AP Photo/David HoodSenior running back Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal won their first Rose Bowl since 1972.
• Stepfan Taylor gained 50 of his team-high 88 rush yards after first contact in the Rose Bowl, including 32 of his 39 yards in the fourth quarter. It was his most yards after contact in the fourth quarter of any game this season and thanks to his touchdown in the first quarter, Taylor scored on the ground in five of Stanford’s final six games of the season.
• Stanford allowed a season-high 119 yards on carries inside the tackles in the first half against Wisconsin (5.4 yds per rush), including 76 yards on inside runs by Montee Ball. The second half was a different story, however, as Wisconsin gained just 13 yards up the middle and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry including just eight yards by Ball.
• With the loss, Wisconsin became the third team all-time and the first since Michigan from 1976-78 to lose the Rose Bowl in three consecutive seasons. The Badgers’ run is part of a stretch that has seen the Big Ten lose nine of its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances. The only Big Ten team to win a Rose Bowl during that span was Ohio State on January 1, 2010 against Oregon.
• Stanford did much of its damage on first down against Wisconsin, gaining an average of 8.2 yards per play and scoring both of its touchdowns on first down in the game.
The 8.2 yards per play marked the second-highest first-down average for the Cardinal in a game this season (8.5 versus Arizona) and was the most allowed per play by Wisconsin in a game since it gave up 11.5 to Oregon in last season’s Rose Bowl.
• Ball’s performance was not forgotten in the defeat as he rushed for 100 yards for the 10th time this season (tied for second most in FBS) and scored the last of his FBS-record 83 career touchdowns.
The Rose Bowl marked Ball’s 26th-career game in which he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, most in the FBS since his freshman year of 2009. With the score, Ball also became the first player in history to score a touchdown in three separate Rose Bowls.
James Snook/US Presswire
David Shaw will need to rely on a strong ground game and solid defensive front to keep Stanford near top of the Pac-12.
Stanford enters the season trying to fill the holes left by four All-Pac-12 first team players taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft -- most notably Andrew Luck. And though Stanford's quarterbacks are untested, the Cardinal return several players who saw significant action last season on both sides of the ball.
The 2011 team was more geared toward rushing and defense than most realize. Despite having Luck at quarterback, the Cardinal only passed on 44.6 percent of their plays, the ninth-highest rate in the Pac-12.
All-Conference second team running back Stepfan Taylor returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 TDs on 5.5 yards per carry last season, and he will be joined in the backfield by freshman Barry Sanders, an ESPN 150 prospect of prolific lineage.
Though David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin are gone, the remaining three offensive line starters will be supplemented by three freshman studs from the ESPN 150: No. 2 OT Andrus Peat, No. 3 OG Joshua Garrett, and No. 4 OT Kyle Murphy. This group should be fully capable of replicating the 5.3 yards per rush (12th in FBS) produced by the 2011 team.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford enters 2012 with one of the strongest front-seven units in the nation. Led by LB Chase Thomas, the lone returning All-Pac-12 first team player, and new arrival Noor Davis, the second-ranked OLB in the ESPN 150, the unit should pick up right where it left off.
The Cardinal excelled at stopping the run and pressuring opposing quarterbacks, allowing only 3.0 yards per rush and tallying 39 sacks. They were especially effective on third downs, when opponents were able to convert only 31.1 percent of their opportunities and only 26.0 percent by rush, the 2nd-lowest conversion rate in the nation.
Ultimately the questions lie with the quarterbacks and defensive backfield.
Quarterbacks Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes have both been with the program for more than two years, and the running game should be able to alleviate much of the pressure by creating manageable down and distance situations. Last year’s team utilized a strong running game in the first half (6.3 yds per rush, 3rd in FBS) to set up Andrew Luck and the passing game in the second half (10.0 yds per att, 2nd in FBS).
The secondary will be seeking to improve on 2011, when 75 percent of the yards the team allowed were through the air, the second-highest ratio in FBS.
However, neither the quarterbacks nor the secondary will be challenged to make big plays as much as they will be tasked with simply managing mistakes.
Of the 14 quarterbacks who participated in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump at the 2012 combine, only Luck and Robert Griffin III placed in the top four in all three events. Notably, Luck posted the top broad jump of all quarterbacks, and put up comparable numbers to Cam Newton’s combine in 2011.
Unlike Newton, Luck played in a pro-style offense in college that did not ask him to run consistently. But anyone who watched Stanford throughout Luck’s career could see that he has the athleticism and mobility to succeed at the next level.
Luck was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the nation when throwing on the run. The average quarterback completes less than 50 percent of his passes when forced to scramble outside of the pocket, but last season Luck completed 63.6 percent of these passes. He was even better when passing outside of the pocket on designed roll-outs, completing 71.8 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and just one interception on such passes.
Inside of the pocket, Luck’s mobility helped him elude pass rushers and get the ball out quickly. Luck was sacked only 23 times in his career at Stanford, about once in every 50 drop-backs. Of quarterbacks that started at least 20 games since 2009, only Kellen Moore and Brandon Weeden were sacked at lower rates.
Luck chose to remain in the pocket on the majority of the time, but when forced to scramble he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt. Overall, Luck ran for 957 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Additionally, he caught two passes for 24 yards, including one of the most athletic plays of the season -- a one-handed, sprawling catch down the right sideline against UCLA.
So while Griffin may have stolen the spotlight by running a 4.41 40-yard dash on Sunday, Luck proved that he is one of the top athletes at the quarterback position -- a fact that may be surprising to some, but not those that have watched him closely for years.
2. Line-up: The renovated offensive line, which includes three new starters, will surely be a point of interest. Returning starters David DeCastro (right guard) and Jonathan Martin (left tackle) are the two remaining members of a group that allowed just 13 sacks over the last two seasons -- second best in the nation. Look for signs of early continuity -- or lack there of -- with the new unit.
3. Line-up, Take 2: On the defensive line of Stanford's 3-4 front, only Matt Masifilo returns as a starter at end. He's backed by a solid linebacking crew and a fairly veteran secondary. But the key to any good 3-4 is the nose tackle. And Terrence Stephens must step in to replace Sione Fua -- a third-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. At 6-foot-2, 294 pounds, Stephens has the bulk needed for the position, and he saw action in 12 of the 13 games last year.
4. Owusu, healthy and happy: Much has been made about Luck losing his starting wide receivers from last year -- and much should be made about it. But Chris Owusu isn't exactly a newbie. He could be the most explosive player on the field -- when he's healthy. A concussion and a knee injury forced him to miss six games last season. And even when he played, coach David Shaw said he wasn't 100 percent. Owusu, a senior, should be anxious to showcase his explosiveness and athleticism after spending half a season in a M.A.S.H. unit. He's also averaging 27.9 yards per kick return -- including three career touchdowns. San Jose State fans probably remember the 94-yarder he brought back in 2009.
5. Jim Who-baugh?: It's over. He's gone. Move on with your lives. Get behind Shaw. The Jim Harbaugh era, as thrill-ride-esque as it was, is officially over. There are a handful of Pac-12 coaches on the proverbial hot seat. Shaw is not one of them. But few coaches in the conference, er, country, will endure the type of scrutiny that Shaw will likely face this season. Harbaugh left him a cupboard full of goodies, and the fans on The Farm are expecting big things from the Cardinal. A preseason top-10 ranking (No. 6 in the coaches' poll, No. 7 in AP) has fans thinking national championship. It's Stanford's highest preseason AP ranking since 1950. But the Cardinal aren't going to win the national championship by beating San Jose State.
Which takes us full circle to point No. 1. This is just one game. Don't read too much into it.
Unless they lose.
That, at present, is no longer the case nationally or in the conference. But USC is still part of the conversation, even if it's folks talking about the Trojans absence.
Oregon players got plenty of "Are you the new USC?" questions this week.
"We’re not the new USC. We’re just Oregon," Ducks linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "We’re not saying that we’re taking anything away from 'SC or that the power shift has happened. It’s just that we feel that Oregon is the premier team in the Pac-10 now. We’re not taking anything away from them. We’re just building up who we are."
The Ducks are two-time defending Pac-10 champions after the Trojans' run ended at seven years atop the conference. If the NCAA doesn't reduce sanctions against the Trojans, USC won't be in the picture again next fall, when the Ducks -- again -- will be overwhelming favorites, though the return of quarterback Andrew Luck to Stanford thickens the plot in the Pac-12 North.
The family of Oregon LB Casey Matthews has longterm ties to USC, but the Trojans didn't offer him a scholarship. He didn't seem too bothered by that this week.
"If you look at it now, I definitely chose the right school," Casey Matthews said. "But back then, if 'SC had offered me, I would have gone. That’s just how it was. I can’t complain with how things have turned out. They’re going through issues right now, and we’re playing for the BCS title. I can’t ask for a better ending to it all."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Last time America saw Jeremiah Masoli, the Oregon quarterback was pancaking the Oklahoma State defense in the Ducks Holiday Bowl romp.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|Oregon Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was a surprise standout in the Pac-10 last season.|
Yet Masoli isn't the sort to gloat about the hits, even when egged on by a reporter.
"After I watched it on film, I definitely felt bad for them," he said.
"Serene" isn't a word typically used to praise a young college football player, but it encapsulates Masoli perfectly. That serenity is probably the reason he accomplished so much last year under difficult circumstances, and why many expect him to become a full-fledged star in 2009.
Dude is just unflappable.
And, honestly, not a soul saw him coming.
Masoli, an unquarterback-like 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, led City College of San Francisco to a junior college national title in 2007, but when he arrived at Oregon as a surprising late signee last summer, he was mostly a curious footnote, not much different than a typical, wide-eyed freshman whose recruiting bio lacked star power.
He'd mostly been a passer at CCSF -- he threw for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns -- and didn't run much option. He started fall camp at No. 5 on the Ducks depth chart and was expected to redshirt as he tried to learn the nuances of the Ducks spread-option offense.
A bizarre epidemic of injuries at quarterback, however, forced him onto the field, and he made his first start in game four against Boise State -- at least until a cheap shot knocked him out in the first quarter.
He ended up starting 10 games, but he hardly became an overnight sensation. On Nov. 8, during a woeful performance against Stanford, fans at Autzen Stadium booed him.
And then, with those boos still ringing in his ears and the Ducks trailing 28-27 with just over two minutes remaining, he engineered a 74-yard, game-winning touchdown drive, the critical play being his 25-yard scramble on third-and-8 from the Stanford 33.
"It [the booing] didn't bother me at all," he said. "It's just fans, how they are feeling and reacting to stuff. They come to the game to see their team perform and when it doesn't perform to the best of its ability, they get a little restless."
Curiously, the booing stopped when, over the final three games of the season, he completed 50 of 75 (67 percent) passes for 830 yards and six touchdowns against one interception, and rushed 38 times for 248 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and seven scores.
When spring practice starts March 30, Masoli probably joins Washington's Jake Locker as the Pac-10's most entrenched quarterbacks.
"Things just started to click," he said. "Things started to slow down, just like they did for me at the JC level. I started to get comfortable. First couple of games I didn't feel comfortable."
It's not surprising the mellow Masoli is taking in stride the Ducks coaching uncertainty, with offensive coordinator Chip Kelly announced as the head-coach-in-waiting for when Mike Bellotti steps aside to become athletic director.
The "when" being the source of uncertainty. It doesn't appear anyone knows.
"I think we're handling it real well," Masoli said "All the guys are just focusing on themselves right now, which is as it should be in the offseason. We're not worried about who has this title or who has that title."
And if he were a betting man, who does he think will coach the Ducks in 2009?
"I'm not a betting man," he said. "Oh, man. I'm not sure. But right now I'd say Coach B."
There is, however, one fissure in Masoli's serenity.
Boise State. That's where Oregon opens its 2009 season.
The Ducks not only want revenge for the home loss last year, they also remember that the Broncos defense seemed to be head-hunting with multiple cheap shots in the game.
"We definitely want revenge against Boise over there," said Masoli, bringing up the subject on his own. "They really did come into our house and kind of gave it to us."
After that, Purdue, Utah and California visit Oregon on consecutive weekends.
If Masoli manages to hang up big numbers amid a four-game winning streak to start the season, his serenity might be challenged by something else.
Heisman Trophy hype.