Before the season started, I sat down with David Shaw for the first radio show of the season and asked him "What will be the difference in Stanford being a program like Tennessee after losing Peyton Manning (they won the national championship the next year with Tee Martin) and not like Texas after losing Colt McCoy or Florida after losing Tim Tebow?"
His response was very straightforward and unwavering: "Because we built this program to not rely on just one player. We have a system set up that allows for all of our guys to be successful, and we reloaded after Toby Gerhart and will do the same after Andrew Luck."
I remember being a little hesitant to buy in immediately because I witnessed up close just how great Andrew Luck has been and how much he meant to this team from a leadership and playmaking standpoint. What Stanford proved Saturday against USC is that it isn't one guy who is going to make up for Andrew Luck, it is everyone who gets an opportunity to step on the field.
The offense was hit hardest by the departures of Luck, Coby Fleener, David DeCastro, and Jonathan Martin. Many Stanford fans saw four All Americans leaving and figured this would be a rebuilding year. Those fans forgot that Stanford replaced three OL the previous year and Sam Schwatrztein, David Yankey, and Cam Fleming quickly went from unknowns, to solid players, to future All Americans. Those who follow recruiting know that some of the best high school OL in the country chose Stanford last spring and should compete over the next few years for playing time and continue the dominate tradition of the Tunnel Workers Union.
Coby Fleener was one of the best TEs in Stanford history, yet Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo might be better and more well-rounded players, as well as 6'7 265 lb true freshman Luke Kaumatule who has emerged as the third TE. Ty Montgomery emerged last season a potential superstar at WR and true freshman Kodi Whitfield continues to get more reps and increase his comfort level with the offense. Stanford is so deep at RB that they are going to redshirt 5* RB Barry Sanders. Stanford lost Owen Marecic who finished in the top 10 Heisman voting as a FB/LB two years ago and replaced him with Ryan Hewitt who might be the best receiving FB in the country and has lead the way for Stepfan Taylor, who just passed 3,000 career rushing yards.
Stanford had 23 players make a tackle last Saturday on defense and special teams. USC had 13. Stanford returned two of its top three tacklers from 2011 (AJ Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster) and they don't start because Shayne Skov is back and James Vaughters emerged as a force this offseason. Stanford lost two of its top two tacklers to graduation in Michael Thomas and Delano Howell and replace them with sophomores Jordan Richards (leads the nation in nine pass break ups and has two INTs) and Ed Reynolds who leads the team in INTs with three through three games.
Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter have a chance to be the best and most physical tandem of CBs in Stanford history, and they can't crack the starting lineup. Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, and Chase Thomas were all under recruited players who now are all conference and have developed into devastating pass rushers. Pro scouts used to come to practice, take a few notes, and head to the Oasis for a beer and burger. Now they salivate over the dozens of players running around the practice fields who not only look the part of a future NFL star, but show up even bigger when they put on the game day tape.
The is no question that David Shaw is leading a Stanford team that is not only built for greatness today, but will be a force for years to come. The work ethic, recruiting style and coaching staff that Shaw has assembled is the right recipe for success. Stanford fans should enjoy every Saturday not just because of the style of football and the wins they are able to witness, but because you might just catch a glimpse of who is going to be the next player to step into the spotlight and become a difference maker.