Summer Opponent Preview: Stanford Cardinal

USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame travels to Palo Alto this fall in the regular season finale.

It's the 28th meeting between Stanford and Notre Dame. Here's the summer preview of the Cardinal.

STANFORD CARDINAL

Stanford_old8_medium

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Head Coach: David Shaw (3rd year)

2012 Record: 12-2

2012 S&P Rating: 18

'12 S&P Offense: 29

'12 S&P Defense: 11

'12 FEI Rating: 7

Stanford began their 2012 season with 3 straight wins including a close victory over a better-than-you-think San Jose State team, a shellacking of Duke, and a big upset of then No. 1 USC. However, during those opening games the Cardinal offense sputtered badly at times and that came back to bite them in week four. During their first road game Stanford mustered only 13 points and 3.6 yards per play in a loss to Washington.

The offense came alive and offered plenty of hope the next week in a shootout against Arizona. Stanford racked up 617 yards and beat the Wildcats by 6 points in a comeback overtime victory. The next week saw Stanford lose at Notre Dame in one of the year's most thrilling games. It would be the last loss of the season for the Cardinal.

They took care of business on the road at Cal, but then squeaked past a poor Washington State team. During the next week's game in Boulder young quarterback Kevin Hogan played a lot and would end up finishing the season as the starter. Stanford then reeled off victories over Oregon State, Oregon, and then UCLA twice---the latter a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game.

The conference title gave Stanford a Rose Bowl birth and they also took care of business there beating Wisconsin 20-14 to finish the year 12-2. That marks the program's third straight season of at least 11 wins.

~~~

Q&A with Todd Husak from Rule of Tree:

1. Quarterback Kevin Hogan had a terrific finish to 2012 with 6 straight wins in his first 6 career starts. Although he wasn't asked to do a lot in the passing game (less than 200 yards in 4 of 6 starts) he was efficient and brought some mobility to the Cardinal offense. Have you seen enough of Hogan to be sure he'll be a star this season or do you think he'll have a more modest rise this upcoming season?

Don't forget that 5 of those 6 wins came against ranked teams, including #1 Oregon on the road, and the one non-ranked win was over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. I think the most impressive think he showed in those stretch was his maturity and ability to make plays under pressure. He was never overwhelmed by the moment or situation, which is incredible for sophomore in his first 6 career starts.

I think more will be asked of Hogan with the departures of the best TE in Stanford history in Zach Ertz and the most productive RB in Stanford history in Stepfan Taylor. Those two were solid security to give a young QB making his first career starts, but now that they have departed to the NFL, Hogan will have to create a little more and likely face more coverage.

Defenses focused solely on stopping Taylor last year which left man coverage on the back end. Without the big game running threat, teams can play zone which can make play action (Hogan's specialty) and downfield passing more difficult. As a result, Hogan will have to improve his pocket passing ability, which he could struggle with at times last season. Coach Shaw and the offensive staff has made that a priority this offseason so I would expect Hogan to continue to show improvement, especially with a full offseason as the starter, and grow with his knowledge of the offense as well.

2. Stanford loses its career rushing leader and its top 5 receiving leaders from a year ago in terms of yardage. How much worry is there about replacing so much production?

I think it is the biggest issue Stanford faces going into 2013. So many unknowns and unproven players at almost every position on offense. The good news for the Cardinal is that the coaching staff has shown that they have the ability to teach young players the offense and get them ready physically to step up. The other good news is that the players waiting in the wings are all former top recruits with big time athletic ability who just haven't had the chance to step on the field.

The returning players who need to be leaders are FB Ryan Hewitt, the fifth year senior who has the best hands for any fullback in the country, and JR WR Ty Montgomery, who is coming off a disappointing sophomore season but has the skills and talent to be an incredible player. If those two players can establish themselves as weapons, it will help take the pressure off the TE position, where there is plenty of young talent, and allow some other WRs to make plays.

3. Could you talk about an offensive player that hasn't made an impact yet in his career that may have had a big spring and will play a lot for Stanford this fall?

Sophomore WR Kodi Whitfield, son of former Stanford and NFL great Bob Whitfield, as well as sophomore WR Michael Rector will have the opportunities to become standout players. With the departure of the top 2 WRs from a year ago, Whitfield and Rector figure to step in and become the weapons on the outside that the Cardinal offense has lacked the last few seasons. Rector had a big spring game with an acrobatic catch for a TD deep down the middle, and Whitfield looks like he has made the most of his first offseason on The Farm both physically and mentally.

4. Stanford's defense is shaping up to be super scary again. Is there any doubt that this will be the best defense in school history?

Last year's defense was the best in school history and the 2013 version returns 10 starters and 20 of the top 22 players from the 2012 depth chart. There is speed, toughness, and experience at every position. Stanford hasn't traditionally sent defensive players to the NFL with much fanfare, but the 2013 lineup features a number of athletes who will not only make it to the next level, but will standout when the tape is played and the combine is held.

Guys like Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner, Ed Reynolds, and Jordan Richards are all on preseason award watch lists. That list doesn't mention some of the less heralded but just as valuable players (AJ Tarpley, Jarek Lancaster, Josh Mauro, Usua Amanam) or the incredibly talented youth (Alex Carter, Henry Anderson, and James Vaughters). The defense is stacked and will put pressure on opposing QBs, stop the run, and create turnovers on the back end...not much weakness in the unit.

5. Some have been waiting for Stanford to revert to their historical mean since Jim Harbaugh left but that hasn't happened yet. This would appear to be another Stanford team with a floor of about 9-3 and Pac-12 championship expectations. Would you agree?

Stanford has never had such high expectations in the preseason. Many are expecting the 2012 Pac 12 champions to come back better in 2013, and there is even talk of national championship potential. That is what happens when a program goes to 3 straight BCS games, has multiple Heisman trophy contenders, and plays a style of football that true fans appreciate.

The Cardinal have created a style that isn't a gimmick or based too much on one outstanding player to be successful. Jim Harbaugh and now Coach David Shaw have created an environment and a philosophy that has proven to produce wins, and the recruits and players completely buy into the program. Stanford is not a fluke, and as long as Coach Shaw remains at the helm, I would expect that tradition to continue.

6. It's happened rather quickly in modern times but as conference realignment has swirled over the past few years Notre Dame has been quick to mention Stanford as a valued rival. Obviously, the Irish have their own selfish reasons for keeping the rivalry going but we don't often hear the Cardinal point of view. How do you feel about this series? Is it a healthy rivalry? Is it something you want to continue?

I think the idea that both programs hold their athletes to a higher level academically is a worthy one that other universities around the country strive to achieve. Stanford players and fans love the exposure that playing ND brings with it, and the fact that many of the players were recruited by both schools, there is some familiarity between players and coaching staffs.

The downside is that scheduling a team like ND as opposed to a school with a weaker football program can cost Stanford in its quest for a national championship because a potential loss is so costly. The PAC 12's schedule is already so difficult that a "break" in the schedule does have benefits. However, I love the rivalry and it has produced some incredible games over the years.

There is certainly a little extra that comes with beating the Irish, and the fact that both teams were outstanding last year gives the rivalry even more meaning. It is one that is circled on the calendar every year for Stanford fans, but I think after 2012's contest, it will be circled by college football fans around the country as well.

~~~

PREDICTED 2013 CARDINAL DEPTH CHART

BOLD denotes returning starter

*Quarterback

Kevin Hogan, RS So.

Evan Crower, RS So.

Dallas Lloyd, RS Fr.

Ryan Burns, Fr.

In 2011 the Cardinal had great depth at the quarterback position as Andrew Luck was finishing his fine career and two highly ranked high school recruits in Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham waited in the wings. Last year Nunes won the job and Nottingham has since transferred to Columbia.

Nunes really struggled last year (52.8% accuracy, 10 TD, 7 INT) and was eventually replaced by the redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan who would go on to beat Oregon State, Oregon, Wisconsin, and UCLA twice to finish the season. Nunes was eligible for a fifth season but completely tore a pectoral muscle and has decided to hang the cleats up.

Big things are expected from Hogan but the depth here wasn't what it once was. Evan Crower is a 3-star recruit entering his third season on the Farm while 3-star Dallas Lloyd enters his second on campus after spending 2010-11 on a religious mission. Ryan Burns, a four-star recruit from Virginia, fills out the depth chart as a true freshman.

*Running Back

Anthony Wilkerson, Sr.

Tyler Gaffney, Sr.

Remound Wright, RS So.

Ricky Seale, RS Jr.

Barry Sanders, RS Fr.

It will be a new era at running back for Stanford as they lose Stepfan Taylor after three straight 1,000 yard seasons and a school record 4,300 rushing yards to go along with 40 touchdowns. However, depth shouldn't be a problem for a program that has committed to running the way the Cardinal have over the years.

Senior Anthony Wilkerson has plenty of experience (195 carries, 914 yards, 7 touchdowns) and looks to hold down the starting spot this season. Wilkerson doesn't have great speed, but neither did Taylor, and he'll be joined by another bigger back in Tyler Gaffney who returns to the Farm after 1-year in pro baseball. Gaffney has carried the ball 156 times over his career and scored 12 touchdowns.

Beyond those two veterans a couple younger players in Wright (23 carries, 81 yards) and Seale (13 carries, 57 yards) are fighting for playing time. Had Gaffney not returned it was expected that Barry Sanders---the program's highest rated running back---would receiver a lot of carries in 2013, but coming out of spring camp it appeared as though his progress was a little slower than hoped.

*Fullback

Ryan Hewitt, 5th Sr.

Lee Ward, RS Jr.

Patrick Skov, RS So.

Ryan Hewitt returns for a fifth year and is one of the best fullbacks in the country. In the Stanford offense he's more than just a blocker and touched the ball about two times per game in 2012. He'll be backed up by walk-on Lee Ward and Patrick Skov, brother of starting linebacker Shayne Skov.

*X Wide Receiver

Ty Montgomery, Jr.

Dontonio Jordan, RS Fr.

Francis Owusu, Fr.

*Z Wide Receiver

Kelsey Young, RS So.

Jordan Pratt, RS So.

Keanu Nelson, RS Jr.

*Y Wide Receiver

Kodi Whitfield, So.

Michael Rector, RS Fr.

Devon Cajuste, RS So.

Due to outstanding tight ends and catching running backs the receivers at Stanford didn't see a lot of production last year merely accounting for just 36.2 percent of the team's total catches. Just over half of that 2012 production is lost with Drew Terrell and Jamal Rashad-Patterson graduating.

The talented Ty Montgomery returns after a bit of a sophomore slump that saw him miss a few games with injury. He was a big play threat as a true freshman (14.6 average on 24 catches) but saw his explosiveness drop in 2012 with just 213 yards on 26 catches a year ago.

Outside of Montgomery the remaining players on the roster accounted for just 12 catches last season with the shifty Kelsey Young leading the group with 8 of those receptions. Young looks to start in the slot and also be moved around into the backfield to get some more touches. He looks to be backed up by Jordan Pratt a walk-on who is in his third season at Stanford after spending 8 seasons in the Dodgers farm system.

On the outside the aforementioned Whitfield and Rector should battle for playing time while Devon Cajuste is also in the mix and might also play some tight end. One-time Irish target Francis Owusu is the highest rated freshman and adds some depth.

*Tight End

Davis Dudchock, RS Jr.

Luke Kaumatule, RS Fr.

Charlie Hopkins, RS So.

Eddie Plantaric, RS Jr.

Stanford has had a Notre Dame-esque run at tight end over the past 4 seasons with Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo. Fleener played for the Indianapolis Colts last year and now Ertz and Toilolo have moved on to the NFL as well. The latter two leave behind 162 career receptions, 2,197 yards, and 27 touchdowns which is tremendous production.

Now, the Cardinal head into the season with zero proven tight ends. Dudchock has played sparingly over the past couple seasons but hasn't caught a pass yet. He'll look to start while Luke Kuamatule is a talented redshirt freshman and got a lot of positive reviews this past spring.

This should be a very interesting position to watch. Stanford has been able to rely on some great players here and has a lot of question marks going into 2013. Depth shouldn't be a concern with 8 players listed at tight end including a couple walk-ons, plus Stanford loves to bring in extra offensive linemen to block in heavy sets.

*Left Tackle

Andrus Peat, So.

Kyle Murphy, So.

Nick Davidson, RS Fr.

*Left Guard

David Yankey, RS Jr.

Dillon Bonnell, RS Jr.

Brian Moran, RS So.

Thomas Oser, Fr

*Center

Khalil Wilkes, 5th Sr.

Graham Shuler, RS Fr.

Kevin Reihner, RS So.

*Right Guard

Kevin Danser, 5th Sr.

Josh Garnett, So.

Cole Underwood, RS Jr.

Johnny Caspers, RS Fr.

*Right Tackle

RT Cameron Fleming, RS Jr.

RT Brendon Austin, RS So.

RT David Bright, Fr.

If you had to pick an offensive line for short-term and future success it might have to be Stanford's. They lose third team All Pac-12 center Sam Schwartzstein but 4 other starters return as do 9 out of their top 10 linemen, including the country's best OL recruiting haul from 2012.

First team All-American David Yankey anchors the line and is one of the most versatile players in the country. He started 13 games at left tackle and 1 at left guard last season and will likely transition to the latter position for 2013. Sliding into the starting left tackle role should be Andrus Peat who saw a bunch of snaps on the edge as a true freshman last year. He'll likely be backed up by fellow sophomore Kyle Murphy to form a young but wildly talented duo as both were among the top linemen in their class.

Khalil Wilkes played most of last season at left guard but is making the transition to center for 2013. To his right will be another fifth year senior in Kevin Danser who returns after making every start on the interior last year. Another highly touted young player in Josh Garnett looks to see plenty of time at right guard or elsewhere as well. Cameron Fleming fills out the starting five at right tackle after making every start there a year ago. Stanford adds only 2 freshmen who were 3-stars but there is very good depth across the board here.

*Defensive End

Henry Anderson, RS Jr.

Josh Mauro, 5th Sr.

Jordan Watkins, RS Fr.

DE J.B. Salem, RS So.

DE Mike Tyler, Fr.

*Nose Guard

David Parry, RS Jr.

Anthony Hayes, RS So.

Lance Callihan, RS So.

Nate Lohn, RS Fr.

Ikenna Nwafor, RS Fr.

*Defensive End

Ben Gardner, 5th Sr.

Aziz Shittu, So.

Austin Hooper, Fr.

Stanford is losing gap eating nose guard Terrence Stephens but the senior ended up being ineligible for the final 3 games last season and David Parry filled in rather nicely. In fact, Parry finished the season with 18 more tackles and 1 more sack than Stephens so he's basically a returning starter for the Cardinal. Parry will be backed up largely by a bunch of unproven bodies.

On the edges Stanford returns both starters. Henry Anderson finished 2012 with 50 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks while Ben Gardner totaled 49 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. Josh Mauro (who is big enough to see sometime inside in 4-man fronts) adds additional depth as does the highly rated Aziz Shittu who most expect to make a big impact during his second season.

*Outside Linebacker

Trent Murphy, 5th Sr.

Blake Lueders, RS Jr.

Kevin Anderson, RS So.

Sean Barton, Fr.

*Middle Linebacker

A.J. Tarpley, RS Jr.

Joe Hemschoot, RS Jr.

Blake Martinez, So.

*Middle Linebacker

Shayne Skov, 5th Sr.

Jarek Lancaster, 5th Sr.

Kevin Palma, Fr.

*Outside Linebacker

James Vaughters, Jr.

Noor Davis, RS Fr.

Peter Kalambayi, Fr.

Stanford loses Chase Thomas on the outside after a great career on the Farm. He leaves behind 71 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and 7.5 sacks from 2012. The good news is that Stanford has plenty of options to replace Thomas. James Vaughters (26 tackles in '12) was a top recruit who should hold down the open spot, but he'll be pushed by former Irish target and another top recruit in Noor Davis. Another good recruit in Peter Kalambayi offers some depth but will likely redshirt as a freshman.

On the other outside spot fifth-year senior Trent Murphy is back coming off a season in which he led the Cardinal in both tackles for loss (18) and sacks (10). Former Irish target Blake Lueders is coming off a season-long injury from 2012 but is expected to break into the regular rotation this fall.

In the middle Stanford returns a trio of impact players. Shayne Skov (team-leading 80 tackles, 8 for loss) and A.J. Tarpley (66 tackles, 7 for loss) are the nominal starters with Jarek Lancaster (37 tackles, 4 for loss) seeing a lot of minutes as well.

*Cornerback

Barry Browning, Sr.

Wayne Lyons, RS So.

*Cornerback

Alex Carter, So.

Ra'Chard Pippens, RS So.

*Free Safety

Ed Reynolds, RS Jr.

Devon Carrington, Sr.

Drew Madhu, So.

*Strong Safety

Jordan Richards, Jr.

Zach Hoffpauir, So.

*Nickelback

Usua Amanam, 5th Sr.

Ronnie Harris, RS So.

Corner Terrence Brown was one of 3 Cardinal players (tight ends Ertz and Toilolo were the other two) who passed up an extra year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. Barry Browning---who started 5 of the first 6 games last year and finished with 24 tackles---steps into a full-time starting role this fall and will be pushed hard by former 4-star recruit Wayne Lyons (25 tackles) who played very well in 2012. Browning missed all of spring with an injury so this may be a position to watch this August.

Alex Carter returns after totaling 46 tackles, starting the final 8 games at corner, and leading the team with 3 forced fumbles as a true freshman in 2012. He's one of the top young corners in the entire country. The team also likes what they've seen out of Pippens and he should see some action at corner as well. Adding to the overall depth in the secondary is Usua Amanam (59 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 4 sacks) who returns as the devastating nickel corner in the Stanford defense.

Both safeties return for the Cardinal further helping their cause for another great defense. Ed Reynolds is back after a 1st team All-Pac 12 season in which he totaled 47 tackles, 6 interceptions, and team-record 3 picks taken back for touchdown. The talented Reynolds is a preseason All-American and on many 1st team ballots this summer. Jordan Richard is no slouch either coming in third last year on the team with 68 tackles while adding 3 interceptions and 15 passes defended.

Final Thoughts

I think it's fair to say that there are legitimate concerns on offense for Stanford heading into the 2013 season. While it's certainly not a dire situation I know that Irish fans would be freaking out if Notre Dame were heading into a season with so many unanswered questions and unproven players moving into skill positions on offense. That's the only reason why I don't think this is a top 5 team as things stand right now. I doubt we've ever seen a team with such lofty expectations have their situation at running back, tight end, and wide receiver glossed over like the national media has with Stanford during this off-season.

That said, one of the best offensive lines in the country and an emerging young quarterback can hide a lot of those issues on offense. I wouldn't suggest gobbling up stock of Kevin Hogan at the moment but even I'll admit he looked quite strong last year. If Hogan can make the step from "great late season story with a ton of promise" to legitimately one of the best quarterbacks west of the Mississippi then Stanford should be fine on offense. Whether that leads to another conference title (or something bigger) will probably depend on those options surrounding Hogan.

Defensively this looks like another killing machine for the Cardinal. The loss of Chase Thomas is big but there are plenty of other proven options at linebacker and none of the other couple players lost should hurt Stanford on this side of the ball. What's more, they could be even stronger in the front seven with so many veterans back and the secondary (where they've been a pedestrian 72nd & 95th in pass defense over the past two years) could be the program's best ever.

If this team gets two or three skill position players on offense to emerge this is easily another double-digit win season for Stanford.

Predicted Game Day Spread: Stanford (-3.5)

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