Seven wins, plus or minus three

And so your humble correspondent found himself at Borders this weekend, scouring through the recently-published national college preview magazines. What are they saying about Stanford's shots in 2010? Here's a better question: what aren't they saying about Stanford's shots in 2010?

If the war of the ink, the battle for column inches, were a boxing match, we'd have to call it a split decision. Four magazines – Athon, Lindy, Sporting News and Phil Steele – were available at my suburban Detroit bookseller, and I would bet the range of predictions proffered on Stanford's prospects is as great as the range of predictions for all but a half-dozen or so FBS teams.

From these four magazines and other reading I've done in the offseason, my sense is the consensus Stanford projection is probably No. 5 in the Pac-10 and No. 35 nationally. However, not only do predictions vary widely between sources, but no one source seems mighty sure in its predictions. Say the margin of error is four spots in the league standings and about 25 nationally. Doesn't sound so bad, but now we have Stanford anywhere from No. 10 to No. 70 nationally, and first to thank-God-for-Washington-State (ninth) in the league.

So, in a nutshell, the magazines are telling us this: Stanford's quarterback is really good, but so is that running back who left, plus the defense is shaky. So the Cardinal will play 12 or 13 games this season, and, realistically, the results could span the gamut from decidedly mediocre to bordering on nationally elite.

Seven wins, plus or minus three.

I don't blame the magazines – let's see you state a more narrow range of realistic expectations with supreme confidence. But where I do critique the magazines is for some of their individual picks and commentary on Stanford. So, without further ado, here goes…

(Note: We respect copyright here at The Bootleg. Please buy these magazines if you were going to anyways – we hear it's a tough time right now for print reporters. Phil Steele in particular is quite excellent and an annual must-have for a serious college football fan.)

Athlon

Recruiting

The 2010 class checks in at No. 6 in the Pac-10, on the low end of a fourth through sixth consensus, and No. 24 nationally. A list of the top-40 Pac-10 recruits reveals Blake Lueders, Devon Carrington and Brett Nottingham (showing the importance of late-game decommits), but none higher than No. 30. USC, meanwhile, signed eight of the top 15 players in the league, and UCLA added three.

Season

7-5 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-10, good enough for fourth. Nationally, it's No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 USC, No. 9 Oregon, No. 27 Oregon State, No. 32 Stanford, No. 38 Arizona, No. 40 Washington, No. 41 Cal, No. 56 UCLA and No. 62 ASU. (We've omitted WSU, universally pegged for last, from our summaries.)

Players

Each unit is also ranked against its Pac-10 peers: QBs 3rd, RBs 7th, WRs 5th, OL 1st, DL 6th, LBs 6th and DBs 9th. I would be way more confident in our RBs than our LBs, but more on both units from Steele.

Individually, no All Pac-10 list could be found (our provincial Borders only had the Big Ten regional edition of the magazine), but Chris Owusu is your First Team All-American KR.

Lindy's

Recruiting

Stanford landed no top-100 recruits, nor a top-25 class, but finished fifth in the Pac-10. Plus, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Demetrious Nicholson are among the top-100 recruits for 2011 with Stanford traction. Stanford also signed the No. 1 QB class in 2010, per Lindy's. OL Dillon Bonnell and redshirt frosh TE Levine Toilolo are highlighted as newcomers who could make an impact.

Season

Stanford is tapped for fifth in the conference, with the defense and loss of Toby Gerhart given as bad signs, and the OL and Andrew Luck good signs. (Complex, I know.) It's No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Boise State, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 12 USC, No. 15 Oregon, No. 29 Oregon State, No. 33 Washington, No. 35 Stanford, No. 38 Arizona, No. 43 Cal, No. 48 UCLA and No. 59 Arizona State.

In two sentences, Lindy's nicely summarizes the industry's total uncertainty concerning 2010 Stanford football: "Stanford could build on last season's success and compete for the conference title. … But if the defense doesn't improve and the passing game sputters, the Cardinal could drop into the lower half of the conference." Yeah, that just about covers it.

Players

Andrew Luck is the league's No. 2 NFL talent and the conference's most accurate passer, while Jake Locker, he of the "strongest arm" and "best scrambler", is the No. 1 talent. Luck is also the No. 6 quarterback nationally, and Owusu the No. 5 all-purpose player nationally. The offensive line is No. 8 nationally and first in the Pac-10. Chase Beeler, David DeCastro and Chris Owusu (as KR) make the league's First Team, with Luck, Whalen and Howell on the second.

TSN

Recruiting

Using Rivals' rankings, TSN has Stanford tied for fifth in the league, with Anthony Wilkerson, Lueders, Nottingham, Ricky Seale and Bonnell earning special mention.

Season

Your Cardinal are projected to finish No. 7 in the Pac-10 and play in the Armed Services Bowl. TSN also predicts no Pac-10 team finishing in the AP Top 10. As the cherry on top, the magazine proffers this will be Andrew Luck's final season. Finally, TSN predicts that scientists will offer irrefutable proof that the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus do not exist by early November at the latest, just in time for your daughter's fifth birthday.

(Another TSN beef: along with Oregon State, Washington and Arizona, Stanford is listed as ascending. Yet we're 7th in the conference this year, which would be worse than last year. Hmm, maybe they mean a five-year moving average?)

I don't know if he is responsible for the predictions, but Jon Wilner wrote the Pac-10 overview and says of your Card, "Stanford seemingly has everything needed for a run at the title, so long as it finds a steady ground game." Later, Shayne Skov is listed as Stanford's impact newcomer, as he "has the big-play speed you often see in athletes who line up for USC or California." Ouch.

Nationally, it's No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Boise State. The Pac-10, with national rank if given, is projected thusly: No. 11 Oregon, No. 15 Oregon State, No. 16 USC, No. 25 Washington, Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Arizona State.

Players

Chase Beeler and Sione Fua are First Team All-League, with Beeler a Second Team All-American. Luck is the league's best passer and has the "best instincts."

Phil Steele

Players

We save the best for last. Steele has developed a rabid following among college football fans because he overloads you with information, and then gives you some more. The magazine quite literally has rankings of magazines' preseason rankings (which, unsurprisingly, Steele wins. Thank goodness humility isn't a scoring criterion.) About 300 pages, no exaggeration, earlier in his preview, Steele ranks the top-25 units nationally and goes about 35 or 70-deep ranking top individuals at positions, depending on whether, after ignoring right versus left, the position is held by one player, such as quarterback or free safety, or two, such as tackle or cornerback. Oh, and bonus fun: some of these positions list all players, while some, seemingly at random, just list players draft-eligible. Follow? Me neither, honestly, but hey, you'll like the results…

Owusu is First Team All-American KR. Luck is your No. 2 draft-eligible QB nationally, behind Locker. Owusu is your No. 34 WR, Reuland your No. 14 tight end, Beeler your No. 10 center, DeCastro No. 22 and Andrew Phillips No. 54 at guard, while Jonathan Martin is No. 54 at tackle. That's seven offensive starters, with running back, right tackle, fullback (with Marecic now at LB) and No. 2 WR the misses.

On defense, Tom Keiser and Chase Thomas are No. 15 and No. 62 at DE, respectively. Sione Fua is No. 41 at DT. Delano Howell is your No. 14 SS. Unless either Phil or I missed someone (aside: how the heck does he rank 70-deep at guards?), that's just four defensive starters, and just one in the back seven. Uh oh.

In terms of unit rankings, Stanford is No. 16 at quarterback, No. 20 at wide receiver (really?), No. 9 at OL, No. 19 at linebacker (double really?!?) and No. 6 on special teams.

In the Pac-10, Stanford's units are rated thusly: QB 2nd, RB 7th, WR 2nd, OL 1st, DL 9th (!), LB 2nd, DB 9th, special teams 2nd, coaching 3rd. For All Pac-10 honors, it's Keiser, DeCastro and Owusu (as a KR) on the First Team, Luck, Whalen, Owusu (as a WR) and Howell on the Second Team, Reuland, Beeler, Phillips Martin, Fua and Skov on the Third Team, and Stepfan Taylor on the Fourth Team.

As the above illustrates, Steele is really high on Stanford's individually talent, which as I cannot stress enough, is a really good sign, because this is a man who does his homework and then some. He writes that Stanford ranks in the top-20 nationally on sheer talent, and adds "all nine sets of my power ratings have them rated either No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the conference in terms of talent. …"

Season

"…Unfortunately, they must face five Pac-10 bowl-caliber teams on the road, while they host WSU."

As quickly as Phil builds up our hopes, he shoots them down, but at least he has a reason, and a valid one at that: a rough league schedule, not to mention @Notre Dame and vs. Wake Forest out of conference. He calls Stanford the No. 34 team in the country, and in a three-way tie for fifth (or, in plain English, sixth) in the Pac-10. No. 1 is Oregon/USC, No. 3 Arizona/Cal, No. 5 Oregon State/Stanford/Washington and No. 9 ASU. Oklahoma is his darkhorse No. 1 nationally. Despite the low ranking, Steele says that the Card "are a threat to win the Pac-10, led by Andrew Luck, who NFL scouts have at the top of their charts. Three of my nine sets of power rankings call for 11 wins." I will have whatever those rankings are having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wow.

All in all, it's a mixed review from Steele, much like from the industry as a whole: "It surprises me that I am picking the Cardinal at this spot in the Pac-10. … [Still,] I feel they will have back-to-back winning years, and even with the loss of Toby Gerhart, this year's team is stronger than the 2009 version." It would be the first back-to-back winning seasons since 1995-'96, about which you can expect to hear plenty over the next six months. (Hey reporters, here's a feature idea come late October!) Meanwhile, stay tuned here as we compile staff predictions and compare them to the national consensus as fall ball grows ever closer.


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