. The Cardinal was 110th in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of 265 yards through the air per game. Turnover in personnel won't be a problem this season with most starters returning, but lackluster coverage that plagued the defense a year ago is once again a concern. Richard Sherman and Corey Gatewood are expected to hold onto their starting positions, but Johnson Bademosi could push for playing time and may challenge one of the starters for their job. Delano Howell at strong safety, in his first year on the defensive side of the ball last season, finished second on the team in tackles and figures to be the strength of this unit and one of the defensive leaders. Taylor Skaufel is set to replace the departed Bo McNalley at free safety with Austin Yancy and Michael Thomas, who moves to safety from cornerback, waiting in the wings.

Sione Fua, a quick and strong lineman at 307 pounds, will anchor the defense line at nose tackle in their first season playing out of a 3-4 scheme. Thomas Keiser, all-Pac-10 honorable mention last season, could line up at outside linebacker, but for the time being, he's a starter at defensive end. He's a pure pass rusher whose talents should take some of the pressure off of a secondary that has struggled to defend the pass. Owen Marecic, listed as the starting fullback and inside linebacker, played most of the spring with the defense. Shayne Skov will join Marecic on the interior. Skov finished third last season with 62 tackles and is one of the Pac-10's rising young stars. Chase Thomas moves from defensive end to outside linebacker along with Alex Debniak, who has a lot of people excited to see him take on a full-time role after sitting out last season with a knee injury.

Special Teams Overview

David Green returns as the team's punter after averaging 41.2 yards per punt in 2009. At kicker, Nate Whitaker hit 16 of his 22 field goal attempts in 2009 and all 53 of his extra point attempts. A transfer from Notre Dame, Whitaker attempted just one field goal (a miss) and two extra points (1 for 2) for the Irish in 2007 before transferring to Stanford. He finished his Cardinal debut with a long of 54 yards.

Chris Owusu was among the top kick returns in the nation last season, taking three back for touchdowns and averaging 31.5 yards per return. He was even named a second team preseason All-American by The Sporting News at kick returner. As a punt returner, Richard Sherman averaged 10.3 yards per return and scored a touchdown.

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh was one of the most talked about names in the silly season of coaching changes, rumors and speculation. In the end, he stayed loyal to The Cardinal, who has seen improvement in each of Harbaugh's three seasons at the helm. Last season, he took Stanford to its first bowl game since 2001 and plans on being an active contender in the race for Pasadena in 2010. Following last season's success, Harbaugh was rewarded with a three year contract extension that will keep him at Stanford through the 2014 season.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Owen Marecic, FB/LB; Ryan Whalen, WR; Chase Beeler, C; Sione Fua, DT; Richard Sherman, CB

Season Prediction

7th Pac-10

This may seem a bit low for a team returning one of the conference's top quarterbacks, arguably the best offensive line in the Pac-10 and most starters on both units, but the Pac-10 is stacked this year. Road contests against UCLA and Oregon, and then a home contest against USC is a hell of a way to start the conference schedule. They also have a road matchup against Notre Dame thrown in there. If Stanford can grab their conference opener against UCLA (which they should) and then take at least one of their next two contests against Oregon and USC, they'll be in pretty good shape to compete in one of the tightest conferences in the nation. If not, they may find themselves playing catch-up and hoping for a loss or two from Arizona, Washington, Oregon State, etc.

Success on offense shouldn't be too much of a problem despite the loss of one of the nation's top running backs. A strong offensive line, a leader under center, a couple of talented wide receivers and promise in the backfield can go a long way. Where Stanford needs to worry is on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line will be solid and the move to a three-man line improves the unit's depth. Question marks begin to arise a bit when you get to the second level and grow even more abundant at the third level. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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