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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden tr ansfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer

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New faces are typical for always senior-laden Stanford - but this new? Harris continues grasping for momentum

PAST FIVE SEASONS: 24-32 (15-25 PAC Ten) - 2005: 5-6 (4-4 PAC Ten)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 5 (4 Offense, 1 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The entire lineup. Well, not everybody - there's QB Trent Edwards and three offensive linemen back - but virtually all the offensive skill guys are new, and the senior-stocked defense bid farewell to ten starters. These units were bad, it should be noted, even when they were experienced, but the personnel overhaul is not necessarily a prelude to even harder times - the Spring depth chart (PDF) lists ten seniors among the new starters, along with four juniors (only three are sophomores, all in the defense's front seven), meaning presumably the thinking is not along the lines of taking licks while developing the young 'uns. Still, they're pretty damn green.

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Using the lessons he learned from his first Stanford defense, Walt Harris vows to console his second group with a broad program of hug therapy

WHAT'S THE SAME: There's the aforementioned Edwards, primarily, who made the leap into the realm of "quality quarterback" as a junior in his first season under Harris' much hyped pass-larnin' skills. The senior-to-be had been fairly mobile his first two years already, but also a scattershot, interception-riddled victim of "Buddy Ball" with a 13-20 career TD-INT ratio. Under Harris, the yardage didn't skyrocket (still just shy of 2,000), but the touchdowns (to 17) and so did, to a lesser extent, the accuracy (career 51 percent, up to 54), while the interceptions plummeted to seven, all in three games (against Oregon and USC, no less, and Oregon State). Unless he's one for anticlimax - always, always a strong possibility anywhere in college football, of course, or in life at large - Edwards' steady improvement should result in at least a very competent, it's-a-shame-he-doesn't-have-teammates-like-himself finale.
Otherwise: nary a soul.
WAIT, DIDN'T THE NFL DRAFT FOUR GUYS OFF THAT DEFENSE? Unfathomably, it did (DE Justin Jenkins, DT Babatunde Oshinowo, LB Jon Alston and CB T.J. Rushing) - but again, why would anyone fret over the departure of a bunch that nevertheless gave up around 31 points per game and finished 105th in total yards allowed? If cool West Coast multi-ethnic names count for anything, the new lineup features an Egboh (DE Pannell), two Udofias (DE Udeme and colossal DT Ekom), and an Okwo (LB Michael), with an Awofadeju (backup LB Emmanuel) for good measure. Alas, no more Keith Jackson to mangle them...
YOU, SIR, ARE ON YOUR OWN: One of the reasons Edwards' passing improved so much but his win percentage didn't is the failure of the Cardinal running game to gain any traction. Four of the top five rushers are back, but none gained more than 250 yards, or hit 100 in any game, and none had more carries than the oft-harried Edwards; as a team, Stanford gave up 42 total sacks, 114th nationally. Collectively, they managed 100 in three PAC Ten games, usually settling for far less, only churned out 74 in a loss to the hellions of UC-Davis and bottomed out with a minus-11 performance in the finale against Notre Dame. A year's experience and a couple linemen back may make this motley crew a little better, and for the second straight season the receiving corps lacks its typical blazing threat ...but still Edwards had best be breaking out the NCAA Football 2007 in emotional preparation for a few more frantic, classic PAC Ten toss-em-ups.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: If Spring game stats count for anything, no one will stop the Cardinals' three-headed quarterback monster of Edwards, T.C. Ostrander (whom Notre Dame fans will certainly remember) and Tavita Pritchard, which scoffed at traditional Spring conservatism by completing 36 of 41 passes for 393 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions on April 29.
In the same game, Anthony Kimble almost topped 100 yards as he and other running backs scored four touchdowns. As we all know, there's nothing but positives to draw from the explosive success of even an offense's backups in an intrasquad game. Right?
REASON FOR HOPE: Edwards has consistently improved, an upward track Harris' tutelage will likely continue, and his top target, huge (6-7, 235) receiver Evan Moore, is back from a season-long injury; as bad as the Cardinal was in a myriad of areas last year, it still beat two bowl teams and Oregon State, and required heavies Notre Dame and UCLA to mount desperate comebacks for victory to keep it out of a bowl itself. New defense can't be as porous as the old one.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Zero running game keeps Edwards on his back - or worse, on the bench - while blitzkrieg PAC Ten offenses ensure the totally new, totally inexperienced defense experiences its share of growing pains. Team has tendency to blow late leads in games it should win; lost to a I-AA school.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Post-1949 American military strategy, after the Soviet Union unveiled its atomic bomb: the U.S. had more recent success than Stanford, true, but in common they share a dependence on air assaults, not ground superiority, and a sudden, desperate scramble to throw together any possible functional defense in the face of opponents' debilitating weapons.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... It's hard to imagine a team this gutted personnel-wise and one-dimensional offensively notching more than four wins, even among the mangled crapshoot of second-division Pacific parity.

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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State...May 15: Air Force

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3:56 PM

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