Rant Sports College Football Rankings: No. 5 Stanford Cardinal

Kevin Hogan

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off their first conference championship since 1999, the Stanford Cardinal are heading into a 2013 season where expectations are near an all-time high. The talent is there, but a target will be on their backs as they attempt to repeat their 2012 success.

Lead by head coach David Shaw, the PAC-12 Coach of the Year in both 2011 and 2012, the Cardinal will look to lean on their run-based pro-style offense and ferocious defense that has consistently been among the best in the nation over the last couple of years.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the offensive, defensive and schedule outlooks for Stanford’s 2013 campaign.

Offense

With some uncertainty still surrounding the running back position, the quarterback spot will be as important as ever for the Cardinal this upcoming season. Luckily for Stanford, they have a pretty good passer in Kevin Hogan, a redshirt sophomore who went 4-0 to finish off the 2012 campaign. With plenty of athleticism and a tremendous arm, Hogan could be the next in a long line of elite quarterbacks to come out of Palo Alto.

Following the graduation of Stepfan Taylor, the Cardinal will look to implement a running-back-by-committee approach in 2013. With four capable contributors on the roster, they won’t have too much trouble picking up yards on the ground. Seniors Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney will likely split the starting load while redshirt freshman Barry Sanders Jr. gets his feet wet. Reymound Wright could also see considerable snaps. Expect fullback Ryan Hewitt to also be a big part of the offensive game plan.

The Cardinal will be looking to find some production out wide with Ty Montgomery begin the first candidate to pick up the slack. The passing game will also feature Kelsey Young, a converted running back who brings plenty of speed to the position. Others such as Devon Cajuste and Kodi Whitfield will also look to make an impact. It’s also going to be tough to replace Zach Ertz at tight end, but sophomore Luke Kaumatule is expected to fill the void without too much drop off.

Stanford boasts one of the best offensive lines in the nation, led by All-American David Yankey. The only non-returner is left tackle Andrus Peat, a top recruit who is expected to excel on the blindside.

Defense

Boasting one of the most underrated defensive lines in the nation, Stanford should see plenty of production from their front three this season. Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson will lead the way at defensive end while David Parry is set to start at nose tackle.  Other talented defensive lineman such as Josh Mauro and Aziz Shittu will also be expected to contribute regularly throughout the year.

The linebacking unit will be led by senior Shayne Skov, one of the best inside linebackers in the nation. He’ll be joined on the interior by A.J. Tarpley, who was a pleasant surprise last season after stepping in due to injuries. The other standout is outside linebacker Trent Murphy, an All-Pac 12 pick who excels at getting to the quarterback. Either Blake Leuders or James Vaughters will join the other three in the starting lineup along the Cardinal’s 3-4 front.

The secondary will also be extremely strong this season, with junior free safety Ed Reynolds leading the unit. Jordan Richards, the starting strong safety, should also stand out as the year goes along as Stanford fields one of the best safety duos in the nation. The cornerback spots will be filled by returning starter Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons, a converted safety with plenty of upside. Look for senior Barry Browning to also contribute at cornerback.

Schedule

It’s going to be another tough season for Stanford as they attempt to stay atop the PAC-12. They kick off their season against rivals San Jose State, who are underrated and ready to upset as 2013 gets under way. Their next game pits them against Army, which should be their only gimme of the year.

From there, the conference competition pours in every week until their preseason finale against Notre Dame.

They open their PAC-12 schedule against Arizona State, and face other tough opponents such as UCLA and Oregon State before October comes to a close. The biggest challenges looms in November, when the Cardinal make their final push for the PAC-12 North crown with showdowns against Oregon, USC and Cal before capping the season as hosts to the Fighting Irish.

It’s not going to be an easy road, but Stanford is primed to make a serious push for a trip to the National Championship s upcoming January. If the Cardinal can make it through their tough November slate of games, there’s no reason to believe they can’t finish the season atop the national standings.

Gil Alcaraz IV is the Content Planner for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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