One thing can be said with certainty about new Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh — he will not allow the Cardinal to become irrelevant.
The fiery former quarterback earned the nickname “Captain Comeback” during a 15-year NFL career and now faces the task of rebuilding a program that suffered the indignity of a 1-11 season in 2006. He has already drawn media attention due to his frank comments (like saying Southen Cal “may be the best team in the history of college football” and that Stanford “bows to no program”) and brought an energetic, enthusiastic coaching style to the Farm.
“We want to have the fastest tempo of any team in the country,” Harbaugh said. “We know we’re going to be in the fight of our lives every week.”
The question is whether the Cardinal have the talent to make headlines of their own. And despite last year’s struggles, there appear to be enough pieces returning for Stanford to begin working its way back up.
T.C. Ostrander will be the starting quarterback and the fifth-year senior from Menlo-Atherton High School played in 10 games in 2006 — including Stanford’s 20-3 win over Washington. He will have weapons to work with as Mark Bradford, Evan Moore and Richard Sherman form a talented group of receivers and steady junior running back Anthony Kimble continues to improve. Juniors Alex Fletcher and Allen Smith return to anchor an offensive line that returns four players who started games in 2006. Of local interest, former Serra High School star Will Powers shifts from linebacker to tight end, where he will battle for playing time.
The defense will shift philosophies under new coordinator Scott Shafer, shifting into a 4-3 formation designed to highlight the skills of linemen Udeme Udofia and Emmanuel Awofadeju. Linebackers Pat Maynard and Clinton Snyder will be counted on to replace some of the playmaking ability of the graduated Michael Okwo.
FIVE KEYS TO THE SEASON
1 After debacles with Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, Stanford has turned to Jim Harbaugh as its third coach in six seasons since Tyrone Willingham left the Farm. During the Teevens and Harris eras, the Cardinal managed a 16-40 record. Harbaugh’s biggest challenge will be to establish confidence in a team that finished at the bottom in many significant categories on both sides of the ball. On offense, Harbaugh — the former NFL quarterback who won back-to-back national championships at as the coach at NCAA Division I-AA San Diego — plans on running a West Coast offense and an attacking 4-3 defense.
2 The good news is the Cardinal return 15 starters from a team that went 1-11 last year. The bad news is the Cardinal return 15 starters (plus both specialists) from a team that went 1-11 last year. OK, so it is more of a punch line than an endorsement, but the returning experience should help Stanford overcome the bumps of last season. With some switching of positions by players during training camp, Harbaugh is looking to get his athletes in the best possible spots.
3 There is nothing like an experienced backfield when trying to change the mood of a team. Starting tailback Anthony Kimble, top backup Toby Gerhart and starting fullback Emeka Nnoli should get plenty of opportunities to carry the load offensively. A junior, Kimble rushed for 470 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards a carry. Certainly not eye-popping numbers, but something to work with.
4 The rest of the offense seems to be in decent shape as T.C. Ostrander steps in as the No. 1 quarterback, a spot in which he finished last season due to Trent Edwards’ final collegiate injury. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Ostrander, a former Menlo-Atherton High School star, will have a plethora of weapons to fire to, particularly Evan Moore. It should help as the Cardinal look to improve on their paltry 10.1 points per game of a year ago.
5 The defense is hoping not to log as many minutes as it did last year, when it coughed up 31.4 points per game. Linebacker Michael Okwo, an All-Pac-10 Conference performer last season and both starting safeties have graduated. But three veteran cornerbacks (Wopamo Osaisai, Tim Sims and Nick Sanchez) and two quality defensive linemen (Udeme Udofia and Emmanuel Awofadeju) should help get the offense on the field more often. — Staff report
FIVE IMPACT PLAYERS
POSITION: Running back
With 17 starts in his first two seasons, there is no doubt Kimble is the moneyman when it comes to the running game. He has the versatility to be an every-down back, but for the Cardinal to take steps forward, he needs to be more productive.
POSITION: Defensive end
Like many of his teammates, the fifth-year senior is one of those guys you look at and say, “Wow, what an athlete.” But the lanky end hasn’t quite had the production you would expect. One rarity: He has three career blocked punts, all vs. Arizona State.
POSITION: Wide receiver
Was limited to just 14 catches for 242 yards and three touchdowns due to a foot injury last year after missing all of 2005 with a hip ailment. Also recruited as a baseball player, he is a target with a definite height and leaping advantage over any corner.
One of the bright spots of an otherwise dismal 2006, the former Pinole Valley High School star enters his junior year as one of the few big-play threats. Osaisai, who earned a starting role in midseason, returned his lone interception 72 yards for a TD.
While it is the goal of every player to set school records at their position, it isn’t very good when the punter is nearing career marks. With a career average of 40.6 yards a boot, the fourth-year starter is approaching school records for yards and number of punts.
ON THE HOT SEAT: T.C. OSTRANDER
Finally getting a full-time shot as a fifth-year senior, the former Menlo-Atherton High School standout basically needs to stay healthy to provide Stanford stability at quarterback. The knock on predecessor Trent Edwards was that he couldn’t stay on the field long enough to show off his talent — and that was proven true as Ostrander saw action in 10 of 12 games last year, starting five. Ostrander actually attempted more passes than Edwards (158-156), but Edwards had the better passer rating (120.56-94.31). If Ostrander can come anywhere close to the effieciency of his prep days (he completed 67 percent of his passes for 44 touchdowns against just seven interceptions as a senior), he may be able to follow Edwards to the NFL.
One thing two-time Division I-AA national champion coach Jim Harbaugh will want to address as soon as possible is the horrible scheduling. Four of Stanford’s first five games are against Pac-10 Conference foes, including UCLA in the opener and Southern Cal on
Oct. 6. At least the Cardinal catch a break by having eight home games, including the Big Game.
Sept. 1: vs. UCLA- 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 8: Bye
Sept. 15: vs. San Jose State- 7 p.m.
Sept. 22: vs. Oregon- 7 p.m.
Sept. 29: vs. Arizona State- 7 p.m.
Oct. 6: at Southern Cal- 4 p.m.
Oct. 13: vs. Texas Christian- 2 p.m.
Oct. 20: at Arizona- TBA
Oct. 27: at Oregon State- 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 3: vs. Washington- 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 10: at Washington State- TBA
Nov. 17: Bye
Nov. 24: vs. Notre Dame- 12:30 p.m.
Dec. 1: vs. Cal (Big Game)- 4 p.m.
HOW IT WILL END
1-11 Unfortunately, the schedule and quality of the Pac-10 Conference — combined with questionable recruiting the past five years — doesn’t provide many chances for a comeback season.
Can Jim Harbaugh return Stanford to its winning ways?
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