STANFORD, Calif. — David Shaw has been telling his players for months to put last season's Rose Bowl victory behind them and go for greater success next time they take the field.
That time has finally arrived.
Stanford's prolonged offseason will officially end Monday, when the defending Pac-12 Conference champions begin preseason practice. The Cardinal will be one of the last teams in the country to start training camp because it will be one of the last to start the regular season.
Stanford kicks off one of the most anticipated slates in school history at home against San Jose State on Sept. 7, about a week later than most of college football. The Week 1 bye is due, in part, to a lack of scheduling flexibility created by the regular-season finale against Notre Dame on Nov. 30.
"There are pluses and minuses," said Shaw, who has won Pac-12 Coach of the Year in each of his first two seasons. "You'd love to work a bye into the schedule. But we can see San Jose State play. We can see other teams play. It's good to watch and see good teams struggle. They make early season mistakes, and then you can learn from those mistakes."
Players officially checked in on campus Sunday for orientation.
After months of planning and preparation, Shaw will lead the Cardinal onto the practice field late Monday afternoon for the first full-squad workout. He will huddle his players for a brief chat, blow the whistle around his neck and begin a march that Stanford fans everywhere hope ends in Pasadena again — only this time for BCS national championship Jan. 6.
"I'm excited to see where they are when we start," Shaw said. "That's the hardest part of summer. The guys are on campus, but you don't get a chance to see them."
Unlike last August, when the race to replace record-setting No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck was still undecided, the Cardinal enter camp with Kevin Hogan at quarterback. Hogan was 5-0 as the starter after taking over for Josh Nunes late last season and leading the Rose Bowl run, finishing off a 12-2 campaign that included toppling top-ranked Oregon and beating UCLA in back-to-back weeks for the conference crown.
Almost all of one of the nation's best defenses, headlined by linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, is back. And while school rushing leader Stepfan Taylor is gone, the offensive line is stacked in front of a bevy of running backs — headlined by seniors Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney, who returns after playing baseball in the minors for a year — that remain in stock on The Farm.
Among the notable positions to watch:
—Tight End. All-American Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 target Levine Toilolo are in the NFL now. Luke Kaumatule is expected to start, but the Cardinal are counting on at least one — if not two — highly touted freshman to emerge from Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Eric Taboada. Senior Davis Dudchock and offensive tackle Kyle Murphy, who also lined up at tight end last year, will again compete for playing time.
— Wide Receiver. Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson graduated. Along with Ertz, Toilolo and Taylor, they combined to catch 18 of Stanford's 19 touchdown passes last season. Ty Montgomery, who had a strong freshman season but was out most of his sophomore year with various lower-leg injuries, and Devon Cajuste will open as starters. Michael Rector, who ended up redshirting last season after tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, had a strong spring and could make some noise this fall. Keep an eye on Kodi Whitfield, freshman Francis Owusu and former baseball player Jordan Pratt as well.
—Center. Khalil Wilkes, who started at left guard last year, is the favorite to replace the departed Sam Schwartzstein. Conor McFadden, the backup the past two years, will be his toughest competition. And Kevin Danser, who started at right guard, could also get into the fray. David Yankey, after starting all 14 games at left tackle last season, is moving back to his natural position at left guard — a key position in Stanford's rushing attack — and could be one of the top interior lineman taken in the next NFL draft. Andrus Peat, now a 6-foot-7, 310-pound sophomore, will be the left tackle.