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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 9. Stanford Cardinal

Kevin Hogan
9. Stanford Cardinal 

Coach: David Shaw (4th year)
2013-2014 Record: 11-3 (7-2 Pac-12)

August 30th vs. UC Davis
September 6th vs. USC
September 13th vs. Army
September 27th @ Washington
October 4th @ Notre Dame
October 10th vs. Washington State
October 18th @ Arizona State
October 25th vs. Oregon State
November 1st @ Oregon
November 15th vs. Utah
November 22nd @ California
November 28th @ UCLA

Even though the Cardinal suffered some uncharacteristic setbacks against Utah and USC during the season, 2013 was ultimately a success for David Shaw and Stanford. They went 11-3, won the Pac-12 once more, beat fierce rival Oregon and once more were in a Rose Bowl, although they fell to Michigan State. Unfortunately, the offseason was rough as the Cardinal lose a ton of talent and experience on both sides of the ball. Not to mention losing defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who left to take the head coaching gig at Vanderbilt. But, Shaw and Stanford have reached a point of sustainability and they should still be a major threat inside the Pac-12.

Backfield: Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan had an interesting 2013 campaign, his first full season as starter. Hogan showed improvement last year but still struggled in some big moments and has struggled with inconsistency. Although Stanford was a little bit more aggressive through the air a year ago, Hogan still struggled to make the important throws necessary to stretch the defense. Overall, he threw for 2,630 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions along with a 61% completion percentage. They aren't overwhelming numbers but Hogan won't put need to put up those numbers. He is a smart, game manager who won't need to throw the ball 40 times a game, considering Stanford loves to pound the ball. The loss of fifth-year senior Tyler Gaffney could put more pressure on him to make plays but expecting to see him chuck the ball around the field is unrealistic. Gaffney had a great 2013 and a great career overall in Palo Alto. He ran for 1,709 yards and was a workhorse, carrying the ball 330 times. His departure leaves running back a question, but Shaw does have a player who many believe could breakout ready to step up. His name is Barry Sanders Jr., the son of NFL legend Barry Sanders. Sanders Jr. was very productive in short spurts last year but could really explode on to the scene as a sophomore in 2014. He isn't the powerful runner Gaffney was but he is explosive and has excellent vision. Junior Remound Wright also has the chance to see carries in the backfield and could be a nice change of pace from Sanders.

Receivers: Hogan really saw some improvement as a passer last season in large part thanks to these receivers. Senior Ty Montgomery is among the nation's most explosive, constantly showing he can make plays over the top of defenses. The veteran recorded 958 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and should once more be the No. 1 option in the Cardinal passing game. Also back is another dangerous weapon, junior Devon Cajuste, who was the team's second leading receiver behind Montgomery in 2013. Cajuste also proved to be a player who could burn defenders deep and he averaged nearly 23 yards per reception last year. Along with the big names of Cajuste and Montgomery, the Cardinal also welcome back sophomore Michael Rector and junior Kodi Whitfield. Those two were the No.3 and No.4 receivers last year, giving Hogan nearly everything he had to work with last season returning. Rector is a reliable possession receiver who can make all the catches while Whitfield can make defenders miss. Tight end has really been a strength for Stanford in the Harbaugh-Shaw era and redshirt freshman Austin Hooper could be the next stud at the position. Hooper originally came to Stanford as a receiver but has the size and abilities to really become a very effective tight end. Another redshirt freshman, Eric Cotton will also compete for opportunities along with freshman Dalton Schultz. Schultz, who comes from Utah, was a very nice pickup for Shaw and this staff. He is rated as the No. 1 incoming tight end by most scouting services and he could be a dynamic weapon in this Stanford aerial attack.

Offensive Line: A big reason for Stanford's success over the years has been their defense and their ability to find great running backs. But, perhaps none has been as important as their offensive line, which must now replace four starters. Among them are two NFL talents in tackle Cameron Fleming and guard David Yankey. The silver lining is the lone returning starter is junior Andrus Peat, who plays at an important position of left tackle. Peat is fantastic and now the clear anchor of this unit; his mix of size and mobility could allow him to become an All-American. He is widely considered a first-round NFL talent entering this year. The other good news is the unit has looked good in practices and in the spring game. Sophomore Johnny Caspers is the likely starter on at right guard and junior Joshua Garnett should start at left guard. Both are still pretty young but have all the physical tools to be very effective linemen this year. Sophomore Graham Shuler is also going to have to step up at center where Khalil Wilkes played last year. Shuler is a tough, gritty player who looked really good this spring and should not be a problem. Offensive tackle Casey Tucker was an important addition to this team, he will compete for starts right away. Joining Tucker will be another tackle, Reilly Gibbons and an effective guard, Austin Hall. This unit is now very young but Shaw has recruited well and it really should not be a major weakness.

Defensive Line: Overall, Stanford has had some of the nastier and just plain best defenses in the nation under Mason. His departure hurts as does the number of key contributors gone throughout the D, especially on the defensive line. Ends Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner are both gone from this unit, meaning the Cardinal will be without two fantastic pass rushers. Mauro was very important to the success of Stanford's rush defense last year, recording 12.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles and 51 tackles. The good news is that senior Henry Anderson returns, giving Stanford a veteran who has proven he can be very disruptive. Anderson had 20 tackles and 3 sacks during his junior campign; expect bigger numbers with him becoming a full-time starter at end this year. On the other side, expect senior James Vaughters to blossom into a key contributor for the Cardinal. Vaughters had 37 tackles and four sacks last season. He is gifted with a tremendous motor and he seemed to get even bigger and stronger this off season. Those two should definitely help but the loss of Gardner and Mauro still does hurt. Another senior, Blake Lueders is going to start at one of the defensive tackle spots in this 4-3 system. Lueders is huge and has a nose for the ball; he won't sack the quarterback much but he can still be a force and is a huge help in run defense. The Cardinal's number one recruit in the 2014 recruiting cycle is Solomon Thomas, a four-star rated end by ESPN who received five stars from some scouting services. While Thomas will be stuck behind a number of veterans, he has all the talent to become a star in 2015, when Stanford will surely lose a new wave of impact defenders to the NFL and graduation.

Linebackers: Few players in the nation meant as much to their team as Shayne Skov, a five-year beast of a middle linebacker for Stanford. Skov did it all last year, relying on incredible instincts to rack up 109 tackles, 13 TFL and 5.5 sacks. His loss hurts on the inside of this unit while the graduation of Trent Murphy hurts the outside of these linebacker corps. The return of senior A.J. Tarpley helps ensure new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson a playmaking veteran to work with inside this group. Tarpley recorded 93 tackles last year, second only to Skov and should be a beast at one of the outside linebacker positions. The most likely replacement for Skov? A junior with a ton of upside in Blake Martinez who should take over starting middle linebacker duties. Martinez is a player who reads plays very well and is quick to the ball. He definitely won't be the equal of Skov but he can do very well. Joining Tarpley and Martinez as a likely starter will be junior Kevin Anderson, a hard-working outside linebacker. Anderson can be an improved pass rusher this season, he is a versatile weapon who has the quickness and agility to burst through blockers and make big-time stops. Depth is no issue for this unit as the Cardinal return a number of players who can help out but won't start. Joe Hemschoot is a beast on special teams but a guy many of the coaches believe can make an impact on defense. Peter Kalambayi didn't see much action his first year in Palo Alto but could be poised to make a much larger impact with all the losses on this unit.
Alex Carter

Secondary: The defensive backfield didn't go through this offseason without their fair share of losses, including All-American Ed Reynolds, who was the team's leader at safety. Reynolds was a smart, productive safety with excellent ball skills and his loss hurts. The return of senior Jordan Richards, who started alongside Reynolds, is great. Richards had 68 tackles last year but also proved to be a really good coverage safety, recording three interceptions. Richards is a ball hawk who recognizes plays very well and seems to always be around the ball. At cornerback, two juniors return as Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons could form quite the duo. Neither were stars last year but were effective and really are helped by Richards' ability to be a help in coverage along with the linebackers. Lyons did finish with 69 tackles and two picks and can be shutdown at times though is not always consistent. The Cardinal also say goodbye to effective nickel back Usua Amanam who was a pretty hard hitter and could make big plays when needed. Whoever replaces Reynolds at the other safety slot has their hands full though Richards will help them.

Special Teams: Another strength of last year's team was special teams and this unit doesn't suffer any major losses. Kicker Jordan Williamson, who knocked down 18 of 22 field goal attempts returns, along with punter Ben Rhyne. Ty Montgomery was an All-American returner a year ago and will handle kick return duties.

Stanford has become a program that doesn't really rebuild, they reload. The defense has a ton of losses and finding new leaders will be important. The good news is that the offense could really find its groove if Hogan can continue his improvement. The receivers are dangerous and the O-Line has all the talent to be a superb unit. The schedule is no breeze especially in November when the Cardinal will get both Oregon and UCLA on the road. Expect the Cardinal to take a step up back in 2014 but they should still be right there with Oregon in the Pac-12 North.

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