College football preview: No. 16 Stanford

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File

16. Stanford

2011 record: 11-2 (8-1 Pac-12), second in North Division, Fiesta Bowl appearance

Key returners: RB Stepfan Taylor (Senior), LB Shayne Skov (Senior), QB Josh Nunes (Junior)

Stanford’s 2012 schedule

(MORE: See the full Top 25)

Life without quarterback Andrew Luck won’t be easy for the Stanford Cardinal, who lost their best player to the NFL after three great years. His replacement still hasn’t been determined, as a competition continues between sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes.

Head coach David Shaw has another issue — a very young offensive line. For the past couple of years, Stanford has been known for Luck’s incredible play, but they also had one of the best offensive lines in the nation blocking for him.

Shaw reloaded in the offseason by recruiting some of the best blockers in the country to rebuild the line. He landed 6-foot-7, 308-pound tackle Andrus Peat, as well as classmate Kyle Murphy. Shaw told the Mercury News that both are close to being ready to play at the Pac-12 level. Redshirt freshman Brendon Austin will probably start the season at left tackle, and a couple other freshmen will likely see playing time, too.

The youth movement is underway at Stanford.

Luckily, the Cardinal’s offense will have veteran running back Stepfan Taylor returning to inject a little bit of leadership to a very young group. Taylor led the team in rushing last season, running for 1,153 yards a year ago.

There will be plenty of high-powered offenses in the Pac-12 this season, so if the defense can keep up with opponents, Stanford might not fall that far, despite losing one of the best quarterbacks they’ve ever had on campus.

More previews: Nos. 18-17 | Nos. 21-19 | No. 22 | Nos. 25-23

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