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ATQ's Pac-10 Preview Spectacular: Stanford University


Stanford Cardinal
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (First Season) 29-6 Overall
2006 Record: 1-11, 10th Pac-10
2006 vs. Oregon:  40-18 Ducks at Autzen
2007 vs. Oregon:  9/22 @ Stanford

Returning Starters:
7 Offensive, 8 Defensive

2007 Schedule:
9/1 UCLA
9/15 San Jose State
9/22 Oregon
9/29 Arizona State
10/6 @USC
10/13 TCU
10/20 @Arizona
10/27 @Oregon State
11/3 Washington
11/10 @Washington State
11/24 Notre Dame
12/1 California

Stanford was historically bad last season.  Pac-10 fans spent much of the season wondering whether the Cardinal would manage to win a single game, and only an injury to UW's Isaiah Stanback kept Stanford from putting up the goose egg.  Competent in no facet of the game, they averaged an anemic 231 yards per game on offense.  Behind arguably the worst offensive line in the country, only 65.1 of those yards came on the ground.  And an overworked and undertalented defense was 108th in the nation in scoring defense.  What made the season that much more disappointing was that it looked in 2005 like they were about ready to right the ship, as they were a minute away from going to a bowl game that year.  Needless to say, this meltdown led to the firing of Walt Harris, and the hiring of San Diego's Jim Harbaugh as the new coach.

Harbaugh has a track record of success.  He was 29-6 at USD before coming to Palo Alto.  And he's saying all the right things about what he expects out of the Cardinal this season.  But the fact of the matter is that he lost his most talented player in Trent Edwards.  The offensive line was terrible last year.  The defensive line didn't pressure anybody.  The secondary was repeatedly burned deep.  If firmly believe that Harbaugh is a good coach.  And that in a few years, Stanford will not be the laughingstock that it is now.  However, how much of a turnaround can we expect in one year?  Let's break it down:

Offense

Quarterbacks
When you think about Stanford's one win last season, remember that they had arguably the best quarterback in the Pac-10 last season.  Trent Edwards was good enough to be the third round pick of the Buffalo Bills, but was able to do little with the Cardinal because their O-line was so bad that he was beaten to a bloody pulp (Stanford Qbs were sacked 50 times last year).  HIs backup last year, TC Ostrander, will be the starter this season.  Ostrander  has appeared in 22 games over three years with the Cardinal, his best coming in '04 against the Ducks.  

He's big at 6'3" and has a good arm, but has major accuracy issues, as a 47.3% career completion percentage shows.  By all accounts, Ostrander is a downgrade from Edwards, and there is no reason to believe that he won't be on his back just as much as Edwards was.  Its awfully hard to find a receiver if you can't stand upright long enough for them to run routes.  Picture Jason Fife without an offensive line, and that's about what you get.  And there's not much behind him.  Backups Tavita Pritchard and Alex Loukas have one career pass attempt between them.

Running Backs
The Cardinal averaged 65.1 yards a game on the ground last season.  While certanly the worst offensive line in the country had something to do with that, the running backs have to be able to produce a bit.   Anthony Kimble, last year's starter, comes back.  He had only 470 yards and two scores despite starting all games last year.  But, again, he had no holes to run through.  He's a converted receiver, meaning he has some skills in the passing game, and can make people miss in the open field, if he ever gets one.

Helping out Kimble will be Toby Gerhart, a sophomore who was Stanford's leading rusher against Oregon last season.  Many on the farm think that Gerhart is a future star.  He's a bigger, more bruising back whereas Kimble is more speedy and shifty.  Gerhart broke his arm playing baseball in the spring, so it will be interesting to see if that has any bearing on the gridirion.  Emeka Nnoli is a huge back who will be the primary blocking back, but is also a receiving threat out of the backfield.  Overall, Stanford has some decent talent at the running back position, much more so than at QB.  However, the offensive line will have to open up some holes for them to be very effective.

Receivers
Talent-wise, Stanford is in better shape here than they are at any other position.  In fact, their two starters are among the best in the conference.  However, while the receivers are very talented, they do not have much of a track record for staying healthy throughout a season.  SeniorEvan Moore is a beast that bullies defensive backs at 6'7" 235.  However, he has missed 15 games the past two seasons with various injuries.  When healthy, he's deadly.  Mark Bradford is even more talented than Moore.  You may remember that he absolutely torched Oregon last year.  The problem is he only played in one game after that.  But Bradford is super fast and, as a former basketball player, can leap over DBs for catches.  If these guys are healthy, and the quarterback actually has time to throw, the passing game should actually be pretty good.  However, those are big ifs.

Sophomore Richard Sherman waits in the wings should the top two guys prove to be made of glass again.  He led the Cardinal in receiving last year, and is a speedster who also runs track.  Could be a Samie Parker type receiver.  Jim Dray returns to start at tight end, though he's pretty harmless.

Offensive Line
Where do I begin?  You know by now that they were bad, maybe the worst in the country.  The Cardinal lose three starters on the line, though it awfully hard to say that's a bad thing at this point.  The good news is that left tackle Allen Smith is one of the better offensive linemen in the conference.  Getting Tim Mattran back, who was the starting center in '05 but missed all of last season, will help out immensely.  However, that's about all the positive for this group.  The rest of the unit has received plenty of playing time, but have been either ineffective or wildly inconsistent.  Alex Fletcher, who has started 20 games at Stanford, is the only other returning starter, but he can't pass block.  The left guard and right tackle positions are totally by committee--among guys that were terrible last year.  There are no stud freshmen that might come in and surprise.  So Harbaugh an Co. are just going to have to hope that they've improved a lot.  Unfortunately, there's nothing to indicate that at this point.

Defense

Defensive Line
If only Stanford's offensive line could have gone up against their defensive line every game, they might have been okay.  Stanford had fewer sacks than any other team in the conference last season.  The good news is that the most of that line returns, and you know that they have to be better than last year.  Pannel Egboh is the best of the bunch.  He led the team with 5.5 tackles for loss and had two sacks last year.  With his body, at 6'6" and 280 lbs., he's the best candidate to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

On the opposite side will be Udeme Udofia, who's switching from linebacker to end to help the pass rush.  While he's a decent pass rusher, he struggles with run defense, so good backs should go to his side.  Udofia's brother, Ekom, will start at guard and is a better run stuffer than Udeme.  Chris Horn leads a cast of characters vying for the other starting spot.  Much like the offensive line, there are no stud freshmen or transfers who are coming in to save this crew.  So the only way this crew is going to be better is by simple hard work and improvement.  While there will be some improvement, they aren't moving into the upper echelon of the conference anytime soon.

Linebackers
First, the really bad news.  Michael Okowo, by far the best defensive player on the team last year, is gone.  In fact, the only returning is sophomore Clinton Snyder.  Snyder may be their best returning defensive player.  He recorded 83 tackles and two sacks last year and is very quick for a linebacker.  Four players are vying for the other two positions, Brian Bulcke, Tom McAndrew, Pat Maynor, and Will Powers.  Maynor started last year, but with a new coach that may not mean a whole lot.  Rumor has it that Bulcke has shown the most upside and will probably get one of the nods.  We know that Snyder will be very good, we do not know what to expect from the rest of the group.

Secondary
The secondary is an interesting unit for the Cardinal this year.  They have three competent corners.  Wopamo Osaisai is lightning quick.  He's the school record holder in the 100 meter dash.  And he really came into his own the last half of last season.  Some expect that he'll be one of the Pac-10's elite corners this year.  Tim Sims and Nick Sanchez are both seniors with loads of experience.  Safety, however, is a whole other animal.  The Cardinal have nobody with any experience whatsoever at the position.  And what's worse is that there are no real front runners at this point.  Safety has the potential to be a total disaster.

Special Teams

Both the kicker and the punter return.  However, last year's kicker, Aaron Zagory, wasn't very good, and it looks like senior Derek Belch will win the job for next year.  He has a big leg, but struggles with his accuracy.  Freshman kicker David Green is the future at the position, and they could decide to go with him at some point in the season.  There are no such issues at punter, where Jay Ottovegio is a fourth year starter.

Prediction
Well, the good news is that is can't get much worse.  That wide receiver corp, if they can stay healthy, is a real bright spot.  Unfortunately, their biggest weaknesses, at the offensive and defensive lines, don't look like they'll be significantly better, and the safety and kicker positions could be total disasters.  They don't really have a whole lot more talent than they did last season.

Their schedule isn't doing them any favors, either.  Having Notre Dame and TCU as non-conference games can be written off now as losses.  Their first four games are at home, but they don't have the talent to compete with UCLA, Oregon, or ASU.  The one possibly winnable game in there is against San Jose State who, although they went to a bowl last season, loses significant starters on both ends of the ball.  They're not beating Cal or SC or WSU at the Palouse in November, and its tough to imagine them scoring a whole lot against Arizona's defense, even if Mike Stoops is the worst coach in the league.  That leaves Washington as the most winnable game on the schedule, and I'm just not sure that UW will let that happen two years in a row.

Jim Harbaugh will make things better on the farm.  Just not this year.  There's no way that Stanford wins more than two games--they just don't have the talent.  New coach, same result.  This is your last place Pac-10 team for 2007.

--Dave