Coming off two vastly successful seasons, Stanford football looks to continue their winning ways in 2012. Losing Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Coby Fleener will certainly hurt, but the Cardinal will return most of their defense, along with bringing in a top-25 recruiting class.
Both of these factors bode well for Stanford, along with the fact that there are only two true elite teams, Oregon and USC, in the Pacific-12 next year.
With that in mind, here are 10 reasonable goals that the Cardinal should easily accomplish.
While a BCS bowl is definitely a lot to ask for, Stanford should easily win six games and take part in their fourth straight bowl game.
The schedule itself is not terribly difficult, with winnable games against San Jose State, Duke, Arizona, Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado.
Look for the Cardinal to clinch a bowl game berth near the beginning of November, while also challenging for a top-tier bowl if everything goes right.
When a casual college football fan thinks about Stanford's offense, names like Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener commonly arise because of both players' pro stock.
However, Stepfan Taylor has been a rock in the Cardinal's offensive schemes as he blossoms into one of the better running backs in the league.
Taylor will definitely rush for over 1,000 yards, especially because he will receive more touches due in part to the losses of Luck, Fleener and Chris Owusu.
While neither Brett Nottingham nor Josh Nunes are highly heralded, these two signal-callers will perform better than people think.
In addition, both quarterbacks are upperclassmen, with Nottingham being a junior and Nunes a senior. In this way, David Shaw is not handing the keys to the offense to a newcomer.
If Nottingham or Nunes can pass for 2,500 yards, therefore giving Stanford a suitable two-pronged attack, the Cardinal could exceed expectations.
While this might be the biggest stretch on the list, it is also easily possible. In all certainty, Stanford will begin the season in the Preseason Top 25, both in the AP and the USA Today polls.
In addition, Stanford can still finish in third or fourth place in the Pacific-12 and still finish in the Top 25, because Oregon and USC could finish in the Top 10.
With all of this, a second-place finish behind Oregon in the North Division and a bowl game victory will ensure this goal.
Notre Dame and Washington will both be ranked in the Top 25 heading into next year and will enter the season with a chip on their shoulders.
Last year, Stanford demolished both teams, beating the Fighting Irish and Huskies by a combined 58 points, with Andrew Luck starring in both contests.
Since both games are on the road, it will be difficult for the Cardinal to sweep. However, taking one out of the two is a definite possibility.
While many analysts might say that this is a stretch, hear me out.
The Cardinal have six easily winnable games, against San Jose State, Duke, Arizona, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State.
From there, Stanford would need to win two games in the regular season out of a remaining five, along with winning their bowl game.
In truth, the Cardinal would need to go .500 against tougher opponents to achieve this goal.
Losing Shayne Skov last year was a huge blow to Stanford's defense and one of the contributing causes of Oregon's blowout against the Cardinal.
With Skov returning, look for the defense to have something which it lacked all of last year: a leader and captain.
If Skov can star for the Cardinal and be an All-Conference first-team selection, he might vault himself into higher consideration for the NFL draft, while also improving the defensive unit.
With a new quarterback at the helm, Stepfan Taylor will play a much bigger role in Stanford's offensive scheme. David Shaw just cannot afford to rely on his new quarterback, especially when he has a 1,000-yard rusher on his hands.
If Taylor stays healthy, he will definitely top 1,000 yards rushing and might have a chance to reach 1,500 yards if the offensive line exceeds expectations.
If Taylor can put up solid numbers and if the Cardinal stay competitive in the Pacific-12, look for him to be on the first team.
While the Pacific-12 will sport two national championship contenders in USC and Oregon, it is definitely one of the more top-heavy conferences in the league.
In fact, the Cardinal can definitely contend for second place in the North Division, with the winner of the Washington-Stanford game probably garnering that spot.
At the most, Stanford could easily win seven conference games, but five to six wins is far more likely.
During spring practices, Kelsey Young has been phenomenal. His performance has prompted head coach David Shaw to reconsider Young's current role in the offense.
Look for Young to be Stanford's De'Anthony Thomas, playing a little running back and some wide receiver.
If Young can be the speed back which the Cardinal desire, the new quarterback will have a much easier time acclimating to the new situation.