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College Football End of Season Analysis: Stanford Cardinal

CFBZ 2010 Prediction: 4th Place in the Pac-10

2010 Actual Results: 2nd Place in the Pac-10 (12-1, 8-1)

In his four seasons as coach of the Stanford Cardinal Jim Harbaugh improved their record every year. In the final year with the Cardinal Harbaugh posted Stanford's best record since 1940 when the team went 10-0. Stanford started out the season with 4 straight blow-outs including UCLA (35-0) and Notre Dame (37-14). It was the fifth game of the season that would be the only blemish on an otherwise perfect year. In a battle of top ten teams Stanford jumped out on top of the higher ranked Oregon Ducks 21 to 3 in the first quarter. Oregon came roaring back but Stanford still held a 31-24 lead going into the locker room at half-time. The second half was a completely different game and one that Oregon won 28-0 to grab hold of the Pac-10, which they would never relinquish.

After losing to the Ducks the Cardinal did what any team with self-fortitude would do...they went on an 8 game winning streak and thumped Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl to put an exclamation mark on their great season. The Cardinal got some bad news this off-season when Jim Harbaugh finally gave into his suitors and took his talents to the NFL. The good news though was that rising redshirt junior Andrew Luck, who most thought would be the very first player taken in this years draft, decided to stay in college for at least one more year. The Cardinal also promoted Offensive Coordinator David Shaw to be the man that replaced the man. 2011 will mark some high expectations for Luck and first time Head Coach David Shaw. Heck, we even have them in our Pre-Spring Top 10. We caught up with Jim Rutter, Co-Founder & Editor of The Bootleg, to find out his thoughts on the 2010 season and get a quick glimpse into 2011.

1. Stanford had a fantastic year finishing at 12-1. What were your favorite moments from last year?

Almost too many great moments to list - it isn't often that Stanford experiences a 12-win season. In fact, we had never even had an 11-win season in the program's history. But OK, here are a few memorable moments:

  • Inside linebacker, AFCA first-team All-American and eventual Hornung Award-winner Owen Marecic scoring on a pick-six against Notre Dame, just 13 seconds after having scored an offensive touchdown at fullback. It was quite satisfying to watch senior kicker Nate Whitaker, a transfer from Notre Dame, boot five field goals against his former school in a 37-14 road rout.
  • Walk-on reserve wide receiver Griff Whalen’s crowd-shocking 18-yard touchdown catch, a diving grab that highlighted a 31-point effort by Stanford in the first half against the 2011 BCS Championship Game participant Oregon Ducks at raucous Autzen Stadium (only to have things completely fall apart in the second half of a 52-31 loss, the lone meaningful lapse suffered by the Cardinal all season).
  • Whitaker, who had missed an extra point earlier in the fourth quarter, kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired in a thrilling 37-35 comeback win over perennial power USC.
  • Andrew Luck's clutch, critical 14-yard toss to senior tight end Konrad Reuland to keep the eventual game-winning drive alive at Arizona State, proving that the Cardinal could win the tough ones on the road against an inspired opponent.
  • A year after playing his career-worst game in a loss against arch-rival California in 2009, watching eventual Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck pulverize a Bear defender (safety Sean Cattouse) during a spectacular 58-yard touchdown run in the Big Game. Luck led Stanford to scores on all eight of the possession he was in for during that game. It was awfully sweet to be up 45-0 at the start of the fourth quarter against your traditional rival. Could have ended up 69-0 if Harbaugh had elected to keep his starters in.
  • Hard to forget the dominant Cardinal defense, so often maligned in years past, shutting out UCLA 35-0, Washington 41-0 and Oregon State 38-0. And then shutting out Virginia Tech in the second half of a 40-12 victory in the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl. Nice.
  • 310-pound "Giant" formation fullback/offensive lineman James McGillicuddy, an affable sixth-year senior and fan-favorite, finally getting a chance to carry the rock in the closing moments of the Orange Bowl…and gaining seven yards.
  • The Topper: Watching the joyous Stanford players devouring oranges from the Orange Bowl Trophy, a fittingly symbolic tribute to the startling success of the 2010 season.

2. Which players, not named Andrew Luck, surprised you the most in 2010 with their play?

Offensively, senior WR Doug Baldwin stepped up in a big way, filling in admirably when starters Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen were hampered by injuries. Barely seeing the field the previous year, Baldwin went from the doghouse to the pigskin penthouse with heart, hops, and humility.

DE-turned OLB Chase Thomas absolutely thrived in now-departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's "3-4" defense, becoming one of the higher-impact defenders in the Pac-10 Conference. We knew Thomas was good, but he became quite the formidable force.

Athletic junior Michael "MT3" Thomas became a game-changing play-maker at safety and surprised some with his assumption of an expanded leadership role.

How about the biggest "non-surprise" of 2010?  TE/WR Coby Fleener. We have been expecting great things from this tall, fast and ridiculously talented target, and by the end of the season, he had become a true nightmare match-up - just ask Virginia Tech, whom he torched with 173 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores coming during the second-half onslaught.

3. Which players, still not named Andrew Luck, are you most looking forward to watching in 2011 (and why)?

Levine Toilolo. The 6'8" starting tight end from San Diego was lost for the season on the team's opening offensive drive in the first game. The athletic redshirt freshman had won the job over Fleener and Zach Ertz, two very talented players - so one can imagine the skills and match-up advantages Levine should give Stanford in the red zone.

Junior ILB Shayne Skov is one of our primary passion-providers on defense. Worth the price of admission just to see how much #11 loves to play - and we just received an LOI from his 244-pound younger brother Patrick Skov, a promising LB/FB.

4. What does new coach David Shaw bring to the table and what is the feeling around campus on his hire?

It is clear that some fans had hoped for a “higher-profile” hire. However, Coach Shaw is a "Stanford man" and an experienced coach with a personal style very different than that of his predecessor. He isn't as fiery as Harbaugh, but is nevertheless quite competitive  and knows what he is doing. He has the respect of the players. Time will tell if he and his newly consituted staff can inspire the team to national-caliber greatness the way fearless fanatic Jim Harbaugh and his top assistants were able to do. I expect Stanford’s preparation and game-planning to remain outstanding and the Cardinal’s in-game decision-making and clock management perhaps to improve.

5. What are the primary areas that Stanford needs to work on in the off-season to maintain their success from last year and possibly over-take Oregon for the Pac-12 Title?

A football team will experience a lot of success if its offense can continue to convert nearly 60% of its third-downs. The offensive line will have to replace some outstanding graduating veterans in first-team AP All-American Chase Beeler, and gifted 2010 starters Andrew Phillips and Derek Hall. There are some young players ready to step up, but I think there is a general consensus of expectation that the group will be challenged to repeat its success of last season, in part due to the loss of the team's running game coordinator and tackles/tight ends coach, both of whom left to follow Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.

However, don't put it past Heisman-caliber QB Andrew Luck to be so good that he will somehow manage to make things work even if his protection is slightly less effective than it was during the past two seasons, when the Cardinal surrendered only half a sack per game. Veterans Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen were key components of the 2010 receiving corps and the Cardinal desperately need someone to step up at wide receiver (Drew Terrell, Jamal-Rashad Patterson, perhaps even incoming freshman Ty Montgomery from Dallas). The staff needs to find a couple of new contributors to fill the considerable void left by graduated veteran defensive linemen Sione Fua and Brian Bulcke. Place-kicker Nate Whitaker will be tough to replace, but his younger brother Eric Whitaker will give it a shot.

The biggest questions in 2011 are 1) how the Cardinal program will respond to the loss of maniacally driven head coach Jim Harbaugh, who totally transformed the program in just four years and 2) whether Stanford’s surprisingly stout defense can maintain its remarkable level of play without coordinator Vic Fangio. Was it a freak phenomenon or did Harbaugh leave Stanford a lasting legacy? Time will tell. Now, the big question for 2012? That will be how the Cardinal offense adjusts to life “after Luck”.


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