When it comes to important Pac-12 Conference matchups in 2013, few games will have greater significance than the meeting between Stanford and Arizona State on Saturday, September 21, in Palo Alto, Calif.
This early-season clash between division and conference title contenders could have a significant impact on the Pac-12 race. Stanford boasts a bevy of defensive stars, while its offense will count on the emergence of a crop of talented young receivers. Quarterback Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal attack will be tested by ASU’s stout defensive front, headlined by last season’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton.
Stanford returns nine starters from its fifth-best rushing defense and the 11th-ranked scoring defense in 2012. This year, however, head coach David Shaw’s squad will take a different tact on offense, moving from a smash-mouth rushing game with departed RB Stepfan Taylor to a more diversified scheme led by Hogan, one of the nation’s best O-lines, and receivers Michael Rector and Kodi Whitfield.
Stanford’s prospects may hinge on Hogan’s performance behind center. The young quarterback excelled down the stretch in 2012; his versatility and mobility sparked the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl run. Hogan can execute the option effectively, roll out to either side, and hit passing targets all over the field.
Stanford has risen to national prominence based on its use of a formula perfected in the SEC: strength up front. Recruiting offensive linemen is a key priority for Shaw and company, and the list of Cardinal players now on NFL rosters is the result.
The ground game may provide a bit of uncertainty for Stanford this season. It’s hard to overlook the loss of Taylor, who is also the school’s all-time leading rusher. Interesting note: QB Kevin Hogan is Stanford’s returning leading rusher despite only starting in four games.
The Cardinal defense that stopped some of the highest scoring teams in the nation could be better in the coming year. They have depth at all positions and return plenty of all-conference selections. And the team’s secondary, with six returning starters, could be even more effective than in the past. Free safety Ed Reynolds is a standout, converting three of his six interceptions to TDs last season.
Stanford also has the benefit of a favorable 2013 schedule. Potential challenges (besides ASU) include Oregon State, USC and Utah on the road. Fortunately for Shaw, the Cardinal faces UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame at home.