Today, we are talking with Rule Of Tree. They give us all the down and dirty on our favorite enemy, Stanford! The Trees are certainly going through a transition now, coming off one of the most successful seasons in their history. They still have Andrew Luck at QB, if he can get some time away from his busy scheduling filming The Goonies 2: Goonie Harder. But now Jim Harbaugh has jumped from the hated Cardinal to my beloved Forty-Niners, putting me in quite the awkward position. Yes, I'm happy I don't have to see him across the field at Big Game, but now I have to, gulp, root for him!
So, Stanford fans must be a little nervous about how the 2011 season will transpire. David Shaw is the new head coach and he hopes to build upon Harbaugh's annoying success at the Farm. He'll have to deal with a lot of turnover on the offensive line. He'll have to replace Mr. Perfect Owen Marcic. He'll have to sacrifice a virgin every day at high noon on top of Hoover Tower to ensure he upholds Stanford's deal with the devil. Wouldn't want to breach that covenant!
After the jump, read what Scott Allen has to say about the Trees. Leave your thoughts in the comments. Many thanks to Rule Of Tree! GO BEARS!
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
How will the offensive line fare following the loss of three seniors who anchored a unit that allowed 13 sacks over the last two seasons combined? Who will replace Sione Fua and fill the middle on the defensive side of the ball? Positive reports throughout the spring and the team's performance in the Spring Game allayed my minor concerns about the first question. Veterans Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro should help make the Stanford offensive line one of the best in the conference once again. Terrence Stephens played well in the Spring Game and is the favorite to replace Fua at nose tackle, but depth could be an issue along the defensive line, as Stanford must also replace defensive tackle Brian Bulcke.
2. Any new style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That seems to be the approach that new head coach David Shaw and his assistants are taking, and why not? There's been a lot of turnover since the Cardinal's Orange Bowl victory, but Stanford doesn't figure to deviate from its run first, let Andrew Luck do his Heisman thing later approach on offense, or the 3-4 scheme that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who followed Jim Harbaugh to the 49ers, installed last season. Expect more of the same character and cruelty in 2012.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
There was a lot of buzz about Ryan Hewitt, who is being billed as Stanford's new Mr. Versatility and the heir apparent to Owen Marecic. Hewitt doesn't play both ways, but he can probably offer more offensively than Marecic did and expected to play H-back and fullback. Luck targeted him on the first play of the Spring Game on a play-action pass. Defensively, former running back Usua Amanam made great strides in his transition to cornerback. Stanford is hoping that Amanam's transition to defense works out just as well as the one that former wide receiver Richard Sherman made before his junior year.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
In addition to the uncertainty along the defensive line, I'm a little worried about Stanford's receiving corps. Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin both graduated and Chris Owusu is coming off an injury-plagued season. If Owusu is healthy, he could have a huge year, and Griff Whalen is a solid receiver as well. I'd like to see Jamal-Rashad Patterson play a bigger role in the offense, which will feature a trio of stud tight ends in Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, and Coby Fleener.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
Pac-12 Championship and BCS bowl game contender. With Luck returning and a stable of talented running backs, including Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford is loaded again on offense. Shayne Skov is poised to become a household name on defense. There's a decent chance the Cardinal will be 9-0 when it hosts Oregon at Stanford Stadium on Nov. 12. Stanford closes the season against Cal and Notre Dame, but both games are at home.
6. How will David Shaw emerge from the shadow of Harbaugh and become his own man?
I think Shaw already has emerged from Harbaugh's shadow. He brings a completely different personality to the position, but, based on what I've read, his players seem to love and respect him every bit as much as they did their previous coach. Whether Shaw can duplicate the success of his former boss is another matter. The expectations will be sky high this season -- certainly higher than they every were for Harbaugh -- and if Stanford stumbles early in the season, the blame could rightly or wrongly fall on Shaw. It's a stretch to say that Stanford fans have forgotten about Harbaugh, but I think a lot of us are so wrapped up in the excitement of who's returning that it's easy to overlook who's gone.