It wasn’t supposed to end that way. With the Fiesta Bowl tied 38-38 in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, a surgical Andrew Luck had just engineered what appeared to be the game-winning drive against a helplessly baffled Oklahoma State defense. Three seconds left in regulation and it couldn’t have been scripted better. Stanford placekicker Jordan Williamson lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt in front of almost 14 million viewers, on the brink of vaulting the Cardinal to its second consecutive BCS bowl victory.
A year ago, promising experience gave way to a disappointing 2011 for Stanford’s defensive backs. Things couldn’t be more different this preseason.
The 2012 Cardinal’s most talented position group is primed to one-up its own impressive accomplishments from a year ago—all because Skov’s absence threw fellow inside linebackers Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley into the fire.
The Pac-12 is quickly becoming known as the conference of offenses. From Stanford’s methodically efficient march to Oregon’s dangerously explosive attack—both averaged over 40 points per game last season—it’s hardly deniable that the conference has emerged as an offensive juggernaut. But that doesn’t mean the Pac-12’s abilities on the other side of the ball should be sold short. While the SEC may still reign as the king of impenetrable defenses, the West Coast has produced its own share of stellar defensive units.
To say that the Stanford offense will have some new faces this season would be an understatement. With a new quarterback at the helm, young contributors at the wideout positions and some talented freshmen joining the offensive line, the identity of each individual component will remain uncertain until the team is tested in game situations. But the one thing that is neither new nor uncertain is the Cardinal’s unwavering trust in its running game.
On its face, Stanford’s 2012 passing game will be all about newness. And Nunes.
Not many college football teams in the nation can lose an offensive guard and tackle to the first two rounds of the NFL Draft and still boast a robust offensive line. Stanford is one of the few teams that can. The Cardinal can thank some newly arrived and much-hyped freshmen for that. Heralded as the focal point of the best recruiting class in school history, the Stanford freshman offensive linemen have more than lived up to expectations thus far in preseason camp.
When the Cardinal football players trotted off the University of Phoenix field in January, two different blows were dealt to the Stanford faithful. Losing the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State was the immediate sting, but losing once-in-a-generation quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL was, in the big picture, the deeper wound. The inevitable question that no one was concerned with suddenly surfaced as one of the most pressing dilemmas for the future of Stanford football: Who’s going to replace number 12 at starting quarterback?