Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh is responsible for putting together one of the most impressive college football rebuilding jobs of the decade. In 2007 he inherited a 1-11 football team that was described during the 2006 season as being the worst the Pac 10 had seen in fifty years.
The only salve on the wound from that last Walt Harris coached season was an improbable road victory over a Ty Willingham's demoralized (suddenly senior) Washington team in Husky Stadium.
Harbaugh got the kids believing in themselves his first year. He also began to put together the kind of recruiting classes that hadn't been seen on the farm in decades. He has led the Tree to 4-8, 5-7, and finally a breakthrough 8-5 season which almost produced a Heisman Trophy winner. The campaign ended with a 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl.
The outlook is bright in 2010 but RB Toby Gerhart graduated early to move on to the NFL so Stanford will have to find a way to make up for the eye popping 1871 yards he put up rushing last season. Going into fall camp there is no defined leader and most think that the Cardinal run game this year will take a by committee (Stepfan Taylor, Jeremy Stewart and Tyler Gaffner) type of approach.
Things are fine at QB where So Andrew Luck transformed himself into a first-round NFL draft prospect after only one season. The 6-foot-4 235-pound redshirt sophomore has size, strength, agility and a solid arm. In 2009, Luck completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns with 13 interceptions against only four interceptions. He also rushed for 354 yards and a pair of TDs.
Also back are wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. Whalen paced the Cardinals with 57 catches for 926 yards. The more-explosive Owusu had 37 catches for 682 yards, averaging 18.4 yards per catch and hauling in a team-best five TD passes. Owusu also ranked fifth nationally in kickoff returns with a 31.5-yard average and scored three TDs.
The offensive line which manhandled Washington in 2009 returns four starters. Chase Beeler, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Andrew Phillips make up one of the better lines in the conference. The Cards only allowed seven sacks last season.
Stanford was ranked 90th in the country in total defense last season. The Cardinal allowed 264.8 yards per game through the air to rank 110th in the country. Those numbers need to improve if Stanford is going to compete for a conference title in 2010. 24 year NFL assistant Vic Fangio has been brought in to remedy the situation.
Fangio installed a 3-4 defense this spring. Defensive ends Thomas Keiser and Case Baker will be outside linebackers in the new system. The inside backers include productive sophomore Shayne Skov and Owen Marecic who is moving over from FB. The talented Chike Amajoyi will also fit in as a rush backer.
Washington vs Stanford (after the jump)
The Huskies have the Cards at home so going into the season you would have to give the edge to Washington. Both teams match up well on offense. They both have mobile star quarterbacks and experienced receivers. Washington has a decided edge at RB while the Cardinal offensive line seems to be on paper better than the Huskies. For Stanford to beat Washington they need to find an alternative to Gerhart in the red zone.
On defense the Huskies have an advantage in the secondary. Washington hasn't been this deep and talented back here for a decade. The Cards have some talent at LB and want to exploit that using the 4-3. Even though Mason Foster and Cort Dennison return UW has some questions that needed to be answered at LB. The Huskies have some first and second year players that need to step up to fill out the depth. UW is basically starting all over out on the ends while the Cards return two quality starters.
Defensively the key to winning the game is putting constant pressure on Andrew Luck. Offensively the Huskies need to control the ball and take advantage of what has been a leaky Stanford pass defense. I have to give the nod to Washington by seven.