CULVER CITY, Calif. — Stanford has weathered a couple of big changes in recent years. The Cardinal have persevered despite the NFL departures of head coach Jim Harbaugh following the 2010 season and quarterback Andrew Luck after the 2011 campaign.
In 2012, Stanford went 12-2 — capping things off with a 27-24 victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game and then a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The conference crown was the program’s first since 1999 and the rosy outcome in Pasadena ended a drought that dated back to 1972.
The Cardinal have a good thing going and they know it.
“I think the foundation of our team is the team,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “It’s never been about one coach. It’s never been about one player. It’s about how well we play together and we’ve proven that.”
Stanford is 35-5 over the past three years, including a 23-4 mark since Shaw took over for Harbaugh.
The Cardinal open the 2013 season ranked fourth in the USA Today preseason coaches poll — one spot behind Pac-12 North Division rival Oregon.
“This year we have gotten notoriety about a national championship chase, but I like to say three years ago we were one game away and last year two games away and this last year 10 points away,” Shaw said. “This year we anticipate being in the hunt for the foreseeable future. That’s how we approach it and to say that this year is any different than any other, it’s just not how we look at it.”
OFFENSE: Is there life after career rushing leader Stepfan Taylor? Stanford may use as many as five tailbacks in his place in 2013. The Cardinal is much more established up front where four starting linemen return. Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan, who became the starter in the midst of last season, was the MVP of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
DEFENSE: Seven starters are back from a unit that allowed just 17.2 points and 97 rushing yards per game last season. All-America linebacker Trent Murphy headlines the returnees. The senior had 18 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks in 2012. Other standouts include linebacker Shayne Skov, free safety Ed Reynolds and defensive end Ben Gardner.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery averaged 26.6 yards on kickoff returns last season. Kicker Jordan Williamson, who scored 96 points and made 17 field goals as a junior, is also back in the fold.
EXTRA POINTS: Stanford enters the season on an eight-game winning streak . . . The Cardinal don’t open camp until Aug. 11 because their first game isn’t until Sept. 7 (at home against San Jose State) . . . Stanford has sold out of season tickets (33,000) for the first time in school history.