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Jarek Lancaster leads the best linebacking core in the country.
Preseason AP Rank: 21
There's no denying that the Cardinal lost a ton following the 2011 season, with no loss bigger than that of quarterback Andrew Luck, the unquestioned leader of the Cardinal attack.
While neither Brett Nottingham nor Josh Nunes is Luck—very few players are—both are talented passers who can step in and be effective under center.
Stepfan Taylor is arguably the best running back in college football, and while the Cardinal lost some key members of their offensive line, their recruiting class included some of the best offensive lineman in the country and they return some experienced backups to pick up the slack.
Defensively the Cardinal have the most talented group of linebackers in the country, with Jarek Lancaster, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. If Shayne Skov is fully recovered from a torn ACL that ended his 2011 season prematurely, that makes this unit significantly better, as Skov is a big-time player.
Looking at the Cardinal's schedule, it's not the most difficult in the world. Arizona, Duke, Oregon State, San Jose State and Washington State should all be wins, and neither Colorado nor UCLA figures to pose much of a threat either.
Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon, USC and Washington figure to pose challenges, but there's no reason that the Cardinal can't win two of those games—while it was admittedly a vastly different team in 2011, Stanford posted a 4-1 record against that same group last season.
With the Cardinal sitting with a 9-3 or 10-2 record at the end of the season, slotting them 21st in the country to start the season will have been laughable.