As you may or may not have heard, Andrew Luck, our hero and savior of the Stanford football program, is off to the NFL. While he could have stayed one more year, he’s done with his degree and I wish him the best in his future endeavors.
Besides, I don’t exactly envy the guy. Though he’s going to get drafted first overall and make gigantic piles of money, he’s headed to the Indianapolis Colts. The team recently went 2-14, fired its head coach and general manager, and has a huge dilemma at a key position (I won’t tell you who’s in the middle of it, but I’ll give you a hint: it starts with a “P” and ends in “eyton Manning”).
Luck isn’t the only important name headed to the pros. Offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, two major cogs in the Cardinal’s success on offense, are both likely to be drafted in the first round. A bunch of other important contributors are gone too, like safety Delano Howell, tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Griff Whalen.
But never fear, dear readers! The Cardinal has a bunch of young playmakers eager to step into starting roles for next year’s (shamefully poorly scheduled) season. We caught flashes of these underclass dynamos last season, but an extended introduction will have to wait until spring practice. Head coach David Shaw and his staff is also hard at work assembling a top-25 recruiting class, quite a feat for a school with Stanford’s academic standards.
Will Stanford go 11-1 and make another BCS bowl? Probably not. Can we score a solid record, a trip to a decent non-BCS bowl, and an upset or two over some Pac-12 heavyweights? Sure, I definitely think so. The program isn’t quite at the point where it can just reload after players like Andrew Luck leave (and it probably never will be), but there’s no reason Stanford can’t return to the elite after a rebuilding year or two.
So who, you ask, are these mystery youngsters that form the next generation of Stanford football? To the breakdown!
The biggest question is obviously at quarterback, where the coaching staff has declared an open competition throughout spring practice to become Luck’s replacement. Currently, the inside track belongs to Brett Nottingham (a.k.a. the Sheriff of Nottingham—don’t ask), who beat out a couple of older players to win the backup spot last season. Nottingham will be a redshirt sophomore, so if he wins the job, he’ll have three years of eligibility remaining to pilot the program. The top heat on Nottingham will come from Kevin Hogan and Evan Crower, two highly touted recruits who redshirted last season.
The other position where young players need to step up is at wide receiver, easily the biggest offensive weakness this season. Ty Montgomery broke out in a big way as a true freshman last season and has a few good years ahead of him, but there’s very little depth behind him right now. Aside from Montgomery, wide receiver was not really a position of strength in the 2011 recruiting class either, so expect some 2012 recruits to be plugged in right away at the position.
With DeCastro and Martin departing from the offensive line, you might expect there to be a lot of changes at that position. However, it is probable that Kevin Danser will slide smoothly into one of those vacancies (he saw a lot of time as a backup last season). It’s not totally clear who will be the fifth man along the line, but it will either be Cole Underwood or one of the freshmen who redshirted last season.
The defensive line and the linebackers will look pretty similar to 2011. The defensive line only has to replace defensive end Matt Masifilo, while the Cardinal is stacked at linebacker, especially with Chase Thomas coming back for his final season and Shayne Skov returning after tearing his ACL early last season.
That leaves the defensive backs, another weak spot for the Card (one that got glaringly exposed in the Fiesta Bowl by Oklahoma State). Three starters are leaving due to graduation, leaving lots of space for younger players to step up. Fortunately, the team is brimming with talented young players at both cornerback and safety. Jordan Richards and Wayne Lyons are both highly talented and can play either position; the duo will undoubtedly bring a lot to the secondary with one year of experience under their belts. At safety, Devon Carrington has flown under the radar in the first two years of his career, but the junior will likely be a key cog in the defense come September.
From the looks of things, the post-Andrew Luck era won’t be so bad after all. It all depends on whether these younger players come through in the clutch. Whether the program can build on the success of the last two years depends in large part on the coaching staff and on recruiting, which I will try to have an update on come Signing Day on February 1. Until then, it’s back to wild speculation substantiated by nothing other than my own observations!