With fall camps just around the corner for each Pac-12 team, we're going around the conference to look at each team's most pressing issues and interesting storylines. We've already looked at Colorado, Washington, Washington State, Cal, Arizona and Utah. Up next, Stanford.
1. Who will replace Andrew Luck?
Andrew Luck’s not on the team, but he’s still a hot topic of conversation in Palo Alto. Just ask coach David Shaw, who’s been asked about Luck’s replacement almost daily since the season ended. During spring practice, Shaw whittled a five-man quarterback competition down to two -- sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes. Shaw won’t talk about who has the edge now, however, but starting center Sam Schwartzstein, who was Luck’s roommate last year, chimed in. “They both bring a good air of confidence when they come into the huddle,” Schwartzstein said. “Brett has a lot of playmaking ability and Josh is one of those guys that will pick you apart.” So who’s going to win the starting job? “I have no idea,” Schwartzstein said.
2. Who will the new quarterback throw too?
In addition to Luck, Stanford also lost Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener and Chris Owusu, the Cardinal’s top three players in terms of receiving yards last season. Replacing Fleener at tight end would be difficult for most teams, but not Stanford. The Cardinal return tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, who combined for 52 catches and almost 700 receiving yards last season. The trick for the Cardinal will be finding replacements for Whalen and Owusu at wide receiver. Ty Montgomery impressed last season as a true freshman and had a breakout game in the Fiesta Bowl with seven catches for 120 yards in the loss to Oklahoma State. Senior Drew Tyrell only has 11 career catches, but with the Cardinal short on receivers, Tyrell could find himself getting extensive playing time this year.
3. Will any freshmen start on the offensive line?
There will be two big gaping holes to fill on the offensive line. Over the next four weeks, Shaw is going to have to find replacements for right guard David DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin, both All-Americans. Someone currently on the roster, like senior Khalil Wilkes, could win one of the jobs, but it’s possible that both open positions could go to incoming freshmen. Stanford’s recruiting class was ranked 12th in the country by ESPN.com and consists of five-star linemen Kyle Murphy, Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat.
4. Will any team be able to run the ball on Stanford?
If teams throw the ball 75 times a game against Stanford this season, you can’t blame them. Stanford only surrendered 84.4 yards rushing per game last season, a number that ranked third in the country. One year later, the front seven is bigger, better and more experienced, which means that rushing number could improve. Anchoring the linebacking corps will be 2011 first team All-Pac-12 selection Chase Thomas, along with Trent Murphy and Shyane Skov. Thomas and Murphy combined for 15 sacks and 27.5 tackles for losses last season.
5. Will Stepfan Taylor be the key to the Stanford offense?
Even with Luck under center last season, Stanford still ran the ball 55.4 percent of the time. With an inexperienced quarterback under center in 2012, that number could shoot up to 100 percent. OK, the Cardinal won’t run the ball every play, but it might want to think about it with Stepfan Taylor in the backfield. Taylor rushed for 1,330 yards last season on 242 attempts (5.5 yards per carry) after running for 1,137 in 2010. If Taylor produces -- and there’s no reason to think he won’t -- that should keep pressure off the new starting quarterback.
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