CFN Preview 2013 - Stanford Cardinal
Stanford LB Shayne Skov
Stanford LB Shayne Skov
Posted Jun 21, 2013 2013 Preview - Stanford Cardinal

Stanford Cardinal

Preview 2013

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- By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: David Shaw
Third year: 23-4
Returning Lettermen
Off. 29, Def. 27, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Stanford Players
1. OG David Yankey, Sr.
2. LB Shayne Skov, Sr.
3. LB Trent Murphy, Sr.
4. FS Ed Reynolds, Jr.
5. DE Ben Gardner, Sr.
6. OG Kevin Danser, Sr.
7. QB Kevin Hogan, Soph.
8. DE Henry Anderson, Jr.
9. SS Jordan Richards, Jr.
10. RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr.
2013 Schedule
9/7 San Jose State
9/14 at Army
9/21 Arizona State
9/28 at Washington State
10/5 Washington
10/12 at Utah
10/19 UCLA
10/26 at Oregon State
11/7 Oregon
11/16 at USC
11/23 California
11/30 Notre Dame
Sorry, Pac-12. Stanford isn't going away anytime soon.

With each hurdle the Cardinal clears, it becomes abundantly more obvious that Stanford is one of the dozen or so strongest programs in college football. Influential coaches have come and gone, and Heisman finalists have graduated to the NFL, yet the school has still found a way to go 35-5, with BCS bowl berths in each of the last three years.

If Stanford was going to display cracks in the infrastructure, last year might have been the time to do it. Heck, young head coach David Shaw surely lived off the right arm of Andrew Luck in 2011, right? Uh-uh. In what might have been the most telling season in school history, the Cardinal won the Pac-12 to make a long-awaited return to the Rose Bowl … with a freshman quarterback filling the shoes of the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. It was a remarkable testament to the strength of Stanford's foundation, future and coaching staff.

Now that the rookie quarterback, Kevin Hogan, is, well, no longer a rookie, the Cardinal is looking to move further north in its evolution. Back-to-back Pac-12 championships? Or how about contending for a national championship, the program's first of any kind since the pre-WWII era?

Stanford, thanks in large part to the blueprint originally put in place by Jim Harbaugh, has found a formula for sustained success. Using an old-school approach, it goes from coast-to-coast to mine well-rounded student-athletes, and it builds from the inside out. Sure, Luck has been the recent face of the program, but it's been the linemen who've really made the offense go. And over on defense, the Cardinal's front seven during the recent run has been as assertive as any this side of Tuscaloosa.

In many ways, the Cardinal is beginning a new era in 2013; an era in which Top 25 finishes and BCS bowl contention are the norm. And why not? Stanford not only has as much talent, particularly in the trenches, as anyone in the league, but it has also located some welcome stability. The rising star coach is becoming a veteran. And the quarterback is no longer wide-eyed and wet behind the ears. The Cardinal is here to stay, and it's getting stronger with each passing successful campaign.

What to watch for on offense: The new weapons. The Cardinal lost its three best skill position players, RB Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Now what? The offense is likely to employ a committee to keep the chains moving in 2013. On the ground, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney, who spent last year with a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, are eminently capable of working the area between the tackles. And Luke Kaumatule and David Dudchock plan to do their best to emulate Ertz and Toilolo, respectively.

What to watch for on defense: Sheer domination from the front seven. Few programs outside of maybe Alabama can boast an ensemble of talent, experience and physicality at the line and linebacker as good as the one on the Farm. The Cardinal is littered with All-Pac-12-caliber and next-level veterans who are going to feed off another. The Ben Gardner-led line averages 285 pounds, while the linebackers are close to 250 pounds. For most opponents on the schedule, facing Stanford will feel an awful lot like attempting to navigate an NFL defense.

The team will be far better if… it converts on third downs the way it did over the second half of the season … and not the first half of 2012. The Stanford offense was never prolific last fall, though it did operate with a higher degree of efficiency after QB Kevin Hogan assumed the controls on Nov. 3. Not coincidentally, the Cardinal didn't drop a game beyond that point. When the offense can keep the chains moving, it'll wear down defenses in the latter stages of games. When Stanford sputtered, it was vulnerable against inferior teams.

The Schedule: San Jose State isn't a pushover – the Cardinal found that out to open up the 2012 season – but a 2-0 start is likely with a trip to Army to follow. The Pac-12 schedule starts up with a good test hosting Arizona State, and things aren't that bad over the first half of the season going on the road to play winnable games against Washington State and Utah wrapped around a home game against Washington. Beat the Huskies and get by UCLA at home in a Pac-12 championship rematch, and Stanford should be 7-0 before going to Oregon State.

The second half of the season is a bear starting with the trip to Corvallis. There's a week off to rest up and get ready for the back-to-back showdowns hosting Oregon and going to USC. The Cal game is the one break, but that's always an emotional rivalry, and then comes what should be another epic battle against Notre Dame.

Best offensive player: Senior LG David Yankey. Fittingly for a team that mauls opponents at the point of attack, its best offensive player is a faceless and relatively nameless interior blocker. Yankey is the latest in a growing line of pile-driving run blockers, a versatile and heady technician. The versatile 6-5, 301-pound All-American earned the coveted Morris Trophy, given to the Pac-12's best blocker, in a year that he switched from his natural guard spot to left tackle. Yankey is downright intimidating on running plays, enveloping his man in order to create daylight.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Shayne Skov. FS Ed Reynolds, LB Trent Murphy and even DE Ben Gardner can certainly make an argument for this spot, testament to the depth of talent on the Cardinal D. Skov, though, is a different kind of cat. He plays the game just a little faster and a little meaner than those around him, creating a contagious effect in the huddle. The 6-3, 244-pounder in the middle led Stanford with 81 stops, nine of which were behind the line, last year. But it still wasn't vintage Skov. That guy figures to reappear this fall, as NFL scouts begin to really monitor his penchant for stuffing the run.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan. Stanford's greatest room for improvement in 2013 is clearly on offense. And no one on that offense is capable of spearheading change faster than Hogan. No one is asking for—or expecting—an Andrew Luck impersonation. What the coaching staff would like to see, though, is a continuation of the development that began last November. More specifically, Stanford is looking for the sophomore to bring a more consistent threat to the passing attack, complementing an already potent ground game.

The season will be a success if ... the Cardinal makes it back-to-back Pac-12 titles and returns to the Rose Bowl. Stanford is one of the league's two best teams, and the other one, Oregon, will make the trip to Northern California on Nov. 7. In fact, David Shaw's kids might be a road underdog just once all year, the Nov. 16 trip to the Coliseum to face USC. The Cardinal now begins seasons expecting championships, which is what its mindset will be when San Jose State visits for the opener.

Key game: Nov. 7 vs. Oregon. There have been plenty of enormous Thursday night games over the years. This one between the Pac-12's two favorites has a chance to rank among the biggest. Not only could the North Division race hinge on the outcome, but the possibility exists that this title bout winds up being a prelim for a spot in the final BCS National Championship Game. Last year's meeting at Autzen Stadium was a thriller won by the visitors. This fall's game should be every bit as exciting, and might be even more impactful on the national landscape.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game - rushing: Stanford 174.3 – Opponents 97
- First-quarter scoring: Stanford 103 – Opponents 34
- Sacks: Stanford 57 - Opponents 19
- 2013 Stanford Preview | 2013 Stanford Offense
- 2013 Stanford Defense | 2013 Stanford Depth Chart