2013 Stanford Football: The First Preview

David Yankey, the country's best OL?

It may only be May, but The Bootleg likes getting ahead of things. Here's our broad overview of Stanford's 2013 season, the first installment of a series that will delve deeply into the complexion of the Cardinal's squad.

Stanford Spring Football Stockpile: Click Here

2013 Stanford Football: The First Preview
Stanford football's stock has never been higher, and the team enters 2013 with similarly soaring expectations. The Sporting News recently ranked the Cardinal as no. 2 in their annual preseason poll behind only defending national champion Alabama, and that level of respect certainly hasn't gone unnoticed on The Farm, where many are already circling their calendars in anticipation of a November 7 home showdown with fellow Pac-12 heavyweight Oregon.

In reality, Stanford's 2013 journey will be much more arduous than just one game against the Quack Attack, but the consensus around the nation is that the Cardinal can handle this heavy load because of a spectacular veteran defense, a diesel-powered offensive line, and a returning quarterback who has already demonstrated the winning touch in an exciting stretch run to the Roses in 2012.

What to watch for on offense:
Running back Stepfan Taylor is gone, and so are tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. In fact, Stanford is losing over 80 percent of its receiving production to graduation, and there isn't a single player on the 2013 roster who caught a touchdown in 2012. Yet -- rather shockingly, an outsider might say -- the Cardinal have a stated goal of aerially stretching the field more often this coming season. David Shaw believes that wide receiver Ty Montgomery will be a force again now that he's returned to full health, and he also has high hopes for speedsters like Michael Rector and Kelsey Young on the outside. A rotation of talented backs will step in for Taylor, while giant Hawaiian Luke Kaumatule looks to deliver at tight end for an offense that is confident in its skill position youth because of its veteran offensive line and returning quarterback.

What to watch for on defense:
Sacks, sacks, and more sacks. Last season, Stanford led the nation in sacks (57) and tackles for loss (124) by wide margins. All but two Rose Bowl starters are returning from the unit, so the Cardinal expect more Partying in the Backfield to occur in 2013. Mammoth outside linebacker Trent Murphy (10 sacks, 18 TFL) reached the quarterback most often in 2012, but everyone is capable of terrorizing the backfield in this physical unit. Don't forget the secondary, though. This portion of the defense has morphed a good Cardinal unit into an elite one. Free safety Ed Reynolds was a blown call away from two NCAA records last year (pick sixes and interception return yards). The front seven and back four enjoy an extremely productive symbiotic relationship.

The team will be better if…
.... Quarterback Kevin Hogan shows similar improvement in third down efficiency in his second year under center to the improvement that the previous Stanford quarterbacks in the Harbaugh-Shaw era demonstrated in their second campaigns. Both Tavita Pritchard (+9% increase) and Andrew Luck (+13%) demonstrated markedly improved third down figures once they became comfortable in the Cardinal's complicated offensive scheme. If the Hogan-led offense can up its third down efficiency numbers from 45 percent (2012) to above 50 percent, Stanford's elite defense will have the oxygen necessary to become immovable.

The Schedule:
Sep. 7 San Jose State (8 p.m. PDT, Pac-12 Networks)
Sep. 14 at Army (9 a.m. PDT, CBS Sports Network)
Sep. 21 vs. Arizona State
Sep. 28 at Washington State
Oct. 5 vs. Washington
Oct. 12 at Utah
Oct. 19 vs. UCLA
Oct. 26 at Oregon State
Nov. 7 vs. Oregon (6 p.m. PDT, ESPN)
Nov. 16 at USC
Nov. 23 vs. California
Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame (FOX or FOX Sports 1)
Dec. 7 Pac-12 Championship Game (if necessary, ABC or ESPN)

Stanford's schedule provides a nice build in intensity throughout, with one potentially dangerous early caveat: Arizona State, picked by some to win the Pac-12 South, visits in Week 3. Other than that, the slate ramps up to a pair of late October tests (conference title rematch vs. UCLA followed by a trip to Oregon State) before the November rivalry gauntlet comes calling with Oregon, USC, Cal, and Notre Dame. If Stanford finishes this season undefeated, they'll have certainly earned their spot in the BCS Championship Game. Stay tuned for The Bootleg's comprehensive look at the nuances of the 2013 schedule.

Offensive Standout:
LT/LG David Yankey. It's only fitting that the best player on such a bruising team comes from the offensive line, but Yankey deserves every blurb of recognition that he receives. He won the 2012 Morris Trophy (an especially meaningful award voted on by the Pac-12's defensive linemen) because of his impressive versatility: he locked down Stanford's left tackle position while also shifting over to left guard to deliver the nation's most devastating pull blocking. This year, Yankey will move permanently to guard, where his steamrolling capabilities in the run game will be best utilized.

Defensive Standout:
A single best defensive player may be impossible to identify in this loaded, deep Stanford unit. If one must be chosen, though, the distinction can belong to fifth-year senior linebacker Shayne Skov, who is the emotional leader of this defense. Skov led the unit in tackles last season in his first year back from a devastating knee injury, and his teammates refer to him as the quarterback of the defense. Stanford training personnel believe Skov will be even more explosive than his pre-injury self in 2013, and that would be a sight to see next in the midst of monsters like Murphy, Ben Gardner, Henry Anderson, and Josh Mauro, who defensive coordinator Derek Mason likens to "a bull in a china shop."

A side note: in a recent discussion with Skov, he told me that his favorite kickoff time is 6 p.m. Well, it turns that Stanford and Oregon play their monumental November 7 game at.... 6 p.m.

Key player to a successful season:
Quarterback Kevin Hogan is undoubtedly the hinge point for Stanford. With most of its personnel returning, the Cardinal defense is a known commodity. The offense also has plenty of potential weapons surrounding what looks to be a massive, athletic, and mature offensive line. But Hogan's play will determine just how good this attack is. In 2012, the unit was merely average, and that led to 10 games decided by a touchdown or less -- two of which the Cardinal lost (albeit while Josh Nunes was still the starting quarterback). If Hogan can become more efficient in his second season, Stanford will attain the balance that can bring it close to invincibility. Playing in close games is tantamount to playing with fire, so the Cardinal would like to avoid that by blowing out the opposition more frequently this time around.

The season will be a success if…
... Stanford qualifies for the BCS Championship Game. Some may think that's too lofty of an expectation for the Cardinal, and that the program would be content with a January 1 return to Pasadena, but that's not the vibe that I'm getting from this team. Stanford is a unique place that is especially conducive to top-level excellence in all disciplines, and I think that -- in the spirit of its university -- this 2013 Cardinal football team wants to reach the mountaintop. Three straight BCS bowl appearances have created an even more ambitious goal than the one this team held in previous years. The Rose Bowl still is the desired destination. This time, though, January 6 is the desired date.

Key Game:
There's no question that Oregon's November 7 visit to Stanford Stadium is the monumental game on the 2013 schedule. Of course, the Cardinal must be wary of the other challengers -- namely Arizona State, UCLA, USC, Oregon State, Notre Dame, and Washington -- but that warning is true for any team trying to run the table. Oregon is the biggest hurdle. The entire country will be watching that Thursday night game in the Bay Area, and Stanford will be trying to replicate its 2012 defensive performance while it attempts to purge the memories of the Ducks' last visit to Palo Alto. That didn't end well for the home team in 2011.

2012 Fun Stats:
The Stanford offense went scoreless for 10 straight possession in the middle of the game against Oregon at Autzen Stadium, yet the Cardinal still somehow beat the Ducks. That illustrates how well this defense played in that monumental game.

Stanford's 49th sack of 2012 broke the school's previous record, and it was recorded by none other than no. 49 himself, defensive end Ben Gardner.

Kevin Hogan is still undefeated as Stanford's starting quarterback, and he has started only against ranked teams. The Cardinal won five straight against the Top 25 to close the season with the redshirt freshman under center, the most impressive tear in program history.

Looking Back: 2012 Schedule/Record (12-2, Rose Bowl Championship)
Aug. 31 vs. San Jose State - W, 20-17
Sep. 8 vs. Duke - W, 50-13
Sep. 15 vs. USC - W, 21-14
Sep. 27 at Washington - L, 17-13
Oct. 6 vs. Arizona - W, 54-48 (OT)
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame - L, 20-13 (OT)
Oct. 20 at California - W, 21-3
Oct. 27 vs. Washington State - W, 24-17
Nov. 3 at Colorado - W, 48-0
Nov. 10 vs. Oregon State - W, 27-23
Nov. 17 at Oregon - W, 17-14 (OT)
Nov. 24 at UCLA - W, 35-17
Nov. 30 vs. UCLA (Pac-12 Championship Game) - W, 27-24
Jan. 1 vs. Wisconsin (Rose Bowl) - W, 20-14

David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.

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