Last season, Jim Harbaugh took over a struggling Stanford team that hadn't experienced a winning season since 2001 when Current UW coach Ty Williangham was the man in charge. Things hit rock bottom in 2006 when the Cardinal went 1-11, beating only the Huskies.
Harbaugh brought improvement with him in 2007, but the Cardinal still didn't have a season to brag about (4-8, 3-6 Pac-10). Stanford did pull off one of the best upsets of all time, a 24-23 victory over then #2 USC. You may remember it:
I love it: "Touchdown USC!!! er... STANFORD! Touchdown Stanford! My Goodness!"
What's different this year?
Stanford returns the most starters in the Pac-10 (16), Nine of those starters are from the defense, and Tavita Pritchard returns to anchor the offense at quarterback, although he will be challenged. The Cardinal are hoping get to a bowl for the first time since the 2001 Seattle Bowl, but even though they're improving, I don't see them rising to the top of the Pac-10 this year.
The Coaching Staff
Jim Harbaugh is back for his second season, like we said earlier. Before 2007 he was the head coach at Divison I-AA (or Football Championship Subdivision) San Diego. He went 29-6 in his years there, winning Championships in his final two season there.
Former Defensive Coordinator Scott Schafer left for Michigan, and Ron Lynn and Andy Buh will share the duties this year. Buh was promoted to the co-coordinator position from Linebacker coach, and Lynn is a longtime NFL assistant who's worked with teh Chargers, Raiders, and Redskins in the past.
Even though Tavita Pritchard engineered the upset of USC last year, he wasn't the starter at the beginning of the season. In fact, he only had three career passes before the USC game. T.C. Ostrander was the starter for the first half of last season before he went down with a injury against Arizona State. Pritchard will battle junior Alex Loukas and Michigan transfer Jason Forcier for the starting job in fall camp.
If Anthony Kimble stays healthy, he'll be the starter heading into 2007. Kimble led the team in rushing last year despite missing a handful of games with a shoulder injury. But he's not the only threat. Junior Toby Gerhart (he plays outfield for the baseball team, too) will be back as well. Gerhart and Kimble were expected to be co-starters last year before Gerhart went down with a season ending knee injury against San Jose State in the second game of the year.
Sophomore Tyrone McGraw and senior Jeremy Stewart should also get some time. Stanford is set at fullback with sophomore Owen Marecic returning after starting every game as a true freshman.
Stanford must replace last year's duo of Mark Bradford and Evan Moore, who combined for a total of 90 catches last season. Junior Richard Sherman is back, but the Cardinal will need him to be dependable, consistent, and mature. He was suspended for a game last season due to sportsmanship issues, which may give you a taste of his demeanor. Sophomores Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen are frontrunners to join Sherman. There is also talent at tight end, where Ben Ladner will likely start.
The Cardinal are anchored in the middle of the line by senior Alex Fletcher (6-3, 298) who's switching from right guard to center after the departure of Tim Mattran. Fletcher was a 2nd team, All Pac-10 guard last season, so if he can successfully learn the ropes at center, he should have a strong year. Allen Smith started the majorty of the games last season at Left Tackle, but he's still recovering from injury. If he stays sidelined, expect Ben Muth to take over on the outside. At right tackle, senior Chris Marinelli (6-7, 302) returns. Senior Gustav Rystedt will likely play left guard, and junior Andrew Phillips will be the right guard.
Read about the Stanford defense after the break...
Prior to 2007, the Cardinal utilized a three man front. But in 2007, they moved Ekom Udofia to nose tackle, and Stanford's four line front was born. Three starters return to this unit, but defensive tackle Brian Bulcke (pronounced Bull-key) , the only non-starter, earned starts in the final two games of last season. While we're talking about Buckle, we should mention that he's the only player on the Stanford roster from Canada. Bet you didn't know that.
At left defensive end is Pannel Egboh, the senior, who could be one of the Pac-10's most dominant pass rushers. He's made 24 consecutive starts since breaking his leg in October of 2008, and is one of Stanford's most dependable and consistent players on defense.
Opposite Egboh at right defensive end is Erik Lorig. Lorig transitioned to the defensive line from the tight end position last spring, and started eight games on the line. He finished the season with 37 tackles, 7.5 of those for loss, and 2 sacks (one of those coming against the Beavers).
Finally, we can't forget about nose tackle Edom Udofia. He's big-- 6-2, 310, and along with Pannel Egboh could be one of the Pac-10's best defensive linemen if he stays healthy.
This is the strength of the Cardinal defense, with Clinton Snyder, Chike Amajoyi, and Pat Maynor all returning. Snyder and Maynor started 11 games last season and Amojoyi started six, but this trio started Stanford's final four games of 2007. They also have depth with junior Nick Macaluso, who is expected to work on with Chike Amajoyi at middle linebacker.
The Cardinal only lose cornerback Nick Sanchez from last year's team, making this a veteran group. Strong safety Bo McNally and Free safety Austin Yancy were two of three defensive players who started every game last year for the Cardinal. McNally finished second in the Pac-10 with 114 tackles in 2007. Wopamo Osaisai returns at left cornerback, and Kris Evans is expected to start on the right side. These two split time at the cornerback position not occupied by Nick Sanchez last year.
The Cardinal are starting from scratch on Special Teams. They lost both their kicker (Derek Belch) and punter (Jay Ottovegio) from last year's team. Sophomore David Green will handle the punting and possible the kicking, but senior Aaron Zagory hopes he'll be the placekicker come August 28.
There you have it, folks.