Only one thing in football is assured: it's impossible to stay at the summit.
Any team that reaches the top must come down at some point. The race doesn't always go to the strong or the swift - time and chance can strike at any time.
This year is that year for Stanford football. This year, the Cardinal takes a major step back.
Stanford grossly outperformed expectations a year ago. After losing the peerless Andrew Luck and three other top picks to the NFL, the Cardinal stumbled through the opening stretch of the season before Kevin Hogan dragged the Cardinal to the Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl win. A team bound for the Sun Bowl suddenly had every single game go its way - and not because they suddenly turned into a dominant squad. I mean, they played an 8-5 Wisconsin team in Pasadena. That's a streak of luck that almost surpassed how lucky Notre Dame was last year (Except the Irish didn't get the good fortune of playing a so-so Big Ten team in their BCS bowl).
It's safe to say that luck not going to happen again. The schedule is similarly backloaded, but the conference has had time to catch on to Hogan - and this guy's not exactly Andrew Luck, either. He's only started five games, by the way. The way Hogan played in the Rose Bowl should be indicative of how he'll play this year. Without a single tangible receiving threat, hogan will struggle to complete even 50 percent of his passes. He'll be Jake Locker 2.0. Lots of short passes won't get it done. You need to be able to take a shot once in a while, and there's not a single wideout who can do that. In fact, it's nearly impossible to just name a single receiver on the team. That doesn't bode well for the offense.
Behind Hogan, the backfield is "full" of four or five guys - which means that there isn't a single one that is that good. It's like when a team says they have two starting quarterbacks. Everyone knows they really have zero (looking at you, USC). Anthony Wilkerson has never done all that much in his college career, and Tyler Gaffney just took a year off from football. Expecting those two to do what Stepfan Taylor did is pure craziness. On top of that, Barry Sanders isn't ready to go yet.
Oh, and don't forget that Pep Hamilton is gone now, either. Teams don't tend to get better on offense when they lose a brilliant offensive coordinator.
On the flip side of the ball, the defense has nowhere to go but backward. The Cardinal has never had a defense as good as it did last year, and there's reason to think it won't be that good again. Shayne Skov, a player who gets the Manti Te'o/Ray Lewis "heart and soul of the defense" treatment, wasn't as good as he was as a sophomore. He's simply not the same player post-ACL surgery. Trent Murphy had a good year a year ago, but any team can stop a defensive end once they shift the line to shut him down. Ed Reynolds' nearly set an NCAA record for pick-sixes. It's hardly a "hot take" to say that won't happen again.
The schedule doesn't set up favorably, either. The Pac-12 is going to be better than ever before. Washington beat Boise State last week and looks primed to break out for a 10-win season. UCLA nearly beat Stanford at home a year ago and Brett Hundley proved that he's a force to be reckoned with. Arizona State's offense can sling it, and Will Sutton will be a constant presence in the Cardinal's backfield. Cal nearly beat a top-25 team last week with a dominant passing attack. Oregon is still Oregon, with or without Chip Kelly. Marcus Mariota may win the Heisman. USC can't possibly be worse than last year.
Everyone knows that winning close games isn't about talent or skill or discipline - it's simply about luck. And Stanford was on the lucky side in many of its games a year ago, barely escaping San Jose State, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA in the Pac-12 title game. All of that, my friends, spells regression. And regression will come.
Some people might be thinking 13-0 for this Cardinal team. But it'll be fortunate just to be 8-4.
For the 2013 Optimist's Preview, click here.