The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 28: Stanford
Coach: David Shaw (11-2, second season)
2011 record: 11-2 (8-1 in Pac-12 Conference, tied for 1stin North Division)
Look back: For the second straight season – the first under head coach David Shaw – the Stanford program reached double-digits in wins thanks, in part, to quarterback Andrew Luck. The Heisman Trophy runner-up and No. 1 pick overall in the NFL draft helped spark a rebirth in the program during his brief three years in Palo Alto. During that period, the Cardinal has won 31 games and have made back-to-back-to-back bowl appearances including stops at the Orange and Fiesta bowls.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 5/6
Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Key losses: QB Andrew Luck, WR Griff Whalen, OG David DeCastro, FS Michael Thomas
Top returnees: RB Stepfan Taylor, LB Jarek Lancaster, LB Chase Thomas, PK Jordan Williamson
Strengths: Part of Stanford’s success on the offensive side of the ball was a balanced attack and that was made possible with a power rushing attack and a strong offensive line. Running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns and will be a key component to this season’s plans. Joining Taylor in the backfield will be Tyler Gaffney (449 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) and Anthony Wilkerson (282/3). The offensive line, which was one of the best in college football, loses two solid players in David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin. However, center Sam Schwartzstein anchors a group that is long in the tooth on experience. … Stanford’s rushing defense was tops in the Pac-12 last season, allowing only 84.4 yards per game and with seven returning starters that shouldn’t change very much. Linebacker Chase Thomas led the team tackles for loss (17.5) and sacks (8.5) and will be counted upon to help anchor the unit. Shane Skov is expected to return after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Weaknesses: Andrew Luck was one of the top players in college football the past two seasons so replacing him in the lineup will be almost impossible but sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes will do their best to reach that goal. Both are familiar with the program but only Nottingham as seen actual time on the gridiron. … If Stanford had any sort of weakness on defense last season it was their passing defense. Ranked 95th in the nation, the unit struggled to stop powerful passing attacks. Replacing the likes of safety Michael Thomas and Delano Howell will be key to continuing the Cardinal success.
Outlook: Sure, losing Andrew Luck is a huge blow to this team however it was bound to happen sometime. Under Jim Harbaugh and now current coach David Shaw, Stanford has been able to recruit much better talent on both sides of the ball making it a smoother transition from year to year. Finding a starting quarterback will be key as will shoring up the offensive line. The defense might need to carry this team early on especially in matchups against USC and Washington. It’s going to be almost impossible for this team to make it back to a third straight BCS bowl game but there is a good chance this team could make some noise on the national stage.
Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Duke
Sept. 15 USC
Sept. 27 at Washington
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame
Oct. 20 at California