C Alex Fletcher, OT Ben Muth, DE Pannel Egboh, LB Pat Maynor, CB Wopamo Osaisai
2008 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Toby Gerhert* (1,136) Passing: Tavita Pritchard* (1,633) Receiving: Ryan Whalen* (508) Tackles: Bo McNally* (76) Sacks: Tom Keiser* (6) Interceptions: Bo McNally (4)
Sep. 5 at Washington State Sep. 12 at Wake Forest Sep. 19 San Jose State Sep. 26 Washington Oct. 3 UCLA Oct. 10 at Oregon State Oct. 17 at Arizona Oct. 24 Arizona State Nov. 7 Oregon Nov. 14 at USC Nov. 21 California Nov. 28 Notre Dame
1. Luck of the Cardinal: While coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't say after spring practices ended that Andrew Luck will be Stanford's starting quarterback at Washington State on Sept. 5, all signs point to the talented redshirt freshman besting 19-game starter Tavita Pritchard in their competition. Luck was brilliant in the spring game and barring any dramatic fall-off -- or injury -- he'll be the guy running the Cardinal offense.
2. Two-way can work: Players like Owen Marecic (fullback and middle linebacker), Michael Thomas (cornerback and receiver), Richard Sherman (cornerback and receiver) and Alex Debniak (linebacker and running back) -- among others, potentially -- likely will see playing time on both sides of the ball. That's one way to address depth issues and to get the best athletes on the field as much as possible.
3. Howell shores up secondary: Sophomore Delano Howell was switched from running back to strong safety to give the secondary some much-needed athleticism, and the move was widely viewed as a success as Howell proved himself a physical player as well as a guy who can move. He almost immediately ascended to the first-team defense.
1. Can they run? Last year, Stanford became one of the Pac-10's most physical running teams with a tough-guy offensive line and 237-pound running back Tony Gerhart. But Gerhart might sign a pro baseball contract and two key starters are gone from that line. The depth behind Gerhart is questionable, and the line took a hit when talented but star-crossed offensive tackle Allen Smith re-injured the knee that kept him out in 2008.
2. Can they run II? For Stanford to push into the top half of the conference, it's got to get faster across the board, but particularly in the secondary and at receiver. The need for speed inspired some of the spring position changes, and the touted incoming freshmen should inject some speed. But will it be enough...
3. ...To end the eight-year itch? Stanford hasn't been to a bowl game since 2001, when Tyrone Willingham was the coach many moons ago. But with 17 starters back from a team that finished 5-7 and lost three games by a touchdown or less, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Of course, such a breakthrough might renew talk about Harbaugh becoming a hot head-coaching candidate.
Miller has been covering college football since 1997, starting with Auburn and then heading West to Washington and the Pac-12. His columns for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer won first place in the 2007 APSE Best Writing contest. The Atlanta native and University of Richmond graduate presently lives with his wife in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Gemmell covered San Diego State and the Mountain West Conference for three years before joining ESPN.com. As a Santa Clara graduate, his hope is that the Broncos will one day re-institute football. Until then, he lives vicariously through his readers. Gemmell lives in California with his wife and son.