"All offseason, we were ready [for the week one bye]," Stanford coach David Shaw recently told Bonnie Bernstein. "We had plans for it. But I didn't anticipate the anxiety of watching everyone else play. That was tough to handle."
Shaw eventually had to turn off the television last Saturday evening. He just couldn't handle it anymore. After months of hard labor and obsessive preparation, his Stanford team was on the outside looking in at the fun.
Come 8 p.m. tonight, they'll finally be able to get the party in the backfield started.
Stanford will be the last team to kick off its 2013 campaign. Perhaps that's fitting for a club with the legitimate goal of being one of the final two playing when the road ends. The Cardinal earned massive preseason hype after turning in an undefeated stretch run last year. They vanquished college football heavyweights at home, on the road, and on neutral fields in their voracious path to the Rose Bowl.
Now, the challenge shifts. Stanford must replicate its November 2012 magic and spread it over the course of an entire campaign, and they must do so in a BCS pressure cooker that offers next to no margin for error. The task is daunting, and the harsh truth is that ultimate success is unlikely. But in the hours before kickoff, one powerful fact rallies hope reserved for the birth of a new season: It's certainly possible.
Physically, Stanford will be stronger than every single team that challenges it on the potential road back to Pasadena. The Cardinal have built a muscular juggernaut on both sides of the football, and if recent history is any indication, all that beef will be better conditioned than its opposition, too.
Assuming these advantages hold firm in 2013, the Farm Boys will be well-positioned to relocate lines of scrimmage everywhere from West Point to Seattle to Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Within the context of the inherently violent game of football, they'll be suited to impose their will. They'll be capable of winning every single game on their schedule.
Not That Easy
This is where the question marks come in. The Farm Boys can push the opposition around, but do they have the firepower to overcome inevitable bouts of sloppy play? Will Stanford be able to establish the passing threat necessary to keep opposing defenses honest? Want for a deep weapon was the reason for defeat at Washington and Notre Dame last year, costing the Cardinal a chance at the national championship. Kevin Hogan has provided a major upgrade at the quarterback position, but he'll have to operate without the steadying presences of Stepfan Taylor, Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, and Drew Terrell this year.
In fact, 88 percent of Stanford's 2012 receiving production has graduated, and the Cardinal don't return a single touchdown catch from last year. Unproven defensive converts who have yet to catch a single ball in their careers now dominate The Farm Boys' tight end room.
These are massive potential concerns for a team that has visions of gridiron grandeur, and failure to address them will certainly mean a disappointing season riddled with losses. An elite defense provides a margin for error on the offensive end, but 2012 stands as a crystal-clear example: That margin for error is not infinitely large, and inexperienced players at the offensive skill positions will have to learn on the job, and quickly, with that pressure in mind.
Stanford's defense should be excellent. The hogs up front, buoyed by sophomore starter additions Andrus Peat (left tackle) and Josh Garnett (Ogre), will average 10 pounds stronger than last year's version. Those are the primary reasons for intense optimism. Whether or not the ultimate dream is realized will depend on the other puzzle pieces falling into place.
It's time to find out if the pieces fit. Turn on the pressure cooker and prepare for gut-wrenching nerves. Let the games begin.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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