Last year these two teams played out in California with Stanford falling 38- 36. First year coach Jim Harbaugh did improve on the teams win total from one to four from the previous year. The Cardinal did show signs off life last year, most notably the upset win over then number one ranked USC at the Coliseum. Harbaugh seems to be on the right track to get Stanford back to the levels of Ty Willingham, Bill Walsh, and among others who had Stanford going to bowl games and competing for Pac-10 titles.
Offense: The offensive unit returns seven starters that averaged just under 20 points per game, and in the Pac-10 that is a good way to get few wins if any. The most interesting story line comes from the quarterback where the battle is a three man race and one is not going to be named for another week or two if that. The coaches fell that the pressure of competing for the starting job will show who is the most ready. The three candidates for the position start with last years hero who lead Stanford to a win over USC is Tavita Pritchard who in limited action had just over 1,100 yards and completed fifty percent of his passes and looks to be the front runner. Then the other two are Jason Forcier a transfer from Michigan who was impressive in the spring game, and junior Alex Loukas combined, they have attempted three collegiate passes. With a team that was not that good last year Pritchard should not take these players likely in the competition for the starting job.
Depth was not an issue for Stanford, but the quality of the backs did not help Stanford all that much in the running game as they finished 9th in conference. If healthy, senior Anthony Kimble is the team’s feature back as he led the Cardinal last season with 509 yards despite playing in only seven of the teams twelve games. Kimble also led the team with eight touchdowns. Kimble could blossom into a 1,000 yard runner if he is able to stay on the field. Other backs who will get carries are juniors Toby Gerhart who tallied 140 yards on 12 carries before suffering a season-ending knee injury, Tyrone McGraw and sophomore Jeremy Stewart. Gerhart should be ready to go this fall but will not get the amount of carries last year until he can prove he is fully healthy and can take the hits.
The teams loan bright spot was wide receiver and now the team needs to replace their two best in Mark Bradford and Evan Moore, but they do return junior Richard Sherman who will be the teams deep threat. As for the rest of the wide outs it is a wide open competition with Doug Baldwin who looks to be the only who has seperated from the others to be the teams number two, and then in the mix include sophomore Ryan Whalen and senior Nate Wilcox-Fogel.
The offense still looks like it will struggle on offense with no clear cut number one quarterback, running backs who are coming back from injuries, and inexperience at the receiver position.
Defense: The defenses in the Pac-10 give up points, but Stanford gave up a lot by allowing 28 per game. They do return 9 starters which definetly will help this side of the ball improve. The defense gave up too many big plays and could not get timely stops and that is what cost the Cardinal time and time last season.
All is not lost because Jim Harbaugh was able to get Ron Lynn who was a NFL defensive coordinator for 11 years. Even though the defense was not good overall they did have an impressive 101 tackles for loss, 37 sacks, and 26 turnovers. While the first few months were horrible the last part of the season was when the defense started to get it. The wins were still not there but they improved after starting the first part of the season so poorly.
Senior defensive end Pannel Egboh has NFL talent as a defensive end and will anchor the defense. Last year he had 49 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and should challenge for first team all conference. Two other starters return on the defensive line, so the front should be cohesive and the others who are competing for the starting spot played significant time last year.
Linebackers on paper looks to be the strongest area of this Stanford defense. Clinton Snyder is the defense’s unquestioned leader and in 2007 earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors with some impressive numbers 89 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss, eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Besides Snyder the rest of the starting corp returns as well making this front seven very experienced and a very talented group who should be able to pressure the quarterback and contain opponents running game.
The secondary is what every team in the Pac-10 wants experience and depth in, because all teams in the league like to throw the ball. Stanford is luck to have three of four starters back from last year, and that includes Stanford track star Wopamo Osaisaiwho had an impressive eight passes broken up and a huge interception in the USC game.
Early Prediction: Both teams will be improved from last year, but while TCU is going to be playing a home game a week prior against Stephen F. Austin, Stanford will be playing back to back road games with the prior game against Pac-10 member Arizona State. Stanford will not look past TCU but the schedule definetly favors TCU who should be able to handle Stanford and win by ten points.