THE EARLY LOOK: Week 7 and Stanford

STANFORD LOST A lot to graduation -- for starters, linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov and safety Ed Reynolds are all gone. But Stanford's David Shaw seems to think the Cardinal D could be better this season. Others on the outside of the Cardinal program aren't so sure.

"Defensively we're so good up front.. really tough to run the ball against. It's really tough to pass-protect (against)," Shaw told the Mercury News this spring.

Stanford should be good defensively, there's little question about that. But whether they will be great is hard to say. Much of the optimism is based on a defensive front that flourished this spring, but did so against a youthful Stanford offensive line -- and one replacing four of five starters.

That's where most of the big questions for Stanford lie this season, on offense, and it's the main reason why most are picking Oregon to replace Stanford at the top of the Pac-12 North after two straight first place finishes by the Cardinal.

In addition to replacing nearly the entire starting o-line, gone is the running back duo of Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, with Gaffney earning All-America honors accolades for his 1,700 rushing hashes.

There's a multi-player battle at running back to replace Gaffney, with Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders the frontrunners, and Ricky Seale not far behind. (Shaw seems particularly enamored with Sanders, who has a lot of flash to his game like his father.)

QB Kevin Hogan has a good group of receivers back, including wide receiver and All-American kick returner Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, and Michael Rector. And the tight end group, Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper, and Dalton Schultz, is on the rise.

And what was perhaps most interesting was this: the offense looked a little different this spring, with a good deal more mid-range passes (8-15 yards) as opposed to deep play-action throws.

On defense, DE Henry Anderson is a potential nightmare off the edge. Sophomore DT/DE Aziz Shittu was particularly disruptive inside this spring while David Parry and Luke Kaumatule were also playing fast.

There are plenty of young linebackers vying to step into Skov's spot, but replacing the nation's sack leader in Murphy will be tough. One safety spot and one inside linebacker spot appear to be the biggest defensive question marks headed into fall camp.

The most iffy component of the Cardinal defense looks to be the secondary with the losses of star Reynolds and Usua Amanam and Devon Carrington. Kyle Olugbode is the leading safety candidate but has more to prove.

The Beavs were run over by the Stanford D last year and still had a chance to pull off a win late in the game. If the Beavers can blunt the Stanford pass rush this time around, they should be able to move the chains more.

The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in each of the last four seasons but there are a lot of 9-3 predictions rattling around this offseason about Stanford in 2014. The Cardinal also have three new coaching faces on the sidelines this year in defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, running backs coach Lance Taylor and linebackers coach Peter Hansen.

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