NCAA Football Stanford Cardinal

10 Questions Stanford Football Must Answer This Offseason

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10 Questions Stanford Football Must Answer This Offseason

david shaw
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

They say it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get to the top. The Stanford Cardinal proved they were capable of defending their perch on top of the Pac-12, winning a second straight conference championship and punching their ticket to the Rose Bowl yet again. While the end result wasn’t what they were hoping for this time around, it’s hard to argue that 2013 was a good year for Stanford. But with the offseason now upon us, how will the Cardinal prepare themselves for 2014?

David Shaw will have plenty of work to do in order to maintain the level of success that Stanford has reached over the last several years. He faces his biggest turnover yet as the head coach, particularly on defense, that will test how well this program has been built and how deep the roster goes. Stanford has a reputation as a tough-minded, physical team and they will need some new faces to step into leadership roles in 2014 to keep that momentum going.

Paired with the fact that the rest of the Pac-12 is taking strides to get better in 2014 and Stanford faces a serious challenge this offseason to maintain their edge. How well they answer those questions will determine how strong their grip on the conference stays next fall and how far they rise in 2014. Stanford is a team that has raised the bar of expectations in Palo Alto and now they face the challenge of reaching that bar again next season.

So as Stanford prepares itself for the offseason with an eye toward spring practices and summer workouts, here are 10 questions that Stanford football needs to answer before next fall.

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10. Can they stay on top of the Pac-12?

kevin hogan
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Stanford has won back-to-back Pac-12 titles and will be looking for a three-peat in 2014. But that’s easier said than done with the talent level rising around the conference next season. The Washington Huskies are coming off their most successful season in 13 years, the Oregon Ducks are reloading with key seniors returning next season, and the Pac-12 South continues to close the gap on the North. Will Stanford be able to keep all the challengers at bay next fall to defend their crown?

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9. How long will the coaching staff stay at Stanford?

davis shaw
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinal have assembled a top-notch coaching staff led by David Shaw that has been able to overcome the challenges of recruiting to one of the elite academic institutions in the country to build a winning program. Shaw says he’s happy in Palo Alto and does not want to interview for any other jobs but he’ll continue to get pursued by the NFL year after year. There’s also going to be schools looking to pick off assistants to copy the Stanford formula elsewhere. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason has been connected with several job openings already this offseason. How long will the group stick together in Palo Alto?

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8. Will Jordan Williamson stay hot in the kicking game?

jordan williamson
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

Kickers don’t often get the attention they deserve, particularly in college football. But Stanford plays games tight so having a kicker that can be counted on to convert red-zone opportunities into points is a huge advantage. Jordan Williamson had a strong junior season for Stanford, converting 18-of-22 field goal attempts and 43-of-44 extra points. After missing his one attempt against the Utah Utes and missing two games due to injury, Williamson caught fire down the stretch, connecting on 9-of-10 attempts to close out the year. He also helped to prevent opponents from getting a spark on special teams, converting 54.35 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks. Will Stanford be able to rely on him again next season?

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7. How can Ty Montgomery get more touches?

ty montgomery
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Ty Montgomery stepped up as a major playmaker for Stanford in 2013. He led the team in receiving with 61 receptions for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving while rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns and returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns as well. His 14 total touchdowns were second on the team and he will be the leading returning scorer for 2014. The challenge for Stanford will be to find more touches for Montgomery in his senior season and give him more chances to be dynamic with the football in his hands.

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6. Who will replace Tyler Gaffney?

tyler gaffney
Gary A. Vasquez - USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford running game was a huge question mark coming into 2013 but former baseball player Tyler Gaffney came through in a major way to pace the team’s offense. He racked up 1,717 yards on 331 carries with 21 rushing touchdowns, leading the Cardinal offense in “a cloud of blood and dust” as Gaffney described it. But Gaffney will be gone in 2014 along with fellow senior Anthony Wilkerson leaving a void in the backfield that will need to be filled. The leading returning rushers for the Cardinal will be Remound Wright (20 carries, 102 yards, 1 TD) and Barry Sanders (5 carries, 42 yards, 1 TD) so expect plenty of competition this spring and into fall camp.

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5. What will the defense look like?

shayne skov
Matt Kartozian - USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinal boasted one of the best defenses in the country this season thanks in part to their heavy dose of senior leadership at all three levels of the defense. They will be losing a ton of talent to the NFL this offseason with five of the team’s 10 leading tacklers gone for 2014. Turnover is inevitable in college football but the Stanford defense is getting hit hard this offseason. How will the team adjust this offseason and overcome that lost production?

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4. Who will replace Trent Murphy?

trent murphy
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

Trent Murphy was one of the most disrupting defensive players in the country this season coming off the edge for Stanford. He finished the year with a team-high 15 sacks, the highest total of anyone in college football this season. His pass-rush will be sorely missed by the Cardinal next season as they lose their top four pass rushers this offseason and six of the top seven. The leading returning pass-rusher in 2014 will be linebacker James Vaughters who recorded four sacks in 2013 but he will need to step up his game and get some help from others for the Stanford defense to replace the production of Murphy next fall.

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3. Who will replace Ed Reynolds?

ed reynolds
Danny Wild - USA TODAY Sports

Ed Reynolds provided a ball-hawking presence over the top for the Stanford defense that helped them shut down opposing passing attacks and turn the tides of games. He posted seven interceptions over the last two seasons, three of which he returned for touchdowns, as the captain of the Cardinal secondary. His departure to the NFL will leave a void in the back end of the defense that has to be addressed this offseason. Will the Cardinal find someone to step into Reynolds’ huge shoes in 2014?

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2. Who will replace Shayne Skov?

shayne skov
Robert Stanton - USA TODAY Sports

Shayne Skov was a tackling machine for Stanford since returning from a knee injury two years ago. He led the team with 109 tackles in 2013, including 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles from his middle linebacker position. Skov was a vocal leader for the defense as he made plays from sideline to sideline and set the tone for the entire group. A.J. Tarpley appeared to settle in well as the No. 2 to Skov in the linebacker corps and will be asked to step up in a major way to lead the team in 2014. Will he be up to the challenge?

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1. Can Kevin Hogan take the next step at quarterback?

kevin hogan
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Hogan took over the Stanford offense partway through his redshirt freshman season in 2012 and led the Cardinal to a perfect finish to the season. He didn’t quite meet expectations in his follow-up season in 2013 and sometimes seemed overwhelmed when asked to take on too much of the offensive responsibility during a game. With more turnover at running back and a loaded group of receivers returning in 2014, Hogan will have to shoulder more of the offensive production next season and produce through the air. Will he be up the challenge?