David Shaw was an assistant on the Baltimore Ravens in the fall of 2005 when he heard about the most unlikely upset: UC Davis 20, Stanford 17.
"I just remember I had a pit in my stomach as an alum," Shaw said.
The Cardinal have come so far since that stunning loss to a lower-tier California school that Shaw sees no reason to talk about it now. Instead, he is focused on taking the two-time defending Pac-12 champions even further, starting Saturday when No. 11 Stanford opens its season against an overmatched Aggies team.
And with a big game against No. 15 Southern California looming next week, Shaw is as eager as anybody to get a glimpse of his retooled team in action.
"When things come up, things flying all over the place, how they handle all the changes, how they handle all those things, how they handle things that come up right before a play that maybe they hadn't seen and we prepared them for, can they handle those things? And how do they handle those things? That's what I'm fascinated about it," Shaw said.
Stanford should have an easier time breaking in a new running back, four new starters on the offensive line and five new starters on defense than it will next week.
UC Davis, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, finished 5-7 last season. The Aggies also will be starting a new quarterback and their top two running backs are out with injuries.
UC Davis coach Ron Gould said he knows his team faces quite a challenge, but he's counting on his players to compete hard and do all they can to give Stanford a scare.
"We're definitely playing one of the pre-eminent football powerhouses in the country," Gould said. "We have to make sure we don't get outside ourselves. We have to focus on what our assignments are and we've got to play extremely well."
Here are some things to watch when Stanford hosts UC Davis:
IN THE TRENCHES: Stanford's reconstructed offensive line will have a major size advantage on UC Davis' defensive line. The Cardinal's front line features four new starters and one of the country's top left tackles in Andrus Peat, but Shaw expects the unit — all part of the acclaimed 2012 recruiting class — to be as good or better than any he has had before.
NEW BACK: Redshirt junior Kelsey Young will be making his first career start for Stanford and will bear the burden — along with Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale and Remound Wright — of replacing 1,700-yard rusher Tyler Gaffney. Young is treating the opener as a continuation of the competition he won in training camp. "There are so many guys that are really good in that running back room," he said, "I need to be on point every moment."
DIFFICULT DEBUT: Facing Stanford's pressure-happy defense is a tough task for any quarterback. Doing it in his debut is an even more daunting challenge. With four-year starting quarterback Randy Wright gone, the battle to replace him at UC Davis is expected to drag on until kickoff — and even then it might not be sealed. Neither senior London Lacy nor sophomore Ben Scott played last season, and both could see time against the Cardinal.
HAMPERED GROUND GAME: The Aggies' top two running backs, Gabe Manzanares (leg) and Manusamoa Luuga (wrist), are out with injuries. That could make things difficult on a UC Davis team that has relied more on the ground game under Gould, especially considering Stanford's defense has been among the country's best run-stoppers.
MONTGOMERY'S MAGIC: Stanford's Ty Montgomery is somebody to watch every week. This year should be no different. Coaches and teammates have raved about Montgomery all training camp since he came back from offseason surgery on his right shoulder. Doctors cleared him to play earlier this week, and the flashy wide receiver and All-American kick returner should get his shot to show fans how healthy he is now. "He has that ability to change the game at any point," Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP