Football Fast Forward: Stanford

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By Scott Allen, Rule Of Tree

Life after Andrew Luck begins in earnest for the Stanford football team on Aug. 31, when the Cardinal hosts San Jose State in the first Friday night game in Stanford Stadium history.

It remains to be seen who will replace the two-time Heisman runner-up under center, but junior Josh Nunes and sophomore Brett Nottingham are the leading candidates to win the starting job. San Jose State will happily take its chances against either quarterback after the Cardinal outscored the Spartans 99-20 in Luck's two career starts against them, including a 57-3 shellacking at Stanford Stadium last year.

San Jose State's quarterback situation is even murkier. Michigan transfer Tate Forcier, who was expected to take over for the graduated Matt Faulkner this season, withdrew from school in January, leaving third-year coach Mike MacIntyre and new offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren to find a starter among an inexperienced group. Senior Dasmen Stewart, who failed to impress in limited duty as Faulkner's backup last season, will compete with junior Blake Jurich and Monterey Peninsula College transfer David Fales. Of the three, Fales did the most to distinguish himself during the spring.

For whoever takes snaps for the Spartans, it should come as some consolation that Shayne Skov won't be staring back at him from across the line of scrimmage. The Stanford linebacker, who had a team-high seven tackles in last year's win over the Spartans, was suspended for the season opener after being arrested on suspicion of DUI in February.

The Cardinal's linebacker corps managed just fine, however, after Skov went down with a knee injury early last season. Stanford returns nine of its top 10 tacklers at the position, including starters Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy, who will anchor the outside linebacker spots in the Cardinal's 3-4 scheme. A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster will roam the middle, while sophomore James Vaughters should see increased playing time.

If the Spartans are to have any success moving the ball against Stanford, it will likely come through the air. San Jose State graduated its leading rusher, Brandon Rutley, from an offense that ranked 111th in rushing yards per game. The Spartans' passing attack ranked 23rd and returns talented receiver Noel Grigsby (89 catches, 886 yards) and tight end Ryan Otten (52 catches, 739 yards). Stanford's secondary - the weakest component of last year's defense - will feature some fresh faces in starting roles, including both safety positions, which were manned by the graduated Delano Howell and Michael Thomas.

Offensively, Stanford figures to lean heavily on senior running back Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for nearly 2,500 yards over the last two seasons while playing in Luck's shadow. Tyler Gaffney opted to pursue a professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates rather than return to Stanford football for another season, but Stanford remains fairly deep at running back. Junior Anthony Wilkerson, sophomore Ricky Seale and redshirt freshman Kelsey Young should help lighten the load on Taylor, who can break Darrin Nelson's career rushing record with a 1,300-yard season. Barry J. Sanders will also be in the mix for carries unless David Shaw decides to redshirt him.

Stanford will be heavily favored at home in the season opener, but another 54-point win seems unlikely. While the Cardinal is out to prove it can sustain the success it has enjoyed in recent years with a new quarterback and will be gearing up for a September showdown with national title contender USC, San Jose State appears to be a program on the rise. The Spartans have improved their win total in each of MacIntyre's first two years and came within one win of reaching bowl eligibility last season. In a weakened Western Athletic Conference, seven or eight wins are a legitimate possibility for SJSU.

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