2011 Record: 11-2; 8-1 Pac 12
2011 Bowl: 38-41 L vs Oklahoma State @ Fiesta Bowl
Head Coach: David Shaw
Odds to win BCS: 200/1
Odds to win Pac 12: 25/1
Odds to win Pac 12 North Division: 15/2
Losing Andrew Luck is just a bit of a blow, to say the very least, but Athlon magazine still predicts an 8-4 overall record from the Cardinals and they have more issues than just replacing the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. To that first point though, they will turn their attention to sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes. Nunes was just announced as the starter today.
Sophomore Ty Montgomery should be a primary target, a he caught 24 passes last year, and they’ll also look closely at the likes of Jamal Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell, who must produce going into their senior years. The fact that the Cards have two very good tight ends in Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo should make things a bit easier to take, though.
Even still, losing Luck might not be quite as big a blow as people think. Stanford still has a pro style offense predicated upon keeping the ball on the ground and the Cardinals ranked 18th in the nation in rushing yardage last year with 210 yards per game, which was actually slightly higher ranked than their pass game, which was good for 22nd in the nation. Stepfan Taylor is one of the best Pac 12 tailbacks and ran for over 1000 yards both of the last two seasons. He’ll be relied upon heavily, to say the least.
Worth noting, however, is that the Cards lost two All-American OLs to the NFL. They should still be strong on the line with C Sam Schwartzstein snapping the ball, and LG David Yankley and RT Cameron Fleming will prove crucial, as well.
Stanford’s DL is one of the best in the nation, but it will rely a lot on the return of Shayne Skov who has been recovering from an ACL tear that occurred in the third game of last year. He also had a DUI arrest the could result in disciplinary action.
Chase Thomas had an outstanding year last season and should be one of the nation’s top outside linebackers, while James Vaughters and Noor Davis figure to play a prominent role up front in their own rights.
The Cardinals are good up front, ith All Pac 12 second team selection Ben Gardner at end, but replacing Matt Masifilo will be a challenge.
Other issues defensively include the problems in the secondary after losing both Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. Terrence Brown will return at CB and the other corner will be filled by Wayne Lyons, who was supposed to start last year prior to suffering a foot injury.
All Pac 12 second team kicker Jordan Williamson had a great year in 2011, but it was overshadowed by his two late missed field goal attempts in the Fiesta Bowl. Williamson should have a career in the NFL, but will need to hit the big ones at the next level. Daniel Zychlinski is the returning starter at punter.
The return game should be pretty solid with Terrell returning the ball, as he led the Pac 12 in punt returns last season, while Montgomery was fourth in kick returns. Montgomery may not do as many returns this year though, given his higher usage rate as a running back.
The odds are stacked heavily against Stanford to reach another BCS bowl game, with college football oddsmakers setting the line at 200/1 to win the BCS. Still, the subtraction of Luck will not remove Stanford from such conversations. They’ve been a strong program for a while and it will take more than the removal of one superstar to disable this program.
Nunes will need to step up and the receivers will have to learn his ways. The running game will compensate until that happens. The offense still will produce points. The defense, which was ranked 26th nationally last year in total yardage allow (337.6 per game) will be solid, too.
The schedule may not be the easiest though, with road games at Oregon, Notre Dame, and Washington, and then the home game against USC. Still, the Cardinals will find a way to post a good record, and as I said, Athlon predicts an 8-4 finish which will keep them in the hunt after their 11-2 record last year.