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You can read the entire team preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Pac-12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
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PAC-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: David Shaw, 23-4 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bloomgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Derek Mason
Stanford relies on its power running game to set up play-action in its pro-style attack. Replacing departed tailback Stepfan Taylor, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, is a huge priority. Seniors Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney look to be the top options. Gaffney is back with the team after a one-year stint in professional baseball.
Whoever wins the job — and don’t rule out a by-committee approach — will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation. With four of five starters returning, including consensus All-American David Yankey, Stanford will continue its ground-and-pound approach.
Directing the offense will be sophomore Kevin Hogan, who went 5–0 as a starter — with four of the five wins coming against top-25 teams — after taking over for Josh Nunes last season. Hogan is a dual-threat who rushed for 263 yards on 55 attempts.
With so much emphasis on the running game combined with the heavy use of tight ends in the passing attack, the wide receiver position hasn’t been too productive at Stanford in recent years. In 2012, true wideouts accounted for only 33 percent of Stanford’s receptions, with the rest going to backs, tight ends and fullbacks. Junior Ty Montgomery is the only wideout with legitimate game experience. Montgomery showed explosiveness as a true freshman in 2011, when he averaged 14.6 yards on 24 catches, but he was slowed by injuries in 2012 (8.2 yards on 26 catches).
Tight ends accounted for 39 percent of the passing production last year, headlined by unanimous All-American Zach Ertz and his 69 catches. With Ertz and Levine Toilolo jumping early to the NFL Draft, Luke Kaumatule is next in line to be the No. 1 tight end target.
Oregon or Stanford: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2013?
Stanford’s aggressive 3-4 scheme, which ranked No. 1 nationally last year in sacks, second in tackles for a loss and fifth against the run, returns many of the stars who made 2012’s edition one of the best in the country. The front seven should feature three preseason first-team All-Pac-12 picks — outside linebacker Trent Murphy, inside backer Shayne Skov and defensive end Ben Gardner.
The strength of the defense could be the secondary. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards form possibly the top safety duo in the country. Reynolds hauled in six interceptions last year and returned three of them for scores. While Reynolds had the picks, Richards roamed centerfield as one of the most dangerous hitters in the league.
Kevin Hogan, QB – Hogan won at Oregon, which should tell you something about how he handles pressure. Threw only one INT in last four games.
Shayne Skov, ILB – Will be almost two years removed from torn ACL and should be one of the best at his position in the country.
David Yankey, LG – All-American moves back to his natural position on what should be an elite offensive line.
Kicker Jordan Williamson, who took some flak for his performance in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago, traveled the road to redemption in 2012, hitting a clutch field goal in overtime to beat Oregon and then drilling a pair of field goals in the Rose Bowl. Ben Rhyne looks to be top candidate to replace Daniel Zychlinski at punter.
Expectations have never been higher for Stanford and David Shaw, the Pac-12’s Coach of the Year in both 2011 and ’12. What Jim Harbaugh, Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck started, Shaw has taken to the next level by leading the Cardinal to the 2012 Pac-12 championship — the school’s first since 1999 — and topping Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
The Cardinal will once again be in the hunt for the Pac-12 title, thanks to their run-based pro-style offense that grinds out yards and a defense that has been among the best in the league in recent years.
The schedule is not easy. Stanford hosts Oregon but has to play three of the best teams in the Pac-12 South — Arizona State, USC and UCLA. The Nov. 7 date with Oregon could determine both teams’ championship fate.
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