THE MOST PROLIFIC QUARTERBACK IN SCHOOL HISTORY MAY BE gone, but that doesn't mean Stanford's offense will change. "We're going to run power," says Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor. "That's what we hang our hat on." While two-time Heisman runner-up and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck garnered the lion's share of credit for Stanford's 23--3 record and consecutive BCS bowl berths over the past two seasons, the offense implemented by former coach Jim Harbaugh and his successor, David Shaw, is a physical, run-first attack. The Cardinal ran the ball on 55% of its offensive snaps last season, and with a loaded backfield this fall, that number could rise.
"The coaches have made it known we're going to run a lot this year, especially with the new quarterbacks," says Taylor, a senior who quietly ran for 1,000-plus yards in each of the past two seasons and stands fourth on the school's career rushing list (2,770). He carried 35 times for 177 yards and two TDs against Oklahoma State in last January's Fiesta Bowl. Joining him in the backfield are junior Anthony Wilkerson, senior Tyler Gaffney and incoming freshman Barry Sanders, a U.S. Army All-America and son of the NFL Hall of Famer. "It's going to help the new quarterbacks get comfortable, not having to throw the ball a lot," says Taylor.
At that position, junior Josh Nunes and sophomore Brett Nottingham both possess strong arms and athleticism and will vie to take the bulk of the snaps. The Cardinal must also replace two All-America offensive linemen, tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro, and star tight end Coby Fleener, but the program is deep at the latter position, with veterans Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo back for more. Its veteran defensive front, led by linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, should spoil many an afternoon for opposing quarterbacks.
Stanford's quarterback doesn't need to complete 71.3% of his passes, like Luck did last year, but he needs to avoid drive-killing mistakes. "That quarterback position, we don't expect it to get played at the same level that it was in years past," says Shaw. "We're not counting on it." Instead, he's counting on Taylor and the other running backs to keep powering the ball down opponents' throats.
COACH David Shaw (2nd year) 11--2 (8--1 in Pac-12)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Pep Hamilton
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Derek Mason
2011 RECORD 11--2 (8--1, 2nd in Pac-12 North)