Stanford begins the 2013 season with possibly as much fanfare and hype as the program has ever experienced. Sure, there were high hopes in 2011 -- but most of that was because Andrew Luck was coming back for another season. A BCS championship was a hopeful fantasy. A BCS bowl game seemed more realistic.
This season, however, there is some chatter that this could be the team to snap the SEC’s stranglehold in the final year of the BCS. Never has the fantasy been closer to becoming a reality. And the Cardinal take the first step Saturday against San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy game.
The Cardinal have owned the series historically (51-14-1) and of late, winning five in a row and nine of the last 10. All nine wins have come at Stanford Stadium. But the Spartans have talent. David Fales was the most accurate quarterback in the FBS last year and he tossed a pair of touchdown passes in SJSU’s Week 1 win over FCS Sacramento State. Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones make up a fantastic wide receiver combo. Last week Jones had eight catches for 130 yards, while Grigsby caught four balls for 51 yards and a touchdown.
And while last season turned out to be pretty good for the Cardinal, winning the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl, the season debut against San Jose State provided a dicer opening to the season than most Stanford fans would have liked. Grigsby caught seven balls for 92 yards and a score and a fourth quarter field goal from Jordan Williamson turned out to be the difference in the 20-17 win.
This season's showdown will be a first for both programs. Each team is riding an eight-game winning streak dating back to last year. But there is new leadership at SJSU following the departure of Mike MacIntyre to Colorado. Ron Caragher, who ironically followed Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, takes over for MacIntyre. His offensive coordinator is former Washington assistant Jimmie Dougherty, who is well-versed in the ways of the Cardinal.
They’ll square off against a Stanford defense that returns eight starters from 2012 and was ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, yielding a league-low 17.2 points per game. Headlined by outstanding linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov and defensive end Ben Gardner in the front seven, the Cardinal have recorded 132 sacks since 2010 -- the most of any team in college football.
Offensively, David Shaw and Co. are looking for quarterback Kevin Hogan to take the next step in his progression of the offense. With a deep stable of running backs, headlined by Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, look for Stanford to continue its ground-and-pound philosophy. The coaching staff is also looking for big things this year from wide receiver Ty Montgomery.