Stanford Cardinal (2000: 5-6)
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Coach and programThe search hadn’t been going on that long when Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham found a player during spring drills he hopes will inject a little explosiveness into his offense. That player is sophomore Teyo Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound former quarterback who has decided his best chance to play on The Farm will be as a wide receiver.
Unhappy with his team’s ability to hit the home run on offense a year ago, Willingham has made it clear that players who show the ability to produce the big play will be worked into the offense. Johnson, who doubles as a key reserve for the Cardinal basketball team, has the ability to go sky high to make the catch.
After catching a pair of touchdown passes in Stanford’s final spring scrimmage, Johnson has the Stanford faithful confident that the offense will have enough weapons to get the team back into the top half of the Pac-10 in 2001. It was a rather quick fall from grace last year as Stanford followed its Rose Bowl season of 1999 with a 5-6 dud.
“There really wasn’t a whole lot of difference between last year’s team and our Rose Bowl team,’’ senior Stanford linebacker Coy Wire (6-1, 215) said. “We were just as good a team. We lost three games by 11 points and two of those games came down to final minute. Two years ago, the ball bounced our way. Last year we had a lot of tough games and tough breaks. But we had a lot of character.’’
Even if the offense does come around, Willingham also has some worries on defense. Gone from last season’s team are defensive end Riall Johnson, who led the Pac-10 in sacks with 15, and All Pac-10 defensive tackle Willie Howard. Those players were difference makers and will be very tough to replace.
Willingham’s contention is that Stanford has the talent and that if it can get everyone to play with the emotional zealousness of Wire or senior free safety Tank Williams, it will be just fine.
OffenseOne thing the Cardinal shouldn’t have to go through this season is a quarterback controversy. It appears senior Randy Fasani (6-4, 235) will be a solid No. 1 with talented sophomore Chris Lewis (6-3, 205) ready to step into the lineup if Fasani is injured or if Willingham wants to try a change of pace.
Fasani and Lewis give the Cardinal two players who would handle starting assignments at most Division I-A programs. Fanani finished 93-of-180 for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Stanford’s running game by committee figures to be a team strength, although it is questionable whether the Cardinal would have more success by sticking with one tailback. As it stands, senior Brian Allen (5-10, 200) and junior Kerry Carter (6-2, 235) figure to offer a substantial two-pronged attack.
Allen has started the last 17 games at tailback and he has rushed for 1,218 yards in his career. He had 117 rushes for 460 yards last season with a long run of 71 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. Carter rushed 179 times for 729 yards last season with six touchdowns.
Junior flanker Luke Powell (5-8, 165) will have to provide the fireworks. Powell showed his tremendous athleticism last season by averaging 27.9 yards a catch with 18 grabs for 502 yards.
The line is anchored by senior guard Eric Heitmann (6-4, 295) who was a second-team All Pac-10 player a year ago. He has started the last 23 games at right guard. All five starters return on the line, but they will have to show some improvement if the Cardinal expects to get into a bowl game.
Defense and special teamsHoward is gone and that leaves a huge void for the Cardinal. He was taken in the second round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Senior Austin Lee (6-6, 270) has starting experience at defensive end and he figures to be a leading contender to start there this season. It will be interesting to see how long it takes freshman Mark Anderson (6-7, 260) from Fergus High School in Lewistown, Mont., to develop. Anderson ranked in 2000 as the 11th best player in the country by SuperPrep.
Although Johnson, who spent much of his time on the line of scrimmage, is gone -- drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round -- Stanford is lucky to have big-play Wire back. Wire led the team with 81 tackles and he had 14 tackles for loss with eight sacks.
Williams (6-3, 215) is the definite leader of the secondary. He was a second-team All Pac-10 player last season and he could make a run at national honors in 2001.
DeRonnie Pitts handled most of Stanford’s punt return duties last season but Powell also returned nine punts, including his 51-yard touchdown return. Willingham is hoping Powell can concentrate on those duties this season and recreate those big plays more often.
Bottom lineBy no means does Stanford have the look of a great team. It has few impact players and depth would seem to be a question. However, Willingham is going to have a lot of seniors in his starting lineup, and inexperienced or not, that sometimes translates to success.
Eventually, the Cardinal’s fate might be determined by its ability or inability to come up with a few quality wide receivers. Stanford could see the effect of a crummy wide receivers corps first hand by looking across the bay at rival Cal, which has taken years to dig out of a hole caused by a poor recruiting year at wideout.
Stanford really has the look of a 5-6 or 6-5 team with a few breaks one way for the other moving a game for the better or worse. No championship this year, but a lower bowl berth is not out of the question.