Four months ago, Stanford head coach David Shaw watched as four of his players were selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, including quarterback Andrew Luck at No. 1 overall. The dropoff for the Cardinal in 2012 will be minor at worst, as Shaw’s top-notch recruiting class pairs with a strong collection of returning talent that should compete as one of the top teams in college football.
Although Stanford gave up plenty of points last season, they did so against some of the highest-powered offenses in the country, and their fearsome pass rush returns several of its top players. Rush linebackers redshirt senior Chase Thomas—who racked up 8.5 sacks—and senior Shayne Skov, who had 7.5 sacks in 2010 before tearing his ACL three games into last season, will join top tackler senior Jarek Lancaster to create an elite linebacking corps. Senior defensive linemen Ben Gardner and Terrence Stephens should wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage in front of a talented secondary.
The offense will miss Luck as it turns the keys over to senior Josh Nunes, who has amassed just seven passing yards in the last two seasons playing behind Luck. The Cardinal’s top three receiving weapons departed as well, but Nunes should benefit from the presence of a New England Patriots-esque pair of elite tight ends. Six-foot-seven Levine Toilolo was an honorable mention all-conference selection and caught six touchdowns, despite playing behind starter Coby Fleener. His 6-foot-6 counterpart senior Zach Ertz is ranked by many as the second-best tight end in the nation, behind only his teammate. Running back Stepfan Taylor will also return, with a chance to surpass the 1,500-yard barrier in his senior campaign.
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