1. Can Kevin Hogan take a leap forward?
It's easy to attribute Stanford's up-and-down offensive production last year to Hogan, who alternated between one of the best QBs in the conference and one of the worst in the nation. This year, Hogan won't have Tyler Gaffney to hand off to, so he'll have to get better with his passing touch. His finesse and accuracy on deep balls proved to be excellent a year ago, but I'd like to see him get a lot better at short, timing-based routes. He struggled with short dumpoffs to running backs, tight ends and wideouts last season, but if he's improved his ability to complete a few more of those short throws, the Stanford offense should gain some much-needed consistency this spring.
2. Is the offensive line rebuilding or is it reloading?
Replacing two offensive linemen isn't easy. Nor is replacing three. Replacing four is outright insanity. But that's the case for the Stanford offensive line, and thankfully the coaching staff has been molding an all-time recruiting class for two years to get them ready for this moment. Andrus Peat is already a force at left tackle - and seen by some in the NFL as a top-3 pick in next year's NFL draft - but the rest of the class is a little unproven thus far. Presumptive left guard Josh Garnett already has a start under his belt against Washington State last year, and Kyle Murphy (who will likely be the right tackle) has seen plenty of time as a jumbo tight end. Johnny Caspers and Graham Shuler haven't played quite as much, though. Can these four gel and form a cohesive unit quickly? Or will the Tunnel Workers' Union take more time to come together as a force to be reckoned with?
3. What are the new roles for the running backs?
After losing workhorse Stepfan Taylor, Mike Bloomgren and company were lucky to be able to clear holes for Tyler Gaffney last season. However, now the backfield is missing Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson - the two biggest backs in the gang - and David Shaw has a smaller, quicker crew carrying the ball. Barry Sanders already has fans writing his name over and over again in their notebooks with little hearts next to them, but he might not even get a plurality of the carries this season. Ricky Seale, Remound Wright or Kelsey Young might prove to be more capable of handling a lion's share of the touches, or David Shaw may reconfigure the offense to feature these smaller backs in different roles. This might be the single most important thing to examine this spring.
4. Who's gonna step up at tight end?
Last season's answer: nobody. And that proved to be a problem. But after a year grooming Eric Cotton, Greg Taboada and Austin Hooper for the job, someone has to emerge as a legitimate pass-catching option at that spot. Ideally, two or all three of them will be able to handle an increased role, and Stanford will regain the ability to use multiple formations out of the same personnel groupings - an element that it lacked last season. If all three can be used in-line or out wide, the Cardinal should be able to use more hurry-up offense this upcoming season, which could add an important dimension back to the offense. That was a big reason for the success of the offense in 2011 (that and the influence of Andrew Luck), and it'd be nice to see it again.
5. Could this be the best receiving corps in the Pac-12?
With the departures of Brandin Cooks and Marqise Lee to the NFL, Ty Montgomery might now be the best wideout in the conference. And Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector proved that they're pretty excellent compliments to Montgomery last season. Should Hogan be able to get the wide receivers the ball with consistency this season, these guys might be the most deadly group of deep threats assembled on the West Coast. Hopefully, they'll be part of a dangerous, diverse passing offense, or else those three might be counted on much the same way Shaw counted on them last year - deep threats or bust. (Except for Montgomery, who could take bubble screens to the house.)