Archive for the ‘Jim Harbaugh’ Category

Spring Fish Wrap – Jim Harbaugh’s Edition

May 5, 2009

Welcome to another year of “Spring Fish Wraps”. You may not remember, but last year, we decided to tackle each team on the WSU schedule and take a close look at them, post-spring football condition. Why? To try to get a feel for what to expect in the upcoming season, that’s why.

Why use the term “fish wrap”? It’s a self-hating thing. You know, this article sucks so bad I wouldn’t wrap dead fish with it? Or line the bird cage with it, etc. But it’s a play on words to also wrap up the spring…..get it??

Anyway, I have to admit that doing something like this was/is educational to say the least. At least for me it is. It’s a good idea to dig deep on each team and see for yourself what is going on outside of Pullman. You can see some of last year’s Fish Wraps here (or just search “spring fish wrap” in the blog search window at the top of this page).

That said, time to look at game one for 2009. And what do you know, the rebuilding Jim Harbaugh’s/Stanford Cardinal invade Pullman on September 5th to kick it all off.

What do we have to look forward to? Read on and see the WSU Football Blog angle to Stanford…

LAST YEAR: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the PAC-10.
LAST YEAR vs. WSU: A humiliating 58-0 wipeout on a damp track in Palo Alto.

Stanford ran over the WSU D for a season-high 344 rushing yards(!), led by Toby Gerhart’s four TD runs, all in the first half as Stanford sprinted to a 31-0 lead. And, uh, WOW were we bad last year!

STANFORD FANS ARE: Pretty happy. Maybe not completely thrilled, but pretty happy with the direction. The rebuilding under Captain Comeback took another step forward last year, just one victory from getting back to the postseason since Ty Willingham’s fleece vest roamed the now-defunct Seattle Bowl sidelines in 2001.

It’s been a while. But to think that they were just one win away from a bowl game, when two short seasons ago in 2006, Stanford was a one-win disaster? An outfit so bad it was being debated as to their place in the all-time WORST PAC-10 teams of all-time? How can Stanford fans be anything but thrilled right now? Ask yourself, if WSU was to be one win from a post-season bid in 2009 in year two of the rebuilding job, after the train wreck of 2008, wouldn’t you take that?? Anyway, the fans believe in Harbaugh, and he has this thing going places.

OFFENSIVE SCHEMES: Stanford offensively keeps things fairly close to the vest. Not your spread scheme by any means, they are more of a traditional pro-set/west coast offense look that you see out of a USC or even UW in the Sarkisian era. Look for a fullback and a tight-end on several occasions, and a lot of snaps with the QB directly under center.

OFFENSIVE RATINGS: Stanford did improve offensively last year, coming off a dreadful 2007 in which they were trolling near the bottom ten in several categories. In ’07, they were 102nd in the nation in rushing offense, and 107th in total offense. Fast forward to 2008, and it’s better. 84th in scoring offense, but an even higher 67th in total offense. In the PAC-10 rankings, Stanford was sixth in scoring offense and total offense. But while the passing game was lacking, ahead of ONLY WSU in passing yards per game(!), they did finish SECOND in the league in rushing offense at 199.6 ypg. So overall, not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but they are getting better.

: Like they are on offense, they are traditional on defense, relying on the basic 4-3 attack. But they will mix things up by blitzing linebackers to bring pressure. And again, Stanford showed improvement.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Another area with some improvement. In ’07, they were 98th in the country in total defense. In ’08, they moved up to 76th. In the conference, they were slightly below average, finishing sixth in scoring defense, ninth in pass defense, seventh in rushing defense and seventh in total defense. This isn’t your ’85 Chicago Bears defense (or anything close). But again, they ARE improving.

RB Toby Gerhart.

This one’s easy. Toby Gerhart was the heart and soul of the Stanford offense last year, and really THE GUY for the entire team. Gerhart gashed the Cougs for four TD runs in the first half of the 58-0 blowout, but he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. Far from it actually. Gerhart would finish third in the PAC-10 with 1136 rushing yards, averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per carry. But he was even more impressive getting into the endzone, finishing was second in the conference with 15 rushing TD’s. Absolutely stacked at 6-1, 232 lbs, the guy is a horse.

In watching the video, it’s pretty clear that if you get a helmet on Gerhart, you better wrap him up! The guy is not only powerful enough to run you over, but he breaks tackles as well as any back in the conference. But not only does he have that power, he’s also got that little extra “gear” to where he can outrun the defense. Check out some of those runs vs. Oregon State, where he gets to the sideline and then runs away from the defense. SERIOUSLY impressive!

Along with CAL’s Jahvid Best and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers, Gerhart is one of the top running backs in the west, and he will compete for all-conference honors.

And for what it’s worth, Gerhart is one heck of a baseball player as well. There was even some talk that if he had a big baseball season this year for the Cardinal, he could go pro in the upcoming June MLB draft.

But alas, Gerhart hasn’t had the big season some expected from him on the diamond, hitting .272 with five HR’s this year. So yep, expect him to line up at tailback on September 5th. WONDERFUL.

Safety Bo McNally.

McNally had a fantastic all-around year for Stanford in ’08, leading the team in tackles (76), including 6.5 for loss. But he knew what he was doing in the secondary, also leading the team in interceptions (4). He’ll be the senior leader of the defense. Not an NFL prototype safety at 6-0, 205, he’s still pretty quick and is a very good tackler. He will contend for all-conference honors as one of the top safeties returning in 2009. While Gerhart leads the offense, McNally is the heart and soul of the Cardinal D.


1) What’s the deal with the QB’s?? Another year, another QB “situation” at Stanford. Last year Tavita Pritchard (yes, Jack Thompson’s nephew) won the job. But he did “a’ight”, but certainly didn’t torch the opposing defense. Pritchard would throw for just 1633 yards and 10 TD’s in 2008, leading Stanford to the ninth-rated passing offense in the conference. Granted, Stanford’s offensive coaches didn’t ask him to do too much, but Pritchard couldn’t escape the turnover bug. He threw 15 INT’s, and that’s just too many when you aren’t even primarily a passing offense. As we all know (far too well I might add!), turnovers KILL offenses, and they just can’t have that again. So, Harbaugh has now officially given the keys to the offense over to none other than hotshot QB prospect Andrew Luck.

Luck is a big-time QB prospect who comes straight out of central casting. Big (6-4, 227), strong, and even some good wheels with a reported 4.7 40-time, Luck was highly recruited out of Houston, Texas. But instead of heading to a usual NCAA powerhouse, Luck shocked everyone when he picked Harbaugh and the Cardinal when he signed in 2008. He was a top-5 QB in every recruiting service around, and regarded as one of the top 50 or so players in the country when Harbaugh reeled him in. The best part is what Luck did this spring when given a shot at unseating the established Pritchard. He threw for an amazing 352 yards and FIVE TD’s in the Cardinal spring game, basically assuring everyone that this is Luck’s job. That’s a kid who wants a job. So get ready to see the redshirt QB under center in Pullman September 5th.

2) How’s the schedule? Pretty mild if you want to know the truth. After opening in Pullman, they do have to travel across the country the following week to take on Wake Forest. But then it’s Palo Alto for three in a row vs. San Jose St, UW and UCLA, all winnable games at home. A 4-1 start isn’t out of the question. While they do have to travel to Oregon State and USC later in the year, they get Oregon, Cal and ASU all at home. And of course there’s the traditional Notre Dame game to close the season, also in Palo Alto. Phil Steele ranks their schedule as #71 in the country. Safe to say that the schedule looks to be Stanford’s friend this year.

3) Sounds good. But isn’t Stanford just a little too young this year? Actually they do look pretty green, projected to return just 15 starters this fall. And that includes starting a brand new QB in Andrew Luck. While Luck looks like a star on the rise, he hasn’t taken an NCAA snap. Kids can look great in scrimmages, and they can carry around the press clippings from glory days gone by, but you just never really know until the lights go on and it gets real in a hurry. And what kind of help will Luck have in the passing game? Wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin were 1-2 on the team in receptions last year, and they are both back for ’09. But after those two, the next leading receiver coming back is none other than Toby Gerhart, who caught 13 balls out of the backfield.

To make things a little more shaky on Stanford’s QB situation, third-stringer Alex Loukas tore up his knee this spring and will be out for the beginning of 2009. Meaning that Tavita Pritchard, the same guy who was beaten out for the QB job and is now the backup, will likely be the only QB among the top three on the depth chart who has thrown an actual pass in a game situation to start the year.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: The first game is always a dicey proposition. You see teams bust their butts all summer long, and so much focus is put on game number one. It’s like the driving motivation for all that hard work, and you hope it all pays off. But weird things tend to happen early in the year. In fact, last year Oregon State went down to Palo Alto to open up the 2008 season, and they LOST to the Cardinal in what was regarded as a bit of an upset. Nobody knew just how big at the time though, as really that loss kept the Beavers out of Pasadena! Had Oregon State won that game, the Civil War loss to Oregon would have been irrelevant as the Rose Bowl bid would have already been secured. And that game was mistake-filled by OSU, as the Cardinal finished at +3 in turnover margin. The first-game yips were evident, as it can be especially tough when you open the season on the road.

But that said, we can’t exactly erase 58-0 from the memory banks, can we? After all, Stanford just sledgehammered the Cougar D, time and again. The Cougs also turned the ball over FIVE times, compared to zero for Stanford, so that had a lot to do with it. But when you can’t do the basics like stopping the opponent from running for 344 yards on you, you are in for a long day.

Obviously the key for WSU this year will be to crowd the line of scrimmage and commit to stopping the run. If they can somehow do that, and put young Luck in obvious passing situations, they have a shot. But if Gerhart is constantly getting 5, 6, 7 yards per carry and moving the chains, it could be another long day defensively. But we’ll get to all that stuff later this year, Football Friday style…..

For now, I have to say that I like the looks of Stanford. Even though Luck is young, he looks the part. They should be better through the air. Combine that with the return of Gerhart to bring balance to the offense, and given Stanford’s lower-level schedule? 2009 sure looks promising for a return to the postseason. Not bad for year three in what was thought to be a massive rebuilding job.

That’s it for today. Enjoy your Tuesday, and GO COUGS!

Wednesday Ramblings

December 10, 2008

Good morning Coug Nation. Time to catch up on a few things.

First things first, in the bad news department. Late last night, Cougfan broke the news that top WSU commit Geoff Meinken had made it official. He is no longer going to be a Cougar, and has officially switched to Stanford.

Disappointing? Absolutely. Meinken, after all, was the first WSU commit for this year’s class, giving coach Wulff his pledge back in May, and he was considered an excellent “get” by the staff. Big and strong at 6-4, 250, and a fine all-around athlete who was just as strong in the classroom, the sky was the limit for this kid at WSU. There was also a story that UW came hard at him last summer, but Meinken held firm on his WSU commitment.

But Jim Harbaugh came hard after Meinken this fall, offering him a scholarship and even promising him he can play anywhere he wants. Harbaugh is a lot of things, but he is showing in very limited time at Stanford that the guy can flat-out recruit. Don’t believe it? Check out their commitment list for this year. They have TEN four-star recruits already pledging to Stanford. And right now, they are second only to USC in the Pac-10 in recruiting rankings, and on target for a top-15 class. Impressive to say the least. I know I said it in the spring when we did the fishwrap series, but Stanford’s stay at the bottom didn’t appear like it would last very long. To go from where they were two years ago to where they are now, just one win from a bowl game, shows you they are on the right track.

Is this surprising? Hardly. First off you can’t blame a kid for changing his mind. It happens all the time, to programs all over the country. And he is going to try and get his degree at Stanford. Not a bad way to go about higher education if you can get it. So yes, we’re disappointed, but this isn’t a shock.

The next bit of recruiting news is dealing with Skyline WR Gino Simone. Last month Simone announced that while he was still committed to WSU, well, he sat down with his family and decided to take some recruiting trips, just to be sure. Simone is taking his official visit to WSU this weekend, and the following week he will visit Oregon State (12/19). He is also on record as saying he will take a trip to Boise State, but the date hasn’t been announced.

Meanwhile, Steve Sarkisian is already out there recruiting for UW, visiting Skyline high school and Bellevue high school yesterday. Both Simone and Skyline QB Jake Heaps gave some good praise to UW for hiring Sarkisian, and Simone himself was quoted as saying “If he wants to talk to me, I’ll be glad to sit down and have a talk with him.”

Obviously this doesn’t mean Simone is going to UW, or that there is now automatically going to be a pipeline from Skyline to UW. After all, UW did just fire former Skyline head coach Steve Gervais yesterday, long thought of as a guy they brought on board to help recruit the Skyline talent! Sarkisian still has to sell them on an 0-12 rebuilding job. And while he had a “solid” reputation as a recruiter in the LA area, well, that was while he was dressed in USC colors from head to toe, and had Petey Carroll to close the deal. Let’s see how he’s received when he walks into a living room with a UW visor on his melon. He might find it just a little bit of a tougher sell?? So assume nothing.

Most of all, this whole recruiting thing is just another example of don’t count those chicks before they sign on the dotted line. Anything/everything can happen. And you get this kind of thing more and more when you get the early verbal commitments. That was one thing we know Bill Doba despised, to say the least. He HATED the early commit, felt that it was too “en vogue” to de-commit, and that type of thing went against every moral fiber in his body. But when in Rome? All the other schools are doing it, and if you don’t as well, you are at risk at being left in the stone age. You HAVE to do the early commits, or else you are left to trying to steal kids from other programs or take kids that are a step or two below the ones you really should have targeted from the beginning!

Don’t panic. Let’s hope Wulff can hold this class together. It’s still an excellent class right now, smack dab in the middle of the conference, just behind Cal in the Pac-10 rankings. And that is without Geoff Meinken. And the idea that we can even have a decent class, in this worst-ever season? Just imagine what it could look like once we start, oh, I don’t know, WINNING games!?!?

Finally, the stadium. I hate to say it, but we heard rumblings during Apple Cup week that the next phase was in serious jeopardy. Now we hear that it is official and the start of the next phase of the expansion will be delayed for another year. They cannot break ground next month due to the lack of cash ($5 million?). The unfortunate part is that not only does it delay the biggest part of the overall expansion, this delay will likely add to the overall cost of the project. So we might need even MORE money over the next year.

Look, we’re not stupid. We read the news and watch CNN. We know what is going on in this country right now. 534,000 jobs were cut in America in NOVEMBER alone. It’s hard to get money from donors, but even just as tough is going to the financial institutions who are cutting jobs left and right. Even selling the naming rights to different organizations wasn’t enough of an incentive to get the cash needed. Meanwhile UW continues to pursue their cash grab, somehow determining that the public should give them $150 million toward their $300 million dollar palace by the lake.

Whatever happens with Olympia and UW, you better believe that if they get as much as a nickel from the state, a WSU contingent with torches and pitchforks will storm the Governor’s mansion. It could get REALLY UGLY down there.

Isn’t there a basketball game tonight??


Spring Fish Wrap – Harbaugh’s Heroes Edition

June 13, 2008

Ah yes, Captain Comeback. We remember him from his NFL days, sure. Not the most skilled guy around, lacking the gun for an arm or all-pro quickness. And Mike Ditka hated his guts (but what QB did Ditka actually like? He even hated the punky QB known as McMahon, even when he led them to 19-1 and a SB title!). But the guy was a gritty veteran that somehow dialed it up when things got hairy. Harbaugh shouldn’t be undersold for his NFL prowess. Check it out, via the always-helpful Wikipedia:

For his NFL career, Harbaugh played in 177 league games with 140 starts. He completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 yards with 129 touchdowns. Particularly during his time with Indianapolis – such as when he led the Colts to come-from-behind wins over the Chiefs and Chargers in 1995-96 playoffs and a near upset over the No. 1 AFC seed Steelers – he earned the nickname “Captain Comeback” (the second player to be so nicknamed after Roger Staubach) for his ability to win games in the fourth quarter after overcoming significant point deficits.

Wow. I knew Harbaugh was a journeyman NFL QB, and had some “shining moments” here and there. But 26,000+ yards? Not too shabby.

That said, I was among many Pac-10 fans who raised eyebrows when Stanford hired him in late ’06. Jim Harbaugh? Really?? Harbaugh was an assistant for some NCAA teams, then an NFL offensive assistant with the Raiders for a few years before he landed the head job at U of San Diego. That, my friends, is where he really showed his coaching chops. San Diego had a lousy program prior to his arrival, but afterwards? Extreme Makeover-time. They went an amazing 22-2 from ’05 – ’06, winning their league title and the “mid-major national title” in both seasons. Harbaugh in three years overall went 29-6. Clearly the guy could coach up 18-22 year olds, but the raised eyebrows deal was based on such little head coaching experience to land a coveted BCS job. Even if said BCS gig was 1-11 Stanford. Now I know some on the outside wondered about our choice of Paul Wulff, based on him never having a D-1 head job. But at least CPW had EIGHT years as a head coach at just one step below D-1, so, he wasn’t nearly the unknown commodity that Harbaugh was in landing the Stanford deal.

A few weeks ago, I ran into an old acquaintance who is a former Stanford player. He played for the Cardinal in the early 90’s, under Bill Walsh of all people. Anyway, we chatted about the program, and naturally, Harbaugh. I expected him to gush about everything Harbaugh has brought to the program, but I didn’t get that vibe. He said that there were a lot of former players still close to the program that were concerned about the choice. Now he did say he’s made a very favorable first impression among the former players and donors. The enthusiasm and energy are completely off the charts, just like it appears from the outside looking in. They also believe he has a good plan and things are headed in the right direction.

Speaking of the USC upset, how about one more look?

I love how out of it the announcers are. Not only do they yell “TOUCHDOWN USC!” when Stanford scores on 4th down, but the color announcer starts saying they are going to go for 2 after the score, even though it’s a tie game!?! Gotta love the VS. network! Another parting gift from outgoing Pac-10 commish Tom Hansen.

But don’t place that order on the marble statue of Harbaugh just yet.

Just like any other Pac-10 program, I guess Stanford fans are like the rest of us. They have a newly-renovated stadium, they are in a desirable place in the country and are an elite high-learning institution. Even with their recent struggles since their last winning season in ’01, they have expectations of at least a bowl-eligible season, if not contending for an upper-division finish. I know the 1-11 record of 2006 stands out, as they were widely regarded as one of the worst Pac-10 teams of all-time that dreadful, dark year. But they did win 9 games as recently as 2001. They were almost bowl-eligible in 2005, going 5-6. And who could forget that the hated Trent Edwards led the Cardinal to wins over WSU in ’04 and ’05. Trent Edwards, Trent Edwards, TRENT EDWARDS (sort of like the Seinfeld episode where Steinbrenner explains why he traded Jay Buhner: “My scouts kept saying, Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps, KEN PHELPS!”) So we’re not exactly talking dumpster-diving here.

But as this Stanford acquaintance told me, hey, the kids are at least smart! Combine their brains with the passion and energy of Harbaugh, and they might have something special, sooner rather than later. And they have been very successful in other sports, such as hoops and even baseball, so, why can’t they win again in football? Hard to argue with him at that point.

All that said, where are Harbaugh’s Heroes today, spring fish-wrap style? Let’s see.

2007: 4-8, 3-6 in the Pac-10, tied for 7th. But perhaps the biggest Pac-10 upset of all-time, winning at USC as a widely-regarded 40 or more point ‘dogs.

Amazing catch to win it too. I don’t think that video above did it enough justice.

Offensive Scheme: Traditional west-coast offense, with a running back, fullback and tight-end on typical plays. Another team that hasn’t moved forward with the rage of the read-option shotgun attack. David Shaw was the offensive coordinator last year, a guy with a lot of NFL assistant experience and Harbaugh brought him to Stanford after Shaw was his OC at San Diego in ’06. That said, it was a ROUGH first year. Stanford’s offense was, well, brutal last year. 102nd running the ball, 105th in scoring offense, and overall, 107th in the nation in total offense. That’s good for “bottom ten” in the nation. Part of those struggles can be laid at the feet of the QB’s, as the starter heading into the ’07 campaign, TC Ostrander, struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

He was ultimately replaced by the one that got away from WSU, of course, in Tavita Pritchard (by now you probably know the back-story here, but Pritchard is from Clover Park in Tacoma. Big deal, right? He’s also Jack Thompson’s nephew, and wanted to be a Cougar, but strangely wasn’t really recruited much by the prior staff. Oh well.). Overall, an avert-your-eyes season with Stanford whenever they had the football. 2008 might not be quite as bad, but it could still be a big-time struggle on offense. Pritchard didn’t have a stellar spring, and even though he started seven games last year, beat USC and is on top of the depth chart after practice sessions, it still sounds as though the job is open. Jason Forcier, a transfer from Michigan, will be in the mix to at least compete for the backup job, if not get some snaps with the 1’s.

Top Offensive Player: WR Richard Sherman looks like the top returning offensive weapon. Sherman had a team-high 651 receiving yards, averaging a strong 16.7 yards per catch to go with 4 TD’s. Sherman has really good quickness and size for the position (6-3, 190). Sherman was 2nd on the team in catches, but his yards per game were good enough for 10th in the entire Pac-10. The junior-to-be caught nine balls for 91 yards in their spring game, so he looks like he might be on the verge of a real break-out ’08 season.

The scary part for Sherman is that he’s suddenly the biggest man on campus at the WR spot. WR’s Mark Bradford and Evan Moore combined for 90 catches last year, but both have finally moved on. Yet Sherman should still be a weapon to be accounted for on every snap. Some of the video I watched of him reminded me a little of Brandon Gibson in terms of body type and the same kind of hands and athleticism. Here’s one TD catch he had vs. San Jose ST last year:

Defensive Scheme: Another 4-3 defense, but Stanford will attack and blitz to bring pressure. They good news is that they have nine starters back on defense, the most among Pac-10 teams for 2008. That includes their three best defensive linemen and their entire starting LB corps. But the bad news? They lost their d-coordinator Scott Shafer to Michigan. That is regarded as a loss, as Shafer is though of as a defensive guru with a very bright future. But that said, even with Shafer they were pretty bad on D last year. 107th against the pass, 98th in total defense. But one could put some of the blame on the feeble offense. Nothing deflates a defense more than constantly having to come back on the field after yet another three-and-out by the offense. If the offense can at least inch closer to average this year, the defense should benefit tremendously.

Top Defensive Player: Stanford has a couple of names that could work here, what with nine returning starters and all. But I’m going with LB Clinton Snyder. The senior is huge at 6-4, 241, and moves well for a linebacker of that girth. He had 96 tackles last year, averaging 8 per game, placing him 9th in the conference. He also had eight sacks, showing his all-around versatility. Here’s an impressive sack-and-fumble recovery vs. Cal last year in the Big Game, a 20-13 win over the Berkeley Bears:

TOP Spring Questions:

1) With Pritchard starting so many games last year and having the ultimate upset of SC under his belt, why is their QB situation unsettled?

Not an easy answer, but I think the biggest thing is really two-fold: First, Pritchard didn’t set the world on fire with seven starts last year, completing just 50% of his passes and nearly doubled his INT-to-TD ratio (9 int’s, 5 TD’s). He was also sacked 23 times. Statistically his best game was vs. our Cougs in Pullman, where he threw for 263 yards, but with zero TD’s and two costly picks, one which was taken back to the house by Abdullah.

Second, Pritchard will already be a senior. This is only Harbaugh’s second season in Palo Alto, and he may lean towards going younger to develop his program vs. going with Pritchard and then having to start over at the most important position on the field in 2009. There is some pressure to win immediately and improve on the 4 wins from ’08, but if Harbaugh really wants to build for tomorrow he may try and go younger at QB.

2) Even with the QB issues, is there any chance they will improve on offense?

They probably will be better. After all, they do return seven starters on O, and on paper at least, that’s a good thing. But while we highlighted Richard Sherman as the top offensive player, it must also be noted that 651 receiving yards isn’t exactly All-Pac-10 material. When someone with 37 catches last year is labeled as your top returning star in Sherman, you have some issues. That said, the Cardinal running game might be a pleasant surprise in ’08. They did finish 102nd in the nation in running the ball last year, so there is nowhere to go but up! But in the same breath, they do return their top four ball-carriers from last year, led by senior Anthony Kimble. Kimble had injury issues last year and played in only seven games, but he did average 4.4 yards per carry and had a team-high eight TD’s on the ground. All told, the four returning rushers had over 1300 yards combined on the ground. Not fantastic by any stretch, but you can see that the depth in the backfield combined with a big loss at the WR positions will lead to an emphasis on the running game.

Most of all, the O-line looks to be much improved. They return four out of five starters up front, led by Alex Fletcher, an all-conference second-teamer at guard last year. This spring he slid over to center and will start there this fall. But the most talented of them all is left tackle Allen Smith, but he’s coming off a knee injury. It remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by the opener, but if he’s ready to go, the Cardinal running game could be formidable.

WSU Football Blog Says: Stanford’s schedule is a little odd. In a weird twist, they play their first two games against Pac-1o foes, opening at home vs. the Beavers on a Thursday night, August 28th game before heading to Tempe to take on the favored Sun Devils on September 6th. They don’t play out of conference until at TCU on the 13th, their third game of the season. One interesting aspect for when we finally play them on November 1st is that both teams will be coming off bye-weeks.

So, can Harbaugh’s lads take another step after an improved 2007? They did go from one win in ’06 to four wins last year, with the highlight of course the USC stunner. There is some legit momentum behind the program right now. They even got a bump up in recruiting, landing a top-10 QB in Andrew Luck, a big Texas high school star who surprised many by casting his lot with Harbaugh. While they are headed in the right direction, 2008 will still be tough. Losing their WR depth will hurt, and the QB situation still looks unsettled. Outside of Sherman, they lack speed and play-makers on offense, and that could ultimately be their downfall. Combine all that with the idea that they have seven road games next season, and it’s not a stretch to see another 4-win season. But their down times may not last much longer! Get ’em while you can.