David Shaw has a good thing going at Stanford. Since taking over as head coach for the Cardinal once Jim Harbaugh decided to take his act to the NFL, Shaw was named head coach – thus continuing the same path he and Harbaugh walked together in the former head coach’s tenure at the Pac 12 School. Judging by Shaw’s success since he took over the head job, it is safe to say it may have been the best move the school could have made since bringing Harbaugh in before him.
Shaw’s numbers are impressive at 34-7 and there is no mistake he makes this team so much better on offense. But this season may be the one that tests him the most since he started wearing the head coaching tag in 2011. Improvements to the Pac 12, coaching changes and graduations obviously change the culture of college campuses. The Stanford defense suffered from graduations to the NFL this past season. And on offense, the team lost a solid guard in David Yankey and a bull of a running back in Tyler Gaffney. How this team reloads its roster in 2014 will determine if Kevin Hogan, the Pac 12’s most underrated quarterback, can get it done for a fourth straight year under Shaw.
Here are five good reasons why this team can win it all in 2014.
The apple did not fall far from the tree between Harbaugh and Shaw. But make no mistake, people knew how good Shaw was even if Harbaugh is taken out of the equation. Shaw was the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens from 2002–2004 and wide receivers coach for the Ravens from 2002–2005, with the 2003 team finishing with a 10–6 regular season mark and winning the AFC North. In 2005, Shaw coached wide receivers Derrick Mason to a Ravens record of 86 receptions and 1,073 receiving yards (the third-highest Baltimore record) and Mark Clayton to a Ravens rookie record of 44 receptions for 471 yards. Shaw then left the pro game to join Harbaugh at San Diego and his college coaching career took off.
A solid coaching staff
The Cardinal continue to plug coaches in when one or more leaves for other opportunities. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason left to be the head coach at Vanderbilt, Mike Sanford was named the offensive coordinator at Boise State, and David Kotulski followed Mason to Vanderbilt. Shaw promoted Lance Anderson to defensive coordinator, hired Peter Hansen to replace Kotulski and Lance Taylor was brought aboard to coach running backs. Shaw has one more opening to fill, but there’s not expected to be a significant transition period under the new staff. Anderson has worked at Stanford since 2007, and his experience under Mason should ensure the defense remains one of the best in the Pac-12.
Strength in the trenches
The line was hit hard by personnel losses, with guards David Yankey and Kevin Danser, tackle Cameron Fleming and center Khalil Wilkes all departing. That’s the bad news. The good news? Talent isn’t an issue. Left tackle Andrus Peat is a future All-American, and Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy are highly-touted prospects waiting for their chance to start. Graham Shuler is the frontrunner to replace Khalil Wilkes at center, while Johnny Caspers is likely to replace Danser at right guard. There’s no question Stanford has talent here. But how quickly can this line jell? If Kevin Hogan is to take a major step forward this season, his front line must hold their ground and hold him upright.
Running to daylight
Known as a passing program, the Cardinal has produced a 1,000-yard runner the past six seasons. Tyler Gaffney graduated, but there is still plenty to celebrate in California. Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, as Remound Wright, Barry Sanders and Ricky Seale return. Sanders was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and high expectations surround the Oklahoma native. But Sanders won’t have to carry the entire workload, as Wright and Seale have experience, and incoming freshmen Christian McCaffrey and Isaiah Brandt-Sims are capable of playing this season. While running back is a question mark, there’s enough talent returning for Shaw and Bloomgren to feel alright about this position.
The Pac 12
There are half a dozen teams who could win the conference title this season and/or challenge or a Rose Bowl berth or national title. This team is good enough to win 10-11 games and maybe pull off an upset or two. But the good thing is other schools will beat up on each other, possibly opening the door for this program. The defense must find replacements for Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds. Henry Anderson earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season and is due to become an even bigger piece of the line in 2014. Blake Lueders and Luke Kaumatule shifted from other positions to the defensive line and join Anderson as key cogs in the trenches. Aziz Shittu is another name to watch at end, but Anderson also needs to develop more depth behind tackle David Parry. While the losses on the line are huge, the departures at linebacker are even bigger.