David Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal finally open their 2013 season, as they play host to the San Jose State Spartans.
The fifth-ranked Cardinal are expected to vie for a Pac-12 championship and perhaps much more after posting a 12-2 record in 2012, capturing the Pac-12 title and knocking off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Shaw has earned back-to- back Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors, as his star continues to rise with each successful campaign on the Farm.
San Jose State is not a team to overlook. The Spartans opened the 2013 campaign last week with a 24-0 shutout of Sacramento State. Ron Caragher is in his first season at the helm and inherits a team that went 11-2 last year, the last in the Western Athletic Conference. With one of the nation's top signal- callers at the helm, San Jose State should be highly competitive in the Mountain West Conference.
These two teams have met 66 previous times, with Stanford dominating the series, leading 51-14-1. The Cardinal have won each of the last five meetings, including a hard-fought 20-17 victory in last year's season-opener.
One of the top quarterbacks in the country with little fan fare, David Fales is on everyone's short list to garner all-conference honors again in 2013. Fales led the WAC and was third nationally in 2012 with a 170.76 rating, as he completed 72.5 percent of his passes, for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Fales didn't exactly get off to a fast start throwing the football in the opener though, as he completed just 16-of-32 passes in the win, for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
A potent offense a year ago, SJSU managed a modest 367 yards in the opener, with 142 yards coming on the ground. Tailback Jason Simpson was responsible for most of that, churning out 135 yards (6.4 ypc) and one TD. Wideout Chandler Jones was by far the most productive receiver for SJSU, hauling in eight balls, for 130 yards and one score.
It doesn't get much better than pitching a shutout and is certainly something SJSU's defense can build on going forward. The numbers are impressive, albeit taken with a grain of salt considering the competition. The Spartans managed to limit Sacramento State to 278 yards of total offense, while recording three sacks and a pair of interceptions.
Linebacker Keith Smith was far and away the most active defender, posting a game-high 18 tackles. Safety Simon Connette also finished in double digits with 10 stops. Linebacker Eugene Taylor had a big game, posting five tackles, with two TFL and two sacks.
Stanford has taken an old-school approach on offense the last couple of years, as everything has come off the run.
Keeping to that gameplan this season will be tougher as three-time 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor has moved on. Taylor was a work horse last season (322 carries, 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns). Anthony Wilkerson, who is slotted to replace Taylor, had just 50 carries for 224 yards in 2012.
Still, success on the ground is expected with one of the best offensive lines in the nation. The Cardinal return four starters, including All-American guard David Yankey.
"We will have a lot of guys play running back for us, and as long as our big guys can play well up front we will be productive," Shaw said.
Caragher knows one of the top challenges will be trying to make plays against Stanford's offensive front.
"Our guys need to play with good leverage, play with a good base," said Caragher. "If you play high in this game you get driven back. You've got to play with good pad level, good base and good leverage, so that doesn't happen."
Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo hauled in a combined 93 passes for 1,291 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Obviously replacement Luke Kaumatule (6-7, 260) has big shoes to fill.
Trying to adjust to the new receivers and a new backfield will be starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. The sophomore took over for Josh Nunes last season and went 5-0, completing 71.7 percent of his pass attempts for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns.
The strength of this year's Stanford team will come on the defensive side of the ball once again. The Cardinal led the Pac-12 in sacks (57.0) and tackles for loss (124.0) a year ago.
"I think more than anything we pride ourselves on being physical and aggressive, so our offense helps us build that characteristic going up against them every single day," Linebacker Shayne Skov said. "But we want to emphasize that we do what we do and we want to emphasize our own strengths."
With eight starters back on the field and just, many of which will contend for all-conference honors, more of the same is expected defensively from the Cardinal.
Linebackers Trent Murphy and Skov are both Butkus Award contenders. Skov led the team with 81 tackles last season, 9.0 of which came behind the line. Murphy led the team with 18.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks.
Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson are both forces at defensive end. Gardner finished last season with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Anderson was just behind him with 13.0 TFL and 5.5 sacks.
Stanford's secondary has its share of star power as well. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards are both hard-hitting safeties that track the ball well. Richards had 68 tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defended last season. Reynolds hauled in a team-best six interceptions.
The Spartans shouldn't be taken lightly as they enter this contest with the same win streak (eight games) that Stanford does. That being said, Shaw has the Cardinal believing they can win a national championship. Stanford should make a strong first impression in that regard.