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Friday, September 2, 2011
Stanford's opener: Five things to watch

By Kevin Gemmell

1. It's just one game: Stanford is not going to win the Pac-12 North by beating San Jose State -- be it by three points or 30. Andrew Luck is not going to win the Heisman in Week 1 (though SJSU offers ample opportunity for stat-padding). Stanford's doubters -- and there are plenty of them out there -- won't give the Cardinal (12-1 last year) much credence with a win over the Spartans (1-12 last year). Many are waiting to see Stanford at Arizona (Sept. 17) or even against Oregon (Nov. 12) before passing judgment on its legitimacy. Too many teams have put too much pressure on themselves in Week 1 to see an entire season ruined before it ever heats up (see Michigan, University of, 2007).

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.

Then panic.