When you add it all up, their No. 11 ranking seems a little generous.
And that has to be read, in part, as a tip of the hat to Shaw — widely regarded as one of the nation's best coaches and a leading candidate to land an NFL job, should he desire it.
"We've lost a lot of senior leadership, but that's what happens every year," he said at Pac-12 Media Days last month. "Every year you lose guys, and guys step up."
Shaw's defense still has a wealth of tried-and-tested senior leadership, including defensive end Henry Anderson, strong safety Jordan Richards and linebacker A.J. Tarpley.
And Stanford has a third-year quarterback in Kevin Hogan who, while no world-beater, has made few mistakes since inheriting the mantle from Indianapolis star Andrew Luck.
It may be tough to repeat 11-2. But while little may separate the Pac-12's top nine teams, there is no question what end of the order Stanford sits at.
2013 IN REVIEW • 11-3, 7-2 Pac-12
RETURNING STARTERS • 12 total (5 offense, 7 defense)
TOP RETURNING PLAYER • Ty Montgomery is a first-team All-American kick returner, a second-team All-Pac-12 wide receiver, and he rushed for 159 yards on just 13 carries. There's no doubting what he can do when healthy. He had right shoulder surgery during the off-season, however, and he's still awaiting his status for the opener against UC Davis.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK • The one guy coming back, Andrus Peat, is a 6-foot-7 monster who might be in consideration for a top-10 draft pick if he chooses to come out after his junior season. But the other four guys are all going to be new faces for a team that prides itself on trench warfare. Shaw said he's not sure how quickly they'll get, but told reporters at Pac-12 Media Days: "This is potentially our most talented offensive line we've ever had."
SCHEDULE OUTLOOK • The Cardinal open Pac-12 play with No. 15 USC and conclude with No. 7 UCLA. In-between they have No. 25 Washington, No. 17 Notre Dame, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 3 Oregon. Of their six ranked opponents, they play five — their final five — on the road.
— Matthew Piper