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Pac-12 Football Training Camp Previews: Stanford Cardinal

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As the start of preseason camps nears, BN is visiting with our Pac-12 Conference mates to get some preseason thoughts on their teams and what 2012 holds. So far we've talked with with our UC brothers at Cal and my neighbors here at Colorado. Today, we are grateful to be joined by our friend Scott from the excellent SBN Stanford site Rule of Tree. We appreciate his time and thoughts about this year's Cardinal team, the outlook in Coach David Shaw's second year, and life after Luck.

1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?

The biggest question coming into the spring was who would replace Andrew Luck at quarterback. Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham have emerged as the leading candidates, but the QB battle is anything but decided. The other question mark was Shayne Skov, who missed all but three games with a knee injury and was arrested on suspicion of DUI in February. Skov's recovery has gone well, but there's no telling how long it takes him to return his pre-injury form. We won't know until at least the second week of the season, as David Shaw has suspended the senior linebacker for the season opener against San Jose State.

2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?

The offense and defense will be the same. With a new QB under center, I expect the Cardinal to rely even more on their power running game. Andrew Luck spent a lot of his first season as a starter handing the ball off to Toby Gerhart. The under-appreciated Stepfan Taylor, who could end his career as the Cardinal's all-time leading rusher, will be that guy this year. The Cardinal's 3-4 defense should be strong again, with one of the best linebacker corps in the Pac-12.

3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?

Running back Ricky Seale made quite the impression on Shaw in the spring and could be in line for carries after Ty Gaffney, a key contributor to the Cardinal's running game last season, opted to sign a major league baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Defensively, highly touted linebacker James Vaughters, who played sparingly as a true freshman last season, showed he ready for an increased role.

much more, after the jump...

4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?

I'd have to say the QB situation. No one expects Nunes or Nottingham to be Luck-like. There's enough talent around the QB position for Stanford to be competitive in the Pac-12 North, but solid QB play could be the difference between 7-5 and 9-3. To a lesser extent, I'm worried about our kicking game. Shaw says the job belongs to Jordan Williamson, who missed three kicks, including the potential game-winner, in a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. I just hope he can regain his confidence.

5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?

8-4 seems reasonable and 9-3 isn't out of the question. I'd say that makes Stanford more of a contender than a pretender. The Cardinal has a chance at home against USC, while the Washington and Notre Dame games are toss-ups. I think Stanford will win at least one of those three.

6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?

I think everyone's looking forward to seeing Barry J. Sanders.

7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?

No offense to David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Coby Fleener, Chris Owusu and others, but it's gotta be Luck. See above.

8. How will Life After Luck be? Will expectations/aspirations remain high?

Expectations remain high, but they're certainly tempered. Building off of the success of the Luck-led team of the last few years, Stanford put together one of the best recruiting classes in program history this year. The offensive line, which represents the physical identify of this team more than any other unit, is stacked for years to come. The defense has also added some heralded recruits in the last two years, including Vaughters and cornerback Wayne Lyons. There were plenty of doubters after Harbaugh left for the 49ers. There will be even more doubters now that Luck is gone. But among Stanford fans, expectations remain high.

9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?

Skov's rehab is the biggest injury concern. The Cardinal has been fortunate on the injury front.

10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?

I didn't get to see any of spring practice, but from what I've read, Vaughters is poised to make the leap. I also expect wide receiver Ty Montgomery to make great strides as a sophomore, but his potential could be limited this season by the new QB's development.

11. Who do you want to punch in the face?

Lane Kiffin.

12. Who has the best nickname on the team?

Stepfan Taylor goes by Kulabafi. Brett Nottingham could be The Sheriff.

13. What's it like to have an AD and President who actually care about success in your athletic programs?

What -- other than sorry -- can I say? Eighteen straight Directors' Cups is pretty awesome. We're currently looking to fill our AD position, though. Something tells me Stanford isn't inquiring in Westwood.

Thanks again to Scott from Rule of Tree. I'd invite all BN'ers to top by his blog and say hello. While I don't promote violence, we certainly have a lot in common (see his answer to #11). Good luck to Stanford this year, except in their final Pac-12 game.