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To Hell With The Lobsterbacks - Cal And Stanford Football In 2011

[We're talking with Scott Allen over at Rule Of Tree about what to expect from Stanford in 2011. Look for his thought at the end of the piece. Thanks!]

TwistNHook: Will Palo Alto remain Bear Territory?

SAN FRANCISCO -- New San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh hired away three coaches from his former Stanford staff Friday to join him in the NFL.

The 49ers hired Greg Roman offensive coordinator, Vic Fangio defensive coordinator and Tim Drevno offensive line coach.

The 38-year-old Roman, who was Stanford's associate head coach and now begins his 14th NFL season, most recently tutored the past two Heisman Trophy runners-up: currentMinnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart in 2009 and Orange Bowl MVP Andrew Luck this past season.

Roman guided a Cardinal offense that ranked ninth nationally in points scored this season at 40.3, 14th in total yards per game (472.5), 17th in yards rushing per game (213.8) and first in time of possession (34:34).

Drevno spent all four seasons on Harbaugh's Stanford staff, and his line allowed only 13 sacks the past two years.

The true strength of the Stanford team the last few years has been the offense. And for all of the hype around Gerhart and Luck the last few seasons, the true strength of that offense has been the offensive line. 13 sacks the last 2 years? That's insane. Gerhart and Luck are both great players, but without those offensive lines, they are far more human.

Can we believe that Stanford will take a step back losing so much of its coaching staff?

Berkelium97: Stanford and North Korea aren't so different, are they? Kim Il Sung has died and their Soviet Union supporters have fallen, so the country has suffered some tremendous losses. But one enormous, monumental, insurmountable problem remains: they have a nuclear weapon. Sure, they don't even have the capability to deliver that weapon much further than a couple hundred miles, but they have it nonetheless. Andrew Luck is that nuclear weapon. With Toby Gerhart a distant memory, the graduation of three of their O-line starters, and Harbaugh taking his most valuable position coach (Drevno), Tedford and company ought to be able to march right in and claim the land as Bear Territory...but new coach David Shaw has the most powerful weapon in college football with Andrew Luck.

This one could get complicated.

LeonPowe: If Luck has no one to block for him or no one to throw to . . . does he become like Boller?

Kodiak: No. Boller's a pretty good-looking, dude. You might as well throw a bag over Luck's head.

NorCalNick: There are only two things that can derail Stanford's offense, (besides injuries, which I don't care to speculate about) - the idea that Harbaugh was the talisman that kept the Cardinal rolling, and questions on the offensive line.

I don't think that Shaw is Harbaugh, but that doesn't mean that Shaw isn't something different but similarly effective. But if there is one potential weakness that Cal has the personnel to exploit, it's an iffy offensive line. I haven't yet gotten my Ph.D in Cal history, but the Bears might just have a historically deep collection of front seven talent. Admittedly, that talent is young. But by late November, with 10 games of experience built up? That's enough to day dream about Andrew Luck hitting the turf more times than Trent Edwards and TC Ostrander combined in 2005.

Kodiak: For starter's, I hate stanfurd. 'Just had to get that out of the way.

It's going to be interesting to see if their new coaching staff is up to snuff. They have a lot of holes to fill. Their secondary has been relatively slow the last couple of years, and they lose arguably their most important player from the Dline in Sione Fua. A lot of their success on defense last year was due to Fangio's evil-but-brilliant mad scientist scheming.

Similarly, it's going to be tougher sledding for them on offense replacing three linemen and their top WRs. Right now, it looks like they have Andrew Luck and a trio of dangerous tight ends. Until I see evidence to the contrary, I suspect that they'll need to outscore their opponents because I think their defense will be in serious rebuilding mode.

Luck is a pretty decent trump card, admittedly. My dream scenario is that their Oline is woeful, can't establish the run, or pass-protect, and he spends all of next season running for his life, eating turf, and flinging ill-advised interceptions.

If their Oline is halfway decent, then they're probably going to have a pretty good year. It's a quarterback's league and they have the biggest nuke for now.

In closing, I hate stanfurd.

Berkelium97: Aside from Luck, Chris Owusu is the Cardinal's most dangerous scoring threat. He missed six games last season, but was a force to be reckoned with in 2009. He led the 2009 team in TD receptions (5) and was second in receptions (37) and receiving yards (682). He averaged a ridiculous 18.4 yards per reception. On special teams he returned 3 kickoffs for TDs and averaged a whopping 31.5 yards per return. Those impressive numbers earned him two Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week awards.

While injuries limited his action in 2010, he was still a solid receiver and a dangerous kick returner. If he can stay healthy this season, he will be Luck's top target thanks to the loss of Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen. This game will put our special teams to the test.

TwistNHook: What should we know about the Stanford D?

Berkelium97: Stanford had a strong defense last year that was 10th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed. Naturally, the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will hurt. Shaw has replaced him from within by promoting both secondary coach Derek Mason and linebackers coach Jason Tarver to co-defensive coordinator positions.

They have talent in the secondary, but depth is questionable. Strong safety Delano Howell was on the Pac-12 second team last year and free safety Michael Thomas was an honorable mention. At CB I don't know much...and I get the feeling that the coaching staff will not know much about the position until fall practice nears an end. As I said, depth is an issue here. That does not match up well with the abundance of talent Cal has at receiver. Look for the passing game to be the key for the Bears to put up points.

The Lobsterbacks lose Owen "Both Ways" Marecic and Thomas Keiser at linebacker, but return several players with considerable experience.

At D-line they lose their best player Sione Fua and don't have much experience at either DT or DE. Despite the departure of Fangio, they may stay as a 3-4 defense due to lack of experience at D-line. The matchup between their D-line and our O-line is still up in the air, as both units are unproven.

Overall, there are depth questions in the secondary and in the trenches. That coupled with the loss of Fangio means this year's defense will be a bit of a mystery for the first few games. They have a light non-conference schedule (San Jose State, @ Duke) to ease them into Pac-12 play, so they have a couple weeks to iron out any issues. Of course, it is worth pointing out that the Big Game will be their 8th game in as many weekends. For a team with so little depth on defense, that could be trouble if the Cal offense (particularly the passing game) is humming. Any injuries on defense could doom the Cardinal down the stretch.

TwistNHook: Any score predictions?

OhioBear: A Big Game classic. In a back-and-forth battle, Cal Stanfurd clings to a 25-18 lead late in the 4th quarter. In a do or die drive, Jason Palumbis Zach Maynard leads the Cardinal Bears down the field. With just 12 seconds remaining, Palumbis Maynard hits Ed McCaffrey Marvin Jones for a 19-yard touchdown to pull Stanfurd Cal within 1 point.

Coach Tedford says "screw overtime" and sends his offense back on the field to go for the 2-point conversion and the win. Stanfurd Cal hopes deflate, however, as Palumbis' Maynard's two-point conversion pass is intercepted by John Hardy Delano Howell at the back of the end zone. Pandemonium ensues as Cal students the Stanfurd band rushes out onto the field. Players from the Cal Stanfurd bench also pour onto the field to mob Hardy Howell, resulting in a 15-yard penalty assessed on the kickoff.

Stanfurd's Cal's only remaining hope is the onside kick. Kicker John Hopkins Giorgio Tavecchio executes it perfectly, and Stanfurd Cal recovers at the CalStanfurd 37-yard line near the sideline. With 9 seconds left, Stanfurd Cal has time for one more play to set up a makeable field goal attempt. But on that play, Cal's Stanfurd's defense covers well downfield and Palumbis Maynard is forced to throw the ball away with 3 seconds left. But there's a late flag!

Roughing the passer! 15 yards gives Stanfurd Cal a first down at the Cal Stanfurd 22 yard line. Hopkins Tavecchio comes on and kicks the game-winning 39-yard field goal. Stanfurd Cal fans rush the field in jubilation! Stanfurd Cal wins 27-25 in the wildest Big Game finish since 1990.

Atomsareenough: I feel like maybe we kind of got a little used to beating Stanfurd, having done it so many times over the Tedford era. Even when they had a good team in 2009, we still managed to beat them, so maybe we didn't realize just how strong last year's Stanfurd team was until it was too late. I for one sure thought we had a decent chance against them, especially after the way we played Oregon the week before. That's not to say that Cal took them lightly, but I feel like maybe last year's Big Game was a bit of a wake-up call, perhaps moreso for Cal fans than for the players. Still, it's always more painful for the players, so hopefully the memory of last year lights a fire under some bellies and we get some payback this year. I can certainly imagine that Sean Cattouse is going to feel some extra motivation to put Andrew Luck's posterior onto the turf repeatedly.

Anyway, with all the coaching changes and the losses of key players, I think this Stanfurd team is probably closer to the 2009 version than the 2010 version. They're beatable, but Cal will need to play very well to pull off the upset. I don't really have a score prediction though, because really, anything can happen in a Big Game.

NorCalNick: I never feel comfortable predicting the Big Game when there's any doubt about the outcome. I don't have any particular superstitions regarding UCLA or Oregon or USC. But predicting that Cal will beat Stanford seems like bad juju, and predicting Stanford to beat Cal seems like a disturbing lack of faith.

So here are a few non-score related predictions:
1) Cal fans will still make as much, if not more noise than Stanford fans, even if we're likely to be outnumbered in Palo Alto.

2) Stanford will continue to ring that stupid bell on every defensive play, regardless of down, distance or game situations.

3) John Elway will show up to toss the coin and receive some sort of honor at halftime. Everyone will be shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, when he is booed unmercifully by classless Cal fans. One week later it will be revealed that Elway has had private, scandalous negotiations with back-up quarterbacks around the league. A hurt and scorned Tim Tebow will chase his car out of Mile High's parking lot, resulting in an all-too-public scandal that brings down Elway and the Brocos alike.

Dave Fleming is the voice of the Cardinal and the Giants. How does he sleep at night????

Berkelium97: For a team that lost its head coach, O-line coach, defensive coordinator, and several important players on offense, Stanford is wildly overrated at no. 6. They are without a doubt a solid team, but as of now they are relying primarily on Andrew Luck's talent. Sure, he is a fantastic QB and likely the #1 pick of next year's draft, but it takes more than a great QB to sustain a top-10 ranking. While they should have no problem dispatching San Jose State and Duke to open the season at 2-0, I would not be surprised if they give up 30+ points to Arizona. They match up quite poorly against teams with prolific passing games and the game against Arizona will be a serious test of their defense (a test I do not expect them to pass). After that, the Lobsterbacks will probably dispatch the three weakest teams in the conference before capping the win streak at 4 with a home win over UW. Then they have an agonizing five game stretch at USC and at Oregon State followed by consecutive home games against Oregon, Our Sturdy Golden Bears, and Notre Dame. The Cardinal could go 4-1 during that span or 1-4. It all depends on their defense. They can put up plenty of points with Andrew Luck under center, but so can USC, Oregon, Notre Dame, and hopefully Cal. Overall, I'm predicting a 9-3 season for the Fighting Furds, though they could go as high as 10-2 or as low as 7-5.

I don't know what to predict in this game. Cal has a much better defense, but they have Andrew Luck. This one will probably come down to how well Clancy prepares the defense. Our offense ought to be able to put up a few TDs against their depleted defense, but the game will be decided by Luck's passing game. As tough as it is to bet against Luck, the Bears can win this one. Will they? I have no idea.

Scott Allen:

  • On the Coaching Changes: Jim Harbaugh, Vic Fangio, and Tim Drevno deserve a ton of credit for last year's success, but I think they left the program in capable hands. David Shaw is his own man and has his own style of coaching, but the team's "Character and Cruelty" identity hasn't changed. There are too many guys back -- both players and coaches -- for the team to struggle as a result of the coaching turnover.
  • On the O-Line: The play of the offensive line, above all else, will determine just how good Stanford is this season. Replacing three starters along the line is no small task, but it helps that the two returning starters are First Team All-Pac-10 selections David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin. Stanford should dominate San Jose State and Duke in the first two weeks of the season and it would be encouraging to see the line gel as a unit from the start. If Luck faces pressure from the Spartans and Blue Devils, the line will have to improve immensely over the next few weeks before Stanford begins the difficult portion of its schedule.
  • On the WRs: The biggest question about the Stanford receiving corps -- besides whether Chris Owusu can stay healthy -- is if there's another Doug Baldwin on this year's roster. While Owusu and sure-handed Ryan Whalen battled injuries, Baldwin stepped up and emerged as Luck's favorite target in 2010. He was hardly a known commodity entering the season, however, having totaled 38 catches in his first three seasons on the Farm. Griff Whalen won't strike fear into opposing defenses, but he should be a solid contributor. Jamal Rashad-Patterson is eager to make a name for himself in ways that don't involve shenanigans at midfield before Big Game. If all else fails, Stanford can run a lot of three tight end sets.