Stanford Football: How Many Pac-12 Games Will the Cardinal Lose in 2012?

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<p> Stanford Football: How Many Pac-12 Games Will the Cardinal Lose in 2012?</p>

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 21 Stanford. The Cardinal must replace three NFL first-round draft picks, including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Despite the losses, Stanford remains a contender to push Oregon for the Pac-12 North title, but it will face a challenge from Washington and California. 

How Many Pac-12 Games Will Stanford Lose in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I predict the Cardinal will go 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Stanford did suffer some major personnel losses in quarterback Andrew Luck, top offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas, but David Shaw — and Jim Harbaugh before him — have recruited well enough to keep the program in the top 25. A physical running game and stingy defense should carry the weight this season while Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes develop into a Pac-12 signal caller.

The front seven on defense should be excellent, led by a stellar group of linebackers that includes All-America candidate Chase Thomas. Running back Stepfan Taylor has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense this season. Stanford will be an underdog to USC and Oregon, and I think Shaw’s crew will drop one other game during the league slate. Many pundits may expect the Cardinal to fall off the national scene with the departure of Luck and other stars, but Stanford has formed an expectation of winning over the last few years. I see that Cardinal staying in the top 25 and near the top of the Pac-12 pecking order.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I will go with three — which is one more than the Cardinal have lost over the last two seasons combined. But Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck aren't walking back onto The Farm anytime soon, so a step back should be expected in 2012. There appears to be two certain losses on the schedule as the Pac-12 slate gets kicked-off in brutal fashion as the Men of Troy visits Palo Alto in Week 3 of the season. Much later in the year, November 17, the Cardinal will have to visit Eugene to face North Division favorite. It's tough to see David Shaw's bunch upsetting either of those two West Coast powers this year.

Given those two losses and the much-improved nature of the Pac-12 North, it is hard to see Stanford finishing the rest of its conference schedule unbeaten. Washington State and Arizona have dramatically upgraded their sidelines and offensive schemes. Road trips to Washington, UCLA and Cal should all feature opponents who are better this year than last. Toss in an improving Oregon State team and this conference slate is littered with major land mines that will provide plenty of shrapnel. A 6-3 record in the league this fall should be considered a major success considering who recently traded a Saturday timecard for a Sunday paycheck.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Without quarterback Andrew Luck and two of college football’s best offensive linemen (David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin), there’s no question Stanford will take a step back in 2012. The Cardinal returns a solid core, but there’s a lot of pressure on new quarterback Brett Nottingham to keep this team in the mix for a North title.

Games against San Jose State and Duke in the first two weeks of 2012 should give Nottingham a chance to get comfortable as the starting quarterback. With USC in Week 3, Stanford needs Nottingham to be up to speed and ready to open up the passing attack. The Trojans will also test a rebuilt Cardinal secondary, but the defense could get a boost if linebacker Shayne Skov (torn ACL and likely suspension from off-the-field incident) returns to action by Week 3.

Although the schedule begins favorably, an 0-2 start in Pac-12 play is very likely. After playing USC on Sept. 15, Stanford heads to Washington for a Thursday night showdown on Sept. 27. The Huskies should challenge the Cardinal for second in the North, and the winner of this game will have an early edge for positioning within the division.

After opening up with USC and Washington in Pac-12 play, the schedule lightens for Stanford. The Cardinal should be favored in their next five games (Arizona, California, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State), before taking on Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 17. Stanford has lost its last two games against the Ducks by at least 20 points and the outcome likely won’t be much different in 2012.

Considering the personnel losses, an 8-4 season with a 6-3 record in Pac-12 play is my expectation for Stanford in 2012.

Mark Ross
Andrew Luck no longer wears cardinal and white, having swapped it for the blue and white of the Indianapolis Colts, and to me the change at quarterback will directly translate into fewer wins in 2012 for Stanford. This stance is only further strengthened by the fact that head coach David Shaw will not determine who Luck's replacement will be until the fall.

That said, this is still a Cardinal team that will be heard from, thanks to a strong running game led by Stepfan Taylor and a pretty solid defense. In Pac-12 play, however, is where the inexperience under center will come to the forefront. I just don't think Stanford will have the offensive firepower to keep up with some of their conference brethren, who in turn will be able to eventually wear down a tired Cardinal defense.

Stanford certainly didn't get any breaks when it comes to their conference schedule, either. The Cardinal open Pac-12 play by hosting USC, who will no doubt be looking to exact some payback for last season's 56-48 triple-overtime defeat. Stanford then gets a week off before its next game, a road trip to Seattle, followed by a home contest against an Arizona team that will look and play completely different since they are now coached by Rich Rodriguez. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Stanford starts its Pac-12 slate 1-2 or even 0-3, especially if Arizona's new offense is clicking by Oct. 6.

The Cardinal return to Pac-12 play two weeks later against California after hosting Notre Dame the previous Saturday. The final six conference games appear to be more manageable, outside of a Nov. 17 visit to Autzen Stadium to face Oregon, but that doesn't mean there aren't any potential pitfalls remaining either. One game that certainly bears watching is Oct. 27 against Washington State. Like Arizona, Washington State is under new leadership as Mike Leach has brought his Air Raid offense to the Cougars. Although Stanford has a clear advantage when it comes to the defensive match up in this game, Washington State's pace and attacking offensive style could cause problems if Stanford is unable to put up some points of its own.

In the end, I think Stanford is looking at a 5-4 Pac-12 record this season, as a difficult opening conference schedule and offensive disparity translate into three more losses compared to last season. But look at it this way Cardinal fans, that's still probably more wins than your beloved and departed former quarterback and his new team will be able to claim in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict the Cardinal will go 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Stanford did suffer some major personnel losses in quarterback Andrew Luck, top offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas, but David Shaw — and Jim Harbaugh before him — have recruited well enough to keep the program in the top 25. A physical running game and stingy defense should carry the weight this season while Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes develop into a Pac-12 signal caller.

The front seven on defense should be excellent, led by a stellar group of linebackers that includes All-America candidate Chase Thomas. Running back Stepfan Taylor has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense this season. Stanford will be an underdog to USC and Oregon, and I think Shaw’s crew will drop one other game during the league slate. Many pundits may expect the Cardinal to fall off the national scene with the departure of Luck and other stars, but Stanford has formed an expectation of winning over the last few years. I see that Cardinal staying in the top 25 and near the top of the Pac-12 pecking order.

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