Stanford Football: Ben Gardner

Following four straight trips to BCS bowls, the outgoing class of Stanford football players has one last chance to make history.

As many as nine players have a decent shot at getting drafted over the next few days, which would shatter the previous record of six -- set in 1972, 1975, 1985 and 2005.

There are 29 former Stanford players who are either currently on NFL rosters or finished the 2013 season on an NFL roster.

Here is a brief look at the nine draft hopefuls, most of whom figured to get drafted on Saturday in Rounds 4-7, and a few others who are continuing to pursue football.

OLB/DE Trent Murphy

McShay 300 ranking Insider : 91
Round projection: 2-4
Comment: The nation’s sacks leader in 2013, Murphy will either play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, as he did at Stanford, or defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Murphy said at the 49ers' local pro day that the main difference for him would be that he would remain at 260 pounds in a 3-4, but he would try to add about 15 pounds as a defensive end in a 4-3.

OT Cameron Fleming

McShay 300 ranking: 134
Round projection: 3-5
Comment: McShay’s ranking could come as a surprise to many, as Fleming wasn’t nearly as decorated as David Yankey in college. A three-year starter who still had a season of eligibility remaining, Fleming didn’t allow a sack last season, according to offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren.

OL David Yankey

McShay 300 ranking: 141
Round projection: 2-5
Comment:
McShay gave Yankey, who some believe is the best offensive guard in the draft, a third-round grade and ranked him No. 3 at his position behind only UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo and Clemson’s Brandon Thomas. He was the eighth unanimous All-American in Stanford history.

RB Tyler Gaffney

McShay 300 ranking: 153
Round projection: 4-7
Comment: The NFL is trending away from drafting running backs early, but an average of 22 of have been drafted over the last three years. Gaffney is McShay’s No. 14 overall back and No. 4 from the Pac-12 behind Bishop Sankey (Washington), De’Anthony Thomas (Oregon) and Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona). He was drafted in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2012.

ILB Shayne Skov

McShay 300 ranking: 157
Round projection: 4-7
Comment: Skov has been limited by injuries during the pre-draft process, so he will have to hope his film does enough to offset concerns brought about by his injury history and a growing perception that he lacks NFL-caliber athleticism. McShay ranks Skov as the No. 4 inside linebacker.

FS Ed Reynolds

McShay 300 ranking: 230
Round projection: 4-7
Comment: One of three players to leave a season of eligibility on the table (along with Yankey and Fleming), Reynolds didn't showcase elite athleticism in his pre-draft workouts, but he was very productive in his two seasons as a starter.

DE Josh Mauro

McShay 300 ranking: 239
Round projection: 4-7
Comment: No player at Stanford helped his pro prospectus this past season more than Mauro, who wasn't slated to be a starter when the year began. It would be surprising if he went undrafted.

Ben Gardner

McShay 300 ranking: 257
Round projection: 6-undrafted
Comment: Gardner, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, missed the final six games of the season and was a combine snub, but he bounced back with an impressive pro day. He took a visit to San Diego. Opinions are Gardner's chances at getting drafted are mixed, but it could be more beneficial for him to last until free agency to maximize his chances at landing on a desirable roster.

FB Ryan Hewitt

McShay 300 ranking: 258
Round projection: 7-undrafted
Comment: Was one of just two fullbacks at the Senior Bowl and could be worth more to a team in the later rounds because of the lack of experienced fullbacks who will be available in free agency, relative to other positions. One Stanford coach said he gives it better than a 50/50 chance that Hewitt will be drafted.

OG Kevin Danser, C/OG Khalil Wilkes, LB Jarek Lancaster and RB Anthony Wilkerson could earn training camp invitations, but they are not considered strong candidates to be drafted.

Reviewing the Pac-12 pro days

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Washington was the final Pac-12 school to host its pro day Wednesday, essentially putting an end to 40-yard-dash season. Here is a look at some of the conference's top prospects and a few others who helped their cause over the past month.

Arizona (March 6)
Big name: RB Ka'Deem Carey. After getting clocked at 4.70 in the 40 at the combine, Carey's pro day was a bit more intriguing than some of the other big-name players. There was some improvement -- various reports had him in the high 4.6-range -- but it wasn't enough to change the book on him. Still, Carey's production should make up for his perceived shortcomings.
Sleeper: OLB Marquis Flowers. Flowers reportedly ran in the 4.4s and had a good showing in position drills.

Arizona State (March 7)
Big name: DT Will Sutton. The Sun Devils' pro day further cemented what scouts learned at the combine, when he turned in below average numbers. There was slight improvement at the pro day, according to several reports, but nothing to save his falling stock.
Sleeper: RB Marion Grice. Grice was invited to the combine, but didn't participate as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late in the season. He also didn't participate at the pro day, but will hold an individual workout for NFL scouts on April 8.

California (March 19)
Big name: DT Deandre Coleman. Coleman only participated in the bench press at the combine, but fared well in field drills on campus with a reported 40 time in the mid 4.9-range. Coleman is projected by most to be a mid-round selection.
Sleeper: RB Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was perhaps the player with the most to gain at pro day. The book on him has always been that he's loaded with talent and the physical skills necessary to be an impact player. It didn't happen for the Bears before he decided to leave early for a shot at Sunday football. Despite injuring his hamstring midway through his 40, Bigelow still was reported as running in the high 4.4-range with former Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best looking on.

Colorado (March 12)
Big name: WR Paul Richardson. There were 24 teams on hand, with Richardson the obvious prize of the nine that worked out. He only participated in the vertical jump, short shuttle and three-cone drills.
Sleeper: LS Ryan Iverson. Iverson will not be drafted, but after four years as the Colorado long snapper he has a chance to make some money at the next level. His 27 reps on the bench press were a team high. All the Colorado results can be viewed here.

Oregon (March 13)
Big name: RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas' 4.50 40 time at the combine was among the disappointments for the conference and turned a perceived strength into average attribute. After his showing in Eugene -- a 4.34 40 time -- the world is back on its axis. On his combine performance, Thomas told the Ducks' official website: “I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. I feel like that made me train harder and I used it as motivation.”
Sleeper: CB Avery Patterson. Patterson was left puzzled by his own performance after putting up just 10 repetitions in the bench press, but the two-year starter remains focused on making the jump to the next level. He's likely the type of player that will have to earn his way on a team via a training camp invitation and possibly a practice squad.

Oregon State (March 14)
Big name: WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner could have showed up to the Beavers' pro day as a spectator and it likely wouldn't have mattered. His showing at the combine was enough to solidify his stock as a first-round pick. Cooks didn't take part in field drills, but did run routes.
Sleeper: WR Micah Hatfield. Yes, a receiver with 20 career catches helped his cause. One scout told the Oregonian he had Hatfield at 4.33 in the 40 -- the same times Cooks clocked when he was the fastest receiver at the combine.

Stanford (March 20)
Big name: OL David Yankey. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis were the only no-shows at Stanford. If the mock drafts are to be trusted, Yankey figures to be the first Stanford player of the board. He improved slightly on the bench press (22 to 25) and clocked the same 40 time (5.48) from the combine.
Sleeper: DE Ben Gardner. Is it fair to call Gardner a sleeper after earning some form of all-Pac-12 recognition the past three years? Probably not, but after not being invited to the NFL combine we'll go ahead and list him here anyways. Gardner benefitted most from the day, quantifying his explosiveness and athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

UCLA (March 11)
Big name: OLB Anthony Barr. After running a 4.66 40 at the combine, Barr was clocked at 4.45 to ease any lingering doubt about his straight-line speed. Barr helped his case to become a top-10 pick and will likely be the first player from the Pac-12 selected.
Sleeper: RB Malcolm Jones. The Gatorade national high school player of the year never developed into the player UCLA fans were hoping for, but he's still hanging on to hopes of an NFL career. He was credited with a 4.57 40 at the Bruins' pro day.

USC (March 12)
Big name: WR Marqise Lee. Lee went Jerry Seinfeld and chose not to run, letting his combine performance serve as the final measurement of his ability. After not lifting in Indianapolis, Lee finished with 11 reps in the bench. He's tagged for the first round.
Sleeper: DE Morgan Breslin. Like Gardner, who he has been working out with in San Ramon, Calif., Breslin was a combine snub. He ran a 4.75 40, put up 26 reps on the bench and registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump. Here are the complete results for the 18 players who took part.

Utah (March 19)
Big name: CB Keith McGill. One of the fastest risers since the season has ended, McGill decided to participate in every drill despite a good showing at the combine. His 40 time (4.52) was a hundredth of second slower than what he did at combine, and his vertical leap (35.5) was about four inches less.
Sleeper: FB Karl Williams. The 240-pound former walk-on clocked a 4.5, which will could give him a shot to get in a training camp.

Washington (April 2)
Big name: RB Bishop Sankey. Content with his good showing in Indy, Sankey elected to just run the 60-yard shuttle and catch passes. Most mock drafts have Sankey, who left with a year of eligibility remaining, as the No. 2 running back.
Sleeper: QB Keith Price. There were 19 quarterbacks at the combine, but Price was not one of them, marking the first time since at least 1999 that the conference didn't send a quarterback -- and it could be longer -- we could only find combine rosters dating back that far. Price got good reviews for his performance Wednesday, but it would still be surprising if he gets drafted.

Washington State (March 13)
Big name: S Deone Bucannon. WSU's remote location and limited number of pro prospects resulted in less than a dozen scouts on hand, but those that were there got to see one of the conference's most intriguing prospects. Bucannon just participated in position drills after performing well across the board in Indianapolis.
Sleeper: K Andrew Furney. Furney showed a leg capable of hitting from beyond 60 yards and further established himself as a potential candidate for training camp invitations.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
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Starks are always right eventually. Winter is coming.
We continue our look at Stanford's top 5 impactful recruiting classes of the past decade.

[+] EnlargeStanford
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsShayne Skov (11) was just one of the many impactful players in Stanford's 2009 recruiting class.
No. 2: 2009

Of the 22 commitments the Cardinal received in 2009, 18 carved out significant roles during their college careers. That percentage -- just over 80 percent -- is hard to beat.

Of those 18 players, 15 received some kind of all-Pac-12 recognition, including first-team honors for LB Trent Murphy (twice), TE Zach Ertz, LB Shayne Skov and DE Ben Gardner.

The five seasons that followed their signing is arguably the best five-year stretch in Stanford history: five bowls, four BCS bowls, two conference titles and a 54-13 record.

Two running backs -- Stepfan Taylor (2012) and Tyler Gaffney (2013) -- had seasons that resulted in All-American honors, and Taylor left the school as the all-time leading rusher.

Both Levine Toilolo and Ertz were among the nation's best tight ends before leaving for the NFL after their redshirt junior seasons. Ertz was a finalist for the 2012 John Mackey Award.

Taylor, Ertz and Toilolo were on NFL rosters last season, while DT Terrence Stephens and CB Terrence Brown were in training camps before being released. Five others -- FB Ryan Hewitt, DE Josh Mauro, Skov, Murphy and Gaffney -- have a good chance to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

The class also included QB Josh Nunes, who led the Cardinal to a 7-2 start in 2012 -- and received a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honor that season -- before losing his starting job.

Countdown

No. 3: 2007
No. 4: 2010
No. 5: 2006

Stanford looks to sustain success

February, 25, 2014
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STANFORD, Calif. -- As Stanford players jogged off the practice field Monday evening, nothing stood out in particular. Significant only because it marked the first spring practice of the year, and it had the look and feel of just another day on the Farm.

Maybe temperatures don't always hover around 70 degrees until just past sunset in late February, but there was no fanfare or anything ceremonious about the day.

In that respect, nothing has changed over the past five years.

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJames Vaughters spurned the SEC to join a Stanford team that, at the time of his commitment, was just beginning its upswing.
"It was a good start. The tempo I thought was outstanding for a first day, which is always what you're looking for when you lose so many seniors," coach David Shaw said. "It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was fast and that's what we were looking for Day 1."

As the only program to play in BCS bowls the past four seasons, there is no denying Stanford's place in the current hierarchy of college football. Any list of the nation's elite must include the Cardinal or it would be incomplete.

In that respect, everything has changed.

Former coach Jim Harbaugh recruited with an offer for a world-class education and the chance to turn things around. When Stanford signed outgoing fifth-year seniors such as Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Ryan Hewitt in 2009, it did so following a 5-7 season.

That group leaves Stanford not knowing what it's like to be a part of a losing team.

Only the 13 fifth-year seniors on the spring roster were on the 2010 team, Harbaugh's last season, and only defensive end Blake Leuders saw action that season. They're the last group that bought into a program that had yet to play in a major bowl game and, as a byproduct of that, the first not to miss one.

Senior outside linebacker James Vaughters is in a different boat. He spurned several SEC offers and left his home state of Georgia to sign with Stanford following its Orange Bowl victory to cap the 2010 season.

"They showed me they were just as committed to winning as the schools that were recruiting me from the South," Vaughters said.

He got what he signed up for.

"If you see success, it's a challenge to sustain it," Vaughters said. "It's a matter of finding a formula that works. When you have so many guys that started for so many years, we just have to find our way to be successful."

One could worry about a sense of entitlement creeping into a program with as much success as the Cardinal has experienced over the past four years, but both Vaughters and Shaw didn't seem to think that it would be a problem.

Shaw pointed to senior running back Ricky Seale as an example.

"[Last year] he would just be on the sidelines on his toes," Shaw said. "So now we have the anxiety and that energy because they all want a chance to play. I think we're in a great spot because we're going to get their best because they all want to get on the field."

Senior receiver Ty Montgomery (knee) and senior nose tackle David Parry (midsection) will both miss the first session of two spring sessions with minor injuries.

Backup quarterback Ryan Burns will miss the first session to due a disciplinary reason, according to Shaw.

Shaw has still not hired a defensive backs coach, but he said it "should be solved in the next week or so." For the time being, graduate assistant Marc Mattioli will coach defensive backs.
Get this. Stanford’s Lance Anderson actually wanted to be a defensive coordinator in the Pac-12. Crazy, right? Biletnikoff winners to lose sleep over; Doak Walker finalists dashing and gashing for 20 yards a pop; and All-American offensive linemen that must be displaced. Oh, the humanity.

“There are some pretty good quarterbacks, too,” says Anderson.

Oh yeah, the quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeLance Anderson
Peyton Williams/Getty ImagesLance Anderson, who has been on Stanford's staff since 2007, will have to replace some big names on the Cardinal's 2014 defense.
Anderson has his wish. With the departure of Derek Mason, who was named the head coach of Vanderbilt last month, Anderson takes over one of the most respected defensive outfits in all of college football. The Cardinal have led the conference in scoring defense and been ranked in the top 15 nationally in three of the last four years. They live by the mantra #partyinthebackfield and have put the brakes on some of the nation’s top offenses.

Now it’s Anderson’s turn to add his own flavor to the scheme -- however minor it might be.

“Every year we tweak a little bit no matter what,” said Anderson, who first came to Stanford in 2007 with Jim Harbaugh. “We go back and watch film and do all of our self-scouting and analysis. We try to find places where we can get better and improve and that’s naturally going to lead to tweaking. I think every coordinator has a different feel and some stuff you might like a little better than the other guy.

“We’ve been in a system for a few years now and I think the kids are really comfortable with that. They like it. And I think the systems we’re in on both sides of the ball suit our personnel really well. Vic Fangio came in in 2010, installed the system at that point and we’ve kept it pretty similar ever since.”

That includes transitions from Fangio to the co-defensive coordinator team of Jason Tarver and Mason to just Mason and now to Anderson, who will continue to work with the outside linebackers after coaching the defensive tackles his first two seasons on The Farm.

Equally known as a top-flight recruiter, Anderson must now help the Cardinal transition to life without some of their marquee players. Gone next year are linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, defensive end Ben Gardner and safety Ed Reynolds. All were major contributors in one form or another to Stanford’s appearances in four straight BCS bowl games.

Despite those losses, Anderson is confident the Cardinal have the depth -- both in and out of the locker room -- to stay atop the defensive standings.

“I look at guys like A.J. Tarpley and Jordan Richards who have played a lot of football and they really stand out,” Anderson said. “Both guys display some natural leadership and they are well-respected by their teammates. Henry Anderson and David Parry are a couple of other guys who are really looked up to among the defensive players. I think we’ll be OK.”

Interestingly enough, the Pac-12 has seen the defensive coordinators from the top five scoring defenses move on after the 2013 season. Mason went to Vanderbilt, Nick Aliotti retired at Oregon, Justin Wilcox moved to USC with Steve Sarkisian, Lou Spanos returned to the NFL and Clancy Pendergast was not retained with the Trojans after Sarkisian came in. Three of those were replaced internally, with Anderson, Don Pellum (Oregon) and Jeff Ulbrich (UCLA) all being promoted. Pete Kwiatkowski joins Chris Petersen in Washington by way of Boise State and Wilcox followed Sark. So despite the transitions, the continuity among coaching staffs remains relatively unscathed.

However, that combination of coordinator shuffling, along with some A-list offensive players returning in 2014, makes for an interesting setup. The Pac-12 is known for its offensive diversity, and when you factor in the possibility of nine teams returning their starting quarterback, the dice seem loaded to the offensive side of the ball.

“There is a lot of offensive talent in this league and it doesn’t look like that’s going to slow down,” Anderson said. “The quarterbacks all have experience. It’s not going to be easy.

“We know that every week we are going to be tested. All we can do is try to go out and learn the techniques and the fundamentals and get the physical and mental mastery of the position. Once we get that in spring ball and the preseason, it’s just matter of going out and applying what we’ve learned during the season. Every week is going to be different. All we can do is prepare the best we can, master the position and try to apply it on Saturdays in the fall.”

Stanford needs reinforcements at DE

February, 11, 2014
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The countdown of Stanford's top-5 position groups with room to improve continues.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHenry Anderson returns to man one defensive end position for Stanford, but the Cardinal have question marks at the position behind him.
One position group will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 4: Defensive line

Must replace: Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro

Returning starters: Henry Anderson, David Parry

Players to watch: Luke Kaumatule, Anthony Hayes, Nate Lohn, Blake Lueders, Aziz Shittu

Outlook: The only vacant starting job on the line is at defensive end where Lohn, Lueders and Kaumatule all figure to be be in the running to replace the combination of Gardner and Mauro opposite Anderson. Lueders (linebacker) and Kaumatule (tight end) both switched positions midseason as the Cardinal tried find some reliable depth. For Lueders, the move was relatively easy because he was already versed in Stanford's defensive terminology, but it was much more difficult for Kaumatule. The Cardinal recruited him to play defensive end, but was moved to tight end out of need. That experiment didn't go as well as the coaching staff had hoped, and once he was brought back to defense it was clear it was a better fit. Lohn was listed as Mauro's primary backup for the Rose Bowl, but appeared in just three games during the season. Shittu remains a bit of a question mark. He arrived at Stanford ranked among the nation's best defensive ends, but he's yet to make an impact in two seasons. Does that change this fall?

The countdown
No. 5: Wide receiver

Gardner eyes Stanford pro day

February, 10, 2014
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Stanford led the Pac-12 with eight invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine, but the omission of defensive end Ben Gardner has raised some eyebrows.

Gardner, who was named first-team All-Pac-12 despite playing in just the first eight games of the season, wouldn't have been able to perform at the event later this month but still expected to be invited. As he continues to rehab from an injury to his left pectoral muscle that ended his season in late October, Gardner thought he would have the opportunity to meet with teams and their medical personnel in Indianapolis.

He said no one from the combine or NFL reached out to him or his agent to see if he would be physically ready to participate.

"Who knows if injury had something to do with it," Gardner said. "It's a little disappointing, but the thing for me is that it's just another hurdle."

As a senior at Homestead High in Mequon, Wisc., Gardner received no FBS scholarship offers until Jack Harbaugh recommended to his son, former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, that he change that. The elder Harbaugh lives in Mequon and on his recommendation, the Cardinal took a look and extended Gardner its final scholarship in 2009.

It paid off, as Gardner went on to become a second-team All-Pac-12 selection after the 2011 and 2012 seasons and the Pac-12 Blog named him the conference's No. 25 player overall heading into this past season.

With the combine not in the picture, Gardner said he expects to be ready for Stanford's Pro Day on March 28. He was initially told the injury would keep him out until late April, but thanks to a stringent rehab program at Stanford that timetable has moved up.

He spends his mornings training at California Strength in San Ramon with Stanford teammates Tyler Gaffney, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro, Ryan Hewitt and USC defensive end Morgan Breslin, who also didn't receive a combine invitation. When he's done there, Gardner drives back to Stanford for more rehab.

"Motivation has never been a problem for me," Gardner said.

Stanford's group of combine invitees includes David Yankey, Cam Fleming, Trent Murphy, Ed Reynolds, Gaffney, Skov, Mauro and Hewitt.
Stanford coach David Shaw's fourth recruiting class will become official on Wednesday, which means … well, no one is really sure.

Currently, Stanford's class ranks 19th nationally and No. 2 in the Pac-12 behind only Arizona State. If it keeps that spot, it would be the third-best class Stanford has pulled in since ESPN began ranking classes in 2006.

The highest-ranked class in that span came in 2012, when Stanford was No. 12. That ranking also happens to be one spot lower than Stanford's worst finish in the AP Poll in the last four years (No. 11 in 2013).

The 2013 team was made up of players from the 2009-13 recruiting classes. Here is look back at the starters and how they were graded on their respective signing days:

Offense

  • QB Kevin Hogan, Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga College High: Three stars, No. 51 QB, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable
    : Of Stanford's top four quarterbacks on the depth chart in 2012, Hogan received the lowest grade. Of course, that didn't stop him from unseating four-star starter Josh Nunes (Class of 2009), passing four-star Brett Nottingham (Class of 2010) and beating out Evan Crower, who was also from the Class of 2011, but ranked just ahead of Hogan.
  • [+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLike many other players who signed with Stanford, RB Tyler Gaffner has far exceeded all expectations.
    RB Tyler Gaffney, San Diego Cathedral Catholic High: No. 76 RB, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable
    : Looking back at Gaffney's recruitment profiles is laughable at this point. Some recruiting services pegged him as a fullback coming out of Cathedral Catholic, where he ran for 2,857 yards as a senior and led the school to a state bowl championship. Good luck finding seven running backs better than Gaffney in college football last year, let alone 75 from the Class of 2009.
  • FB Ryan Hewitt, Denver J.K. Mullen High: No. 21 TE, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Switched to fullback early in his career. Was one of two fullbacks at the Senior Bowl.
  • WR Ty Montgomery, Dallas Saint Mark's School: Four stars, No. 35 WR, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 79.
    Notable: One of the few Stanford skill players in recent years to make an impact as a freshman and has developed into one of the conference's top receivers.
  • WR Devon Cajuste, Flushing (N.Y.) Holy Cross High: Three stars, No. 71 TE, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Stanford did not recruit Cajuste to play tight end, which was a main factor in his decision to play for the Cardinal.
  • LT Andrus Peat, Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol High: Five stars, No. 2 OT, Class of 2012. Scouts grade: 85.
    Notable: Peat is the only Stanford player who has a received a five-star grade from ESPN since the star system was implemented in 2010. He is tied with QB Ryan Burns (Class of 2013) with the highest number grade.
  • LG David Yankey, Roswell (Ga.) Centennial High: Three stars, No. 45 OT, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Earned All-American honors at both left tackle and left guard. Projects as a guard in the NFL.
  • C Khalil Wilkes, Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep: No. 18 OG, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Didn't see significant playing time until his fourth year and was named second-team All-Pac-12 after switching to center as a fifth-year senior.
  • RG Kevin Danser, San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep: No. 33 OG, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Started for two years at right guard.
  • RT Cameron Fleming, Houston Cypress Creek High: Three stars, No. 56 OT, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Three-year starter opted to head to the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.
  • TE Charlie Hopkins, Spokane (Wash.) Gonzaga Prep School: Three stars, No. 47 DE, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Transitioned to tight end before the 2013 season.
Defense

  • [+] EnlargeBen Gardner
    Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsBen Gardner wasn't highly recruited -- Stanford was his only FBS offer -- but he became one of the Pac-12's best defensive ends.
    DE Ben Gardner, Mequon (Wis.) Homestead High: Not ranked, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: none.
    Notable: Stanford was Gardner's only FBS offer, but in three years as a starter he was named first-team All-Pac-12 once and second-team All-Pac-12 twice.
  • DE Henry Anderson, College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy: Three stars, No. 120 DE, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Anderson has developed into one of the conference's best defensive ends and has an NFL future.
  • DT David Parry, Marion (Iowa) Linn-Mar High: Not ranked, walked on in 2010. Scouts grade: not ranked.
    Notable: Parry was the lone walk-on starter for Stanford.
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Phoenix Brophy Prep School: No. 163 DE, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 72.
    Notable: Other than Gardner, who wasn't graded, Murphy received the lowest grade of any Stanford scholarship player on the roster in 2013 -- not just among starters. Considering a strong case can be made that Murphy was the best defensive player in college football in 2013, Murphy is the example of why signing day hype shouldn't be taken as gospel.
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Trinity Pawling (N.Y.) School: No. 16 OLB, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Skov lived up to lofty expectations, which were even higher from other recruiting services.
  • ILB A.J. Tarpley, Plymouth (Minn) Wayzata High: Three stars, No. 48 ILB, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Tarpley's profile doesn't read like that of a player who will become a four-year starter on one of the nation's elite defenses, but that's how his career finished.

  • OLB James Vaughters, Tucker (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 2 ILB, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 81.
    Notable: Considered one of the highest-profile recruits Stanford has ever signed. Has played DE, ILB and OLB.
  • CB Alex Carter, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods High: Four stars, No. 11 ATH, Class of 2012: Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Initial analysis of Carter pegged him to play safety.

  • CB Wayne Lyons, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard High: Four stars, No. 7 S, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 81.
    Notable: Along with Vaughters, was one of two Stanford players in the ESPN 150 in his class.
  • S Jordan Richards, Folsom (Calif.) High: Four stars, No. 26 ATH, Class of 2011: Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Analysis of Richards predicted he'd be a wide receiver or cornerback.
  • S Ed Reynolds, Woodberry Forest (Va.) School: Three stars, No. 38 S, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Was ranked behind teammate Devon Carrington (Four stars, No. 11 S) in the same class. Carrington never became a starter.
The Pac-12 has seen a flurry of defensive coordinator movement over the last couple of weeks -- starting with the power struggle for former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to the recent exoduses of Stanford’s Derek Mason to Vanderbilt as head coach and UCLA’s Lou Spanos to the Tennessee Titans as linebackers coach. Oregon’s promotion of Don Pellum to defensive coordinator to replace Nick Aliotti will also shine a spotlight on the Ducks’ defense in 2014 and beyond.

And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Scott Crichton
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among the Pac-12 defensive stars entering the NFL in 2014.
Look at the top five scoring defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013: Stanford, Oregon, USC, Washington and UCLA, respectively. All five have had defensive coordinators in flux in the young offseason.

That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.

But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.

Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.

In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.

The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.

Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).

But a lot more is gone than is coming back.

That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.

The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.

Ed Reynolds leaving for NFL

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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Stanford safety Ed Reynolds will forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft, the school announced Tuesday.

A two-year starter for the Cardinal, Reynolds was twice named first-team All-Pac-12 and ranked third on the team with 87 tackles this year.

“After much thought and discussion with my family and mentors, I have decided to enter the NFL sraft,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I would to thank the Stanford football family for putting me in this position and preparing me for the next level. A very special thanks to our coaching staff, support staff and my teammates for making the memories of these past four years last a lifetime."

He's the second Stanford player in two days to declare for the NFL draft, joining guard David Yankey. Right tackle Cam Fleming has yet to announce whether he'll return for his final year on the Farm. The deadline to declare is Wednesday.

Reynolds is among the top free safeties in the country and is ESPN.com's eighth-ranked safety overall. He was a key member of two Pac-12 championship teams and a pair of defenses that both ranked No. 10 in the country in scoring.

Without Reynolds, the Cardinal will have to break in a relatively inexperienced player to play next to strong safety Jordan Richards next year. His immediate backup this season, Devon Carrington, is out of eligibility and Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir, the most experienced replacement candidates, have both worked primarily at strong safety.

Despite the loss of Reynolds, Stanford's secondary still figures to be a strength of its team next year with the return of starting corners Alex Carter, Wayne Lyons and Richards. The Cardinal will also need to fill holes at defensive end, two linebacker spots and nickleback due with the losses of Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Usua Amanam to graduation.

Reynolds replaced current Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas in the starting lineup in 2012 and finished the season with six interceptions -- the most by a Stanford player since 1973. His 301 interception yards that year led the nation and fell 1 shy of the FBS single-season record.

Video: Stanford DE Ben Gardner

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
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Stanford DE Ben Gardner gives an update on his injury rehabilitation and talks about watching Stanford make another Rose Bowl run from the sidelines.
LOS ANGELES -- Michigan State's defense is preparing vigorously for Stanford's offense as well as for life without its leader, middle linebacker Max Bullough.

Despite Bullough's shocking suspension, the standards haven't changed for the "Spartan Dawgs," who, as linebacker Denicos Allen noted Sunday, want to show everyone why they're the nation's No. 1 defense.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsHow will Michigan State's defense adjust without Max Bullough?
But before the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, MSU's defenders might want to set aside some time to examine Stanford's defense, specifically the way the unit adjusted without one of its best players. The Cardinal lost defensive end Ben Gardner to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in late October.

Like Bullough, Gardner is a captain and one of the defense's top performers, racking up 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits, the most on the team at the time. He's so good that he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors despite missing Stanford's final five games.

Twelve days after Gardner's injury, Stanford held Oregon's dynamic offense scoreless for three quarters in a 26-20 win. The Cardinal surrendered just 62 rush yards and 312 total yards and recorded three sacks.

Stanford's defensive statistics without Gardner weren't dramatically different than they were with Gardner. The Cardinal allowed less than 75 rush yards in four of the final five games and finished with an outstanding effort against Arizona State's explosive offense in the Pac-12 championship. Arizona State had just 14 points and 311 yards, well below its season averages (41.0 ppg, 460.8 ypg).

"You feel for your teammates, but at the same time, you have to keep your vision on what the team goal is," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "You recognize that, unfortunately, somebody is gone, is no longer an active participant, but you have to keep moving forward.

"Whenever you lose someone as talented and as important a leader and integrated into your team, as I'm sure Max was and Ben [are], you have to find ways to, not replace them, but work and make an adaptation."

The circumstances of the losses are different -- Gardner was injured and remains with his teammates for the Rose Bowl; Bullough was suspended right before the team left for California and will not attend the game. But the realities are the same: There's shock and disappointment, and then there's another tough game to play.

"I kept a coldblooded approach," Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said, "and kept moving forward and knew there were still games to be played and work to be done. Then, at the senior banquet, [Gardner] spoke and got everyone choked up a little bit and then it was like, oh man.

"Other than that, I kept moving forward."

Stanford benefited from replacing Garnder with Henry Anderson, a senior who had earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. Anderson suffered a knee injury in September but returned for the Oregon showdown, Stanford's first game without Gardner.

Michigan State's Kyler Elsworth isn't as decorated as Anderson, but the fifth-year senior who could start in Bullough's place brings experience and familiarity to the role. He's not Bullough in terms of system knowledge and communication -- no one is -- but he understands the scheme and the personnel around him.

"We've won because of chemistry here," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday. "There's an opportunity for somebody else to lead."

Elsworth, primarily a special-teams player during his career, embraces that opportunity "ten-fold."

"[Stanford] lost a player, and that's an adverse situation, that's something you've got to overcome," Elsworth said. "Our team has been doing that for a while now."

He mentioned safety RJ Williamson stepping in for safety Isaiah Lewis because of injury and a targeting ejection against Northwestern, and the way the coaching staff handled Dantonio's health-related absence during the 2010 season.

"There's countless times where our team has rallied around everybody," Elsworth said, "stepped up and came into the game with the mind-set that, 'Hey, no matter what is thrown at us, we can handle it.'

"This is no different. It's another curveball. Guys have stepped up their leadership, I'm stepping up my leadership, and we're very prepared for this game."

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.

The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.

Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State

First team offense

QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)

First team defense

DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)

First team specialists

PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC

Second team offense

QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford

Second team defense

DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State

Second team specialists

PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA

RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection

Honorable mention

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.

Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.

California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.

Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.

Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.

Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.

Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.

UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.

USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.

Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.

Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.

Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;

Some notes on the teams:

By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.

By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.

Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.

Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.

All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
Tags:

Stanford Cardinal, Pac-12, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Jordan Richards, Ty Montgomery, Stanford Cardinal, Trent Murphy, Henry Anderson, Tyler Gaffney, David Yankey, Cameron Fleming, Shayne Skov, Oregon Ducks, Khalil Wilkes, A.J. Tarpley, Ben Gardner, Arizona Wildcats, Joe Hemschoot, UCLA Bruins, Josh Mauro, Kevin Danser, USC Trojans, Colorado Buffaloes, Paul Richardson, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, Damante Horton, Keith Price, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Bears, Oregon State Beavers, Sean Mannion, Marqise Lee, Deone Bucannon, Andrus Peat, Alex Carter, Todd Graham, Ed Reynolds, Brandin Cooks, Bishop Sankey, Ka'Deem Carey, Shaq Evans, Sean Parker, River Cracraft, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Dion Bailey, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Taylor Kelly, Xavier Grimble, Chris Young, Will Sutton, Vincenzo D'Amato, Scott Crichton, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Eric Kendricks, Andrew Furney, Marion Grice, Anthony Barr, Alden Darby, Carl Bradford, Cassius Marsh, Chris Coyle, Danny Shelton, Elliott Bosch, Evan Finkenberg, George Uko, Grant Enger, Hayes Pullard, Hroniss Grasu, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Isaac Seumalo, Jake Brendel, Jared Tevis, Leonard Williams, Rashaad Reynolds, Shaq Thompson, Trevor Reilly, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jared Goff, Devon Kennard, Kevin Graf, Nelson Agholor, Tenny Palepoi, Byron Marshall, Deandre Coleman, Mike Criste, Tony Washington, Derrick Malone, Keith McGill, Addison Gillam, Andy Phillips, Cody Kessler, Anthony Jefferson, Dres Anderson, Steven Nelson, Bryce Treggs, Bralon Addison, Jaelen Strong, Scooby Wright, Tom Hackett, Connor Hamlett, Travis Coons, Randall Goforth, Fabian Moreau, Jordan Zumwalt, Myles Jack, Ellis McCarthy, Robert Nelson, Marcus Peters, Soma Vainuku, Hau'oli Kikaha, Alex Redmond, Davon Coleman, De'Marieya Nelson, Devin Fuller, Dexter Charles, Eddie Vanderdoes, Erick Dargan, Gannon Conway, J.R. Tavai, Jamil Douglas, Jason Whittingham, Javorius Allen, Jayon Brown, Kris Albarado, Marcus Martin, Marquis Flowers, Micah Hatchie, Mike Adkins, Nate Phillips, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Ryan Murphy, Sean Covington, Su'a Cravens, Terron Ward, Tevin Hood, Thomas Duarte, Tyler Johnstone, Vyncent Jones, Will Oliver, Zane Gonzales

Planning for success: Stanford

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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Stanford's preparation for Oregon has been several years in the making.

When Derek Mason arrived to coach the secondary under first-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2010, it was clear the Cardinal were on the uptick.

[+] EnlargeShayne Skov
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsBeing able to bring waves of talented players such as linebacker Shayne Skov allows Stanford to stay with Oregon in a place where most teams falter.
The team was coming off its first winning season since 2001, there was talent at every position group and next to No. 12 on the roster was the name Andrew Luck. Throw in the lack of depth in the conference, and the opportunity to compete for a Pac-10 title became very real.

One team stood between Stanford and that goal: Oregon.

And that was a problem because what plagued the conference also plagued Stanford's defense. While loaded with NFL talent, it lacked quality depth -- the very thing Mason identified as the key to slowing down the Ducks' offense.

Stanford jumped out to a 21-3 lead and led 31-24 at the half against Oregon that year, but as the game wore on, Stanford wore out. Never was it more clear to Mason that more guys needed to play – something that could only be justified if there wasn't a significant drop in talent.

Mason was named defensive coordinator that offseason following Fangio's departure to the NFL with Jim Harbaugh and immediately prioritized building a defense that could play in waves.

It wasn't an overnight solution. There was no overnight solution, but by the time Stanford returned to Eugene last season, that process was complete. The Cardinal stayed fresh enough to set the edge all game as it continuously rotated players through with little to no drop off.

The result was college football's defensive performance of the year in a 17-14 Stanford win.

Sound simple? It was.

In the offseason there were inquiries into Stanford's success in that game from both NFL and collegiate staffs, but Cardinal coach David Shaw could only laugh at times.

"I wouldn't say we found the keys to unlock the offense," he said. "We played really, really well. Guys were in position and made open-field tackles."

Despite losing defensive end Ben Gardner for the season, Stanford is in a similar position to where it was a season ago. The pieces are in place to stop Oregon -- it's just a matter of execution.

Stanford also has to like that it's coming off its two best defensive performances of the season, limiting the high-powered offenses of UCLA and Oregon State to 10 and 12 points, respectively.

"We're definitely playing our type of defense," sophomore cornerback Alex Carter said. "After that Utah game, we kind of re-juiced, re-focused, we got back to the fundamentals and put in re-emphasis on the way we play defense."

As good as those teams are, they're not Oregon. The Ducks rank No. 2 nationally in points per game (55.6) and rushing yards per game (331.5) and No. 8 in points allowed (16.9). Heisman candidate quarterback Marcus Mariota has 20 touchdown passes without an interception and hasn't been picked off since the loss to Stanford a year ago, a span of 10 games.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12