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Wednesday Roundtable: An early look at next season’s rankings

The “way-too-early” top 25 for the 2014 college football season by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach had Stanford at No. 4, just behind No. 3 Oregon. We asked football writers David Cohn, Do-Hyoung Park and Winston Shi: Is that too high, too low or just right for the Cardinal?

David: I may sound overly optimistic in my assessment, but I would argue that Stanford’s ranking is just right, given the potential of the young talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, as well as the overall strength of the Cardinal program.

While the Card may have to replace up to seven defensive starters in 2014, Stanford is fortunate to have several capable players, particularly in the linebacker corps, to step into the starting lineup. One such example is at one of the two outside linebacker positions, a spot previously held by Trent Murphy.

(DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

Sophomore inside linebacker Blake Martinez (left) and senior outside linebacker Joe Hemschoot (right) may see their roles increase greatly when the Cardinal begins preparation for the 2014 season. (DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

While Stanford may not be able to rely on a level of production that is remotely close to Murphy’s display this past season when he led the nation in sacks, rising senior Kevin Anderson proved that he can certainly hold down that position with his play in the 100th Rose Bowl Game. In addition, rising junior inside linebacker Blake Martinez has earned rave reviews for his performance in practice, and could serve as a capable replacement for graduating fifth-year senior Shayne Skov.

Secondly, Stanford’s No. 4 ranking in Schlabach’s poll reflects the progress that head coach David Shaw and former head coach Jim Harbaugh have had in producing a “football renaissance” on the Farm. Stanford now stands alone with four consecutive BCS bowl berths and two straight conference championships. If anything, the Card’s position, along with the likes of Alabama and Florida State, reflects that the Stanford program will continue to be a preeminent staple on the national landscape, regardless of who comes or goes.

Winston: I’ve often fumed at how Stanford never seems to get the love from the pundits and the polls. The common belief is that the Cardinal rarely gets the benefit of the doubt. But I can’t really say that, at least not right now.

Tellingly, the rankings from this season were also very favorable to Stanford given the circumstances. We all know how the polling game works. It’s all about the number of losses a team has. And pollers respect Stanford: Throughout the season, Stanford was consistently the top-ranked one-loss team, then the top-ranked two-loss team, and now the top-ranked three-loss team. Stanford even outranked equivalent-loss SEC teams, the first time that’s happened in recent memory. The Stanford brand, in short, is very strong.

With two major outlets forecasting Stanford highly, it looks like Stanford is going to be a top-10 team in the preseason. Thinking about the playmakers Stanford needs to replace, I’m not sure I could personally justify a top-five ranking, and even a top-10 ranking would be a little questionable to me. Although Stanford’s recruiting has been very good and the Card has talent up and down the roster, the fact remains that head coach David Shaw is still going to have to replace some truly extraordinary players.

Still, Stanford has a track record of success, and every program cycles out its stars. I would hope that the coming recruiting class can produce some immediate contributors, but even with personnel losses, as the next season dawns, we’ll all be reminded that every other team on Stanford’s schedule is to some degree bemoaning the exact same thing.

Do: I’m personally taking these “way-too-early” top 25 rankings with a grain of salt because, well … they’re way too early. There are simply too many moving pieces right now in the college football world — coaching changes and players choosing whether or not to declare for the draft — to try and predict how each team will fare next season.

Heck, the media has a pretty bad track record in trying to predict rankings even after all of those moving pieces have come to rest in off-seasons past. Take this season, for instance. Only four of the teams ranked in the preseason AP top ten — Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina and Clemson — finished in the postseason top ten. Three of the final top-five teams in the nation — Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri — were unranked in the preseason.

We still have no idea whether key pieces to Stanford’s defense, like senior safety Ed Reynolds, senior defensive end Henry Anderson or senior linebacker A.J. Tarpley, are declaring for the draft or not. We don’t know how strong Louisville’s pursuit of defensive coordinator Derek Mason is. We don’t know who is filling the coaching void that former running backs coach Tavita Pritchard vacated after he was selected to replace the departed Mike Sanford. We don’t know how strong the rest of the Pac-12 will be with Steve Sarkisian shuffling his way to USC and Chris Petersen taking the reins in Washington.

Just so that I have a semblance of an actual answer to the prompt, I’m going to say that my gut instinct is that Stanford is too high, based on all of the talent that the team has already lost (and might lose in the next few weeks). But really, until all of the pieces come to rest, we can’t really know. And even when they do come to rest, we still won’t really know.

David Cohn, Winston Shi and Do-Hyoung Park are disappointed that they were not ranked in The Daily’s “way-too-early” top 25 for best Daily football players. Provide suggestions on how they can improve their skills at dmcohn ‘at’ Stanford.edu, wshi94 ‘at’ Stanford.edu and dpark027 ‘at’ Stanford.edu.

About The Daily Sports Staff

The Daily Sports Staff is the collective moniker of an overworked, beleaguered, underpaid collection of sportswriters that feel comfortable enough with their own self-identities to give up any sense of individualism for the good of the sports section. To contact The Daily Sports Staff, send an email to dpark027 'at' stanford.edu to reach Do-Hyoung Park, keeper of the souls of those sportswriters.