Stanford Football: Breaking Down Cardinal's Chances of Winning the Pac-12

Kristen RodgersCorrespondent IIJune 12, 2012

Stanford Football: Breaking Down Cardinal's Chances of Winning the Pac-12

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    Just because Andrew Luck is gone, doesn’t mean that Stanford is toothless.

    In 2009, the Cardinal thought they would never have another talent like Toby Gerhart, but lo and behold, a new star rose in 2010 with Luck.

    With a rock-solid recruiting class for 2012, Stanford looks to have reloaded.

    Stanford’s schedule is a bit weak for the first two games—San Jose State and Duke—and then the Cardinal host their first Pac-12 matchup against the motivated and talented USC Trojans.

    While the first three games are home games, they will take place before the fall academic quarter begins. Despite the lack of students at the first few home games, the Cardinal have a respectable chance of winning the Pac-12 this season.

    Let’s take a look at the pivotal matchups for Stanford in 2012.

Sept. 15: USC

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    In 2011, Stanford left the L.A. Coliseum with a win over the USC Trojans, but only after an epic triple-overtime battle that could have gone either way.

    Luckily for Stanford, the 2012 SC matchup will be at home on the Farm, but because the game falls before the start of the fall quarter, the Red Zone won’t be in full force.

    This will definitely be the toughest game for the Cardinal at the beginning of their season, if not for their entire season.

    The Trojans are returning an experienced and motivated 2012 team, and USC is now bowl-eligible. The Trojans are led by solid Heisman candidate quarterback Matt Barkley. If the Cardinal want to win, they will have to contain Barkley, as well as Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Curtis McNeal.

    With six of their front seven starters returning for the Cardinal defense in 2012, Stanford looks like they can put up a good fight against the preseason No. 1, but if they want to come away with a “W,” Stanford will have to really tighten up their secondary to stop the Trojans speed and downfield passing game.

Sept. 27: Washington

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    After a 65-21 blowout against Washington last year, the Huskies are out for revenge in 2012 against the Cardinal. Stanford will travel to Washington for the first road game of the season, and despite last year’s victory, the Cardinal shouldn’t underestimate the Huskies.

    Besides being Stanford’s first away game, Washington will also be home to the Cardinal’s first Pac-12 North game. In order for Stanford to qualify for the Pac-12 Championship, they will have to win their division—one that includes Oregon. Therefore, a strong start against Washington is crucial.

    Stanford will be headed to Washington after their matchup against the Trojans. A win against USC would certainly push the Cardinal in the right direction against the Huskies, but a home loss to USC would surely shake Stanford’s Pac-12 Championship confidence.

    Like all their conference rivals, Stanford will need to create momentum in the first half of their season if they want a shot at winning the Pac-12.

Oct. 20: Cal

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    The “Big Game” will now lose some of its season-ending luster in 2012.

    Stanford’s matchup against Cal has traditionally been in late November—the weekend before Thanksgiving—but this year, it has been moved to mid-October due to the new Pac-12 TV schedule, leaving old guard Stanford and Cal Alums shaking their heads.  

    This will be a “must win” game for the Cardinal. Stanford, Cal and Oregon are shaping up to be the top three North section teams.

    If the Cardinal want a fighting chance against Oregon for the Pac-12 North title, they will have to beat the Bears.

    Despite the game’s newly anticlimactic nature, it will still be a pivotal game for the Cardinal. Stanford will take on Cal on the road in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium, and after back-to-back “Big Game” wins, Stanford will try for a hat trick.

Nov. 17: Oregon

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    Stanford’s match up against Oregon looks to be possibly their toughest game of the season for several reasons.

    First, the Ducks were Stanford’s only regular season loss last year—a heartbreaking 53-30 defeat at home on the Farm—and if they want to avoid a repeat in 2012, they will have to be strong in all aspects of the game: offense, defense, special teams and desire.

    To do this the Cardinal secondary will have to man-up with tight pass coverage.

    Stanford’s head coach, David Shaw, is modifying his team's blueprint by running the ball far more often. The Cardinal lost two of their best offensive linemen—David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin—to the NFL, so Shaw will have to quickly develop incoming freshmen Kyle Murphy and Andrus Peat.

    Second, Stanford will play Oregon at Autzen Stadium in Eugene—one of the loudest and most intimidating stadiums in the BCS—and the Cardinal will have to prepare for the rowdy nature of Oregon’s stadium if they want to beat the Ducks and potentially win the Pac-12 North.