STANFORD

2012 Record: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12 (1st, North)

Coach: David Shaw, third year at Stanford and overall (23-4)

Big date: Nov. 7: vs. Oregon. A nationally televised Thursday night showdown matching Pac-12 North division powers with designs on the league title and the national championship. Oregon's speed was too much for the Cardinal in 2010-11, but Stanford's power reigned last year. Both teams have a bye the previous Saturday, so they should be healthy and well prepared. Sixty-three days and counting.

Key departures: Tailback Stepfan Taylor and tight end Zach Ertz made big plays each week and combined to score half of Stanford's 42 offensive touchdowns. ... Receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson and tight end Levine Toilolo added another 10 TDs. ... Center Sam Schwartzstein anchored the offensive line. ... All-conference linebacker Chase Thomas is the only significant loss defensively.

Difference makers: Tailbacks Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson average more than 4 yards per carry for their careers despite limited playing time. ... Quarterback Kevin Hogan's mobility allows him to extend plays and drives. ... The defense is loaded with playmakers, including free safety Ed Reynolds (three pick-6s last season) and linebacker Trent Murphy (18 tackles for loss).

Fresh faces to watch: Left tackle Andrus Peat is a first-time starter but played regularly last season and is freakishly agile for his 310-pound frame. ... Tight end Luke Kaumatule's only career reception came in high school, but he's a ferocious blocker with soft hands. ... Receivers Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector will complement veteran Ty Montgomery and have big-play speed.

Best-case scenario: An improved passing game combines with the power running attack and big plays by Hogan to produce 30 to 35 points per game. The defense lives up to its billing as one of the nations best, and Stanford is rarely challenged in the fourth quarter. The Cardinal fends off Oregon in the North, avenges the loss to Notre Dame, repeats as Pac-12 champion and outslugs Alabama to win the national title.

Worst-case scenario: The new receivers and tight ends fail to produce consistently, allowing defenses to load up against the running game, and Stanford is forced to play close, low-scoring games each week. Lacking margin for error, the defense allows a handful of big plays at inopportune times and Stanford finishes 8-4, missing the BCS for the first time in four years.

Bottom line: Stanford won eight games last year by a touchdown or less -- a risky way to play because the bounces will eventually go the other way. Everything depends on the passing game, and the best guess is that Hogan's development sparks modest improvement. The schedule is stacked with quality opponents, but Stanford plays its toughest games at home and has a lineup of pressure-tested veterans. The Cardinal repeats as Pac-12 champion but finishes just short of the national title game.

Fan essentials:

Radio: 1050-AM (Scott Reiss, Todd Husak and John Platz)

Tickets: www.gostanford.com

-- JON WILNER

ONLINE EXTRAS:

  • Stanford's schedule starts with San Jose State this weekend, and finishes with Oregon, USC, Cal and Notre Dame. Jon Wilner analyzes the schedule from start to the big finish and all parts in between.

  • Which positions are Stanford's biggest strengths? Where are the questions marks? Jon Wilner breaks down the Cardinal roster, position by position.