Cardinal No. 18 in coaches poll

Depending on which side of the fence you fall on, the coaches either have a healthy amount of faith or little faith in Stanford as the Cardinal begin a new life after Andrew Luck.

Stanford comes in as the No. 18 team in the nation in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, released Thursday morning. LSU checks in at No. 1, followed by Alabama, USC, Oklahoma and Oregon. Washington and Utah are listed as "also receiving votes," though the Cardinal don't face the Utes this season.

Ironically, Oklahoma State, the team that edged Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl last season, is just behind the Cardinal at No. 19.

There are those who feel Stanford's rise over the past couple years was due to Luck. Others will say Luck was a huge contributor, but it was ultimately the philosophy of power running and hard-nosed defense that turned the Cardinal into a national power. If that's your thinking, you should feel pretty good about the Cardinal in 2012, since Stanford boasts one of the best front sevens in the country and returns a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor.

Either way, No. 18 is a pretty significant drop-off from the No. 7 spot the Cardinal held at the end of the season.

My first thought is that this seems to be in the neighborhood -- maybe a little lower than I had expected. I have the Cardinal hovering around the 13-15 range in my mental Top 25.

The first two weeks (San Jose State and Duke) will provide a good opportunity for Luck's replacement -- be it Josh Nunes or Brett Nottingham -- to get his feet wet. But the real test will be on Sept. 15 when USC comes to Palo Alto in a rematch of last year's triple-overtime classic.

It only gets tougher for the Cardinal, who have three of their next four on the road at Washington, home to Arizona, at Notre Dame and at Cal. By the time the Cardinal are ready cross the bridge to Memorial Stadium, we'll have a much better feel for whether Stanford belongs in the Top 10, the teens, or if they-of-little-faith had it right all along. Worth noting also that head coach David Shaw is not a voter this season.