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

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Stanford head coach David Shaw walks off the field after being defeated by Michigan State after the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Pac-12 football preview: Stanford faces a tough road

In some ways, 2013 was a strange year for Stanford. During the regular season they were 6-0 against Top-25 teams, and they were beaten twice by unranked teams.

One of those, of course, was Utah.

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Stanford head coach David Shaw recently said that very little separates the top nine teams in the conference — and if that’s true, Stanford has its work cut out.

Of those six games last year against ranked opponents, five came at home. This year they again face six ranked teams, and they’ll travel for five.

Gone are defensive leaders Trent Murphy, Ed Reynolds and Shayne Skov. Tyler Gaffney, the source of 1,709 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, is in New England. The Cardinal will also replace four of five starters along the offensive line.

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


Twitter: @matthew_piper

PAC-12 Links
Links from around the Pac-12
Arizona (Tucson Citizen)
» Q&A on UA football with Daniel Berk
» UA volleyball: Arizobal has keyed UA's success
» UA sports Throwback Thursday: Arizona vs. Cal 2013
» Wildcats: Arizona's offensive lineup

Arizona St. (Arizona Republic)
» Doug Haller's Week 3 Pac-12 power rankings
» ASU football practice report from Wednesday
» Arizonans on ASU football roster - 2014
» ASU adds student-athletic building to stadium

California (East Bay Tribune)
» Jeff Tedford's recruits finding delayed success at Cal
» Sonny Dykes: Cal's confidence rooted in hard work
» Stanford, Cal 2015 football schedules announced
» Oakland Soldiers set tone for college basketball recruiting in Bay Area

Colorado (Denver Post)
» Speedy freshman Donovan Lee gives CU Buffs another playmaker
» Colorado coached to avoid coin-toss glitches, MacIntyre says
» Colorado's MacIntyre gratified Buffs practiced hard Monday
» CU Buffs tackle Jeromy Irwin might play vs. Hawaii after concussion

Oregon (The Oregonian)
» Oregon Ducks open up Autzen Stadium doors for Fan Fest: Photo gallery
» Nick Aliotti's take on Mike Leach; Oregon Ducks make the cut for recruit Holton Hill: The Oregonian sports top 5
» Washington State's offense may be fun, but the Oregon Ducks are fine running theirs
» Play week 4 of 2014 College Football Pickoff game: Auburn or Kansas State?

Oregon State (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
» OSU men's basketball: Tinkle says positive steps being made
» Spencer to become new AD at Evansville
» BeaversSalute program gives tickets to military personnel and veterans
» Beavers promote McCoy to assistant athletic director for equipment operations

Stanford (San Jose Mercury-News)
» Stanford coach David Shaw goes digging
» Cal, Stanford Pac-12 men's basketball schedules announced
» Local sports digest: Stanford's Maverick McNealy ties for medalist honors
» Local sports digest: Stanford sweeps Santa Clara

UCLA (Los Angeles Daily News)
» UCLA Football Notebook: Running back Malcolm Jones loses appeal for extra season
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Improving UCLA has questions to answer during preseason football camp
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: UCLA's prized recruit Eddie Vanderdoes cleared to play by NCAA after leaving Notre Dame
» Pac-12 Media Day: Eyes on Anthony Barr for UCLA's 2013 hopes

USC (Los Angeles Daily News)
» USC Football Notebook: Marqise Lee's injury not too serious
» USC Football Notebook: QBs Max Wittek, Cody Kessler present dilemma for Trojans coach Lane Kiffin
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel thinks Trojans might not miss QB Matt Barkley
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Dion Bailey says it's 'now or never'

Washington (Seattle Times)
» UW football live chat at noon today
» Huskies' Kasen Williams off to slow start
» Huskies get commitment from linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven of Atherton, Calif.
» UW's Deontae Cooper: “You know me: looking good, feeling good, trying to play good”

Washington State (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
» Eastern football notes
» Ewu sports chat Sept. 18 (noon)
» Washington State's receiving corps runneth over
» A big day for backups

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