2001 Football Season Outlook

There are plenty of returning starters, plenty of letter-winners who gained significant experience a year ago and plenty of players who have proven themselves to be solid Division I football players. Sixteen starters and 40 lettermen are back.

There is the old clich� that 'on paper' the Cardinal should be an improved team in 2001. After all, Stanford finished in fourth place a year ago in a conference that put three teams in the nation's top 10. Four of the Cardinal's six losses were to bowl-bound teams.

But Cardinal head coach Tyrone Willingham will have none of that. 'On paper' does not translate to 'on the field.' Yes, Stanford does return 16 starters and, yes, the Cardinal can be a better team in 2001 than it was in 2000. But for Willingham, the task at hand is to challenge his team to play at a higher level in `01, both emotionally and physically.

'We need to realize what we can become,' said Willingham, beginning his seventh season at the helm of the Cardinal football program. 'We need to realize how close we were last year to having a sound and solid season. If we can realize that and play hungry every week, we have a chance to be a good football team.'

Every starter returns on offense with the exception of record-setting receiver DeRonnie Pitts and three-year starting tight end Russell Stewart. All five starters return on the offensive line, both quarterbacks who started a year ago and the team's top three running backs are all back.

Defensively, seven starters return while two large holes still need to be filled: replacing DT Willie Howard, a two-time All-Pac-10 player and spiritual leader of the team, and OLB Riall Johnson, the only player in history to lead the conference in sacks in back-to-back seasons.

'Replacing Howard and Johnson will be very difficult,' says Willingham. 'But, we feel good about the players we have on defense, especially ILB Coy Wire and FS Tank Williams. These are two young men who have a love and zest for the game of football and play it at a high level both emotionally and physically.'

Offensively, there are returning starters and experienced players throughout the roster. What concerns Willingham and his staff is the one ingredient missing from last year's club: a big play threat.

'We need to regain the mantle of being an explosive offensive team,' he said. 'The lack of that ingredient, I believe, effected our overall team play last season. We simply did not have the one or two players who could be counted on to provide that threat. We need to regain that type of player. We need that explosiveness to be a component of our offensive football team.'

Quarterbacks Randy Fasani (started eight games in '00) and Chris Lewis (started three games) are both back, as is the backfield trio of Brian Allen and Kerry Carter (RBs) and Casey Moore (FB). All five starters on the line return, led by OG Eric Heitmann, and two quality reserves who will challenge for starting assignments in '01. The receiving corps returns intact, with the exception of Pitts, and this is the group Willingham sees as explosive.

'Our disappointment from last season is that we did not get to a bowl game,' said Willingham. ' That is the major focus of our team this year. With the Pac-10 being such a tough conference on a national level, if we can improve on our finish from a year ago, then I believe we can put ourselves in position to be one of the better teams in the country.'

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