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Pac-12 Sports
Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon
Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon cover the Pac-12 for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Michigan State tight end Andrew Gleichert, center, is tackled by Stanford cornerback Alex Carter, left, and safety Jordan Richards during the first half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Stanford's defense once again should be one of Pac-12's best

Coming into the spring, minus such luminaries as Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, the Stanford defense looked like it might have some rebuilding to do.

Months later, there's a familiar refrain in Palo Alto: The offense better catch up.

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Stanford coach David Shaw, in a Pac-12 conference call, agreed with what many observers have seen out of spring ball: The defense again looks ahead of the offense, and could be in line to carry the Cardinal once again.

That comes down to experience, Shaw said.

"Look at our defensive front, and it's a bunch of fourth- or fifth-year seniors," he said. "We lost a lot of guys, but we've got a lot of guys coming back who have played a lot of football for us. When we have a talented but inexperienced offensive line, the older guys give the younger guys trouble."

A quick look at the depth chart reveals what Shaw is talking about.

Starting defensive linemen Blake Lueders, David Parry and Harry Anderson are all seniors. Linebacker is also senior- and junior-heavy, which should help Stanford maintain the discipline that made it the No. 3 rushing defense in the country last year, and the No. 10 defense in scoring.

The Cardinal's grip on the Pac-12 North may well rely on how the offense comes along with a lot of returners in the passing game, including quarterback Kevin Hogan. He has some good targets to throw to, but is behind an offensive line that's breaking in new players, as well as looking for a replacement for running back Tyler Gaffney.

The team starts at home against UC Davis, but the schedule turns murderous fast with USC in the second week. Conference scheduling was an issue Shaw harped on in the conference call, referencing the SEC's decision to stick to an eight-game conference schedule.

As long as all the teams in the nation are trying to make the College Football Playoff, Shaw said, they should all play the same number of conference games.

"We all need to play by the the same rules," he said. "Play your conference. Don't back down from playing your own conference."

Kyle Goon

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

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