GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 02: (L-R) Stepfan Taylor #33, Michael Spanos #4 and Ryan Hewitt #85 of the Stanford Cardinal during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2012 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
The Buffs' brutal three game stretch ends with Stanford. Out of Oregon, USC, and Stanford, the nationally ranked teams in the Pac-12, Colorado's likeliest chance to pick up a victory is against the Cardinal. The Buffs returns to Boulder after what should be two harsh weeks.
After Jim Harbaugh left with the offensive and defensive coordinators, it was up to David Shaw to continue the success from two years ago and he did a fine job. The bowl game loss of last year does fall directly on his shoulders, as he decided to rely on a freshman kicker instead of Andrew Luck. Shaw, however, is still a good coach and has put Stanford in position to be successful this year. It will be impossible to replace Luck, but the team does return starters on both sides of the ball.
Tuesday, Stanford named Josh Nunes the starter over Brett Nottingham and although they lose starters along the offensive line, the linemen they hauled in with their recruiting class was one of the best in the nation. They also bring back starter Cameron Fleming and redshirt freshman Brendon Austin, who are in position for the tackle spots. With Luck gone at quarterback, Nunes will have a hard job to say the least. That's where Stepfan Taylor comes in as he is one of the best running backs in the Pac-12. Coby Fleener is gone too, one of Luck's favorite targets, but Nunes will enjoy another one of Luck's favorites in tight end Zach Ertz. Coming on strong towards the end of last year was wideout Ty Montgomery, and they will certainly need production from him this year with the the rest of the core unproven.
The standout unit is linebackers, where Shayne Skov is back this year after an ACL injury. A return to the same level of play is not always a sure thing with ACL tears, however, Chase Thomas will not have a problem returning to last year's level, and A.J. Tarpley should be in the mix as well. Stanford's biggest strength with this group is their depth. Jared Lancaster will fall back into the second unit with the return of Skov and throw Joe Hemschoot in the mix and Stanford becomes an elite linebacking group. When you look at the defensive line, it's another strong unit with the presence of Ben Gardner, who piled up 35 tackles last year, and Terrance Stephens in the middle of the line. Lastly, there's the secondary; the shakiest unit on defense. Barry Browning and Terrence Brown return, who combined for over 60 tackles last year. Safety on the other hand, is looking for some new starters. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards look like the guys, but things can still change. Ultimately, the defense isn't losing anyone of Andrew Luck's caliber and they're returning their best linebacker, so the defense is in much better shape.
Another game that will likely end with a loss. Stanford is not as good as Oregon or USC, but they're still the 3rd best opponent on the schedule for the Buffs. Who knows? Maybe it'll snow, and Stanford won't be able to adapt. But more than likely, chances point to a third consecutive defeat.