The case for
It began on the night of Nov. 17, 2012, when Stanford upset the Ducks 17--14 in Eugene, holding them to 28 fewer points than any other regular-season opponent. "The Oregon game showed people—which we had been saying, but no one had been listening—that we have speed on the defensive side of the ball," says coach David Shaw. That defense, which finished No. 5 nationally against the run (97.0 yards per game) and helped lift Stanford to a Pac-12 championship and a 20--14 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, has eight starters back, including the safety tandem of All-America Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards and standout linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov—as well as nickelback UsuaAmanam, the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal may have the most loaded D outside of the state of Alabama. Meanwhile, they remain formidable on the offensive front, led by All-America guard David Yankey, while sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan (5--0 as the starter) is now far more versed in the offense.
The case against
Stanford had only 47 plays of 20 yards or more last season, less than half that of leader Texas A&M (100) and 92nd nationally. The Cardinal need more big strikes but lack proven playmakers at running back, receiver and tight end.
What does the return of Tyler Gaffney from minor league baseball mean for your backfield?
We've got five guys [Gaffney, Barry Sanders, Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright and Kelsey Young] who we believe would start most places. The job for us as coaches is to make sure we use these guys.
How much further along is quarterback Kevin Hogan from the end of last year?
We're no longer where he's learning what to do, which is great. We're at the point where he's learning how to do it better. He knows the offense. We need to get to the point where he masters it.
Who will emerge as the playmakers on offense?
We've got some guys on the outside who we think are going to make plays for us. [Wide receiver] Ty Montgomery is finally healthy. Some young receivers too—Michael Rector has come on; Kodi Whitfield is making plays; Devon Cajuste as well.
What's your biggest concern?
What I'm watching for—hunger and consistency. Don't let accomplishment extinguish the fire.
Player to Watch
Speedy 5'10", 189-pound sophomore Kelsey Young plays the "Kelsey." In 2012 the hybrid WR/RB piled up 412 yards on 30 touches, and he'll see more action this year. "He's proven when he gets the ball, the first guy won't make the tackle," says Shaw.
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Kevin Hogan
Pass: 2,790 yards, 23 TDs
Run: 446 yards, 4 TDs
RB Barry Sanders
Run: 860 yards, 7 TDs
Rec.: 280 yards, 2 TDs
WR Ty Montgomery
Rec.: 650 yards, 5 TDs
Kick Ret.: 1 TD
The slate is overwhelmingly backloaded—the Cardinal don't even play a game on opening weekend—but at least the majority of their toughest games are in Palo Alto. Over the last six weeks, Stanford visits Oregon State, hosts Oregon, visits USC and hosts rival Cal before finishing with Notre Dame.
SI Power Ratings
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
PETER READ MILLER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HOGAN)
ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (SHAW)