The season will finally be here tomorrow, and all of these preseason prognostications will be moot, so I figured I should make a few predictions of my own before the deadline hits. (For some general predictions, check out this list -- featuring Willys from The Daily Axe, Scott and Red Oscar from Rule of Tree, and me -- over at Rule of Tree.) For now, though, here are a few things to look for over the next few months. I can't promise that I'll get to the defense, but here's what I think about the offense. Please let me know what you think. Am I dead on? (Probably.) Off base? (Doubtful.) Have some predictions of your own? Let me know...
1. Chris Owusu will catch 60 balls for more than 1,000 yards.
If you've listened to the experts this summer, you've heard that they're universally concerned with the amount of talent Stanford lost to graduation after last season. The most common refrain goes something like this: "Yes, Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the nation, but I think he might struggle this year because all his top receivers are gone." Don't blame the analysts for this; they're doing the best they can. They have to appear as if they know what's going on with at least forty or fifty of the top teams in the nation, and they do this by reviewing rosters and statistics, nothing more. So when they look at Stanford's receiving numbers from 2010, they see that Luck's leading pass catchers were Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen, and both of them are gone. What the analysts don't remember is that Chris Owusu is one of the fastest and strongest receivers in the Pac-12. Injuries limited him to only 25 catches for 396 yards and three touchdowns in seven games last season, but all reports have him healthy and ready to dominate this year. Stanford's offense is obviously not based on the deep ball, but Luck is certainly not averse to taking shots downfield, and Owusu will allow David Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to stretch the field a bit. Many preseason mags are tabbing Owusu as an all-conference kick returner, but don't be surprised if he makes that list at his true position.
2. The tight ends will combine for 60 catches, 900 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
Really, this isn't that much of a stretch. The three-headed monster of Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, and Coby Fleener are far and away the best group of tight ends in America, and Shaw has made it clear that all three will see significant playing time according to situations and each player's individual strengths. The Cardinal's pro-style offense relies heavily on the tight ends (last year Luck completed 68 passes to his tight ends for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns), especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Fleener had a break out game in the Orange Bowl, catching three touchdowns, and Ertz was consistent all season long, but the player on this team that I'm looking the most forward to watching is Toilolo. The 6'8" junior won the starting job last fall, but suffered a season-ending knee injury on the second play of the opening game. He's one hundred percent healthy right now, and defenders up and down the conference are scared to death.
3. Stepfan Taylor will combine for 1,700 yards rushing.
Much has been made of the army of running backs in the Stanford backfield, and the hype is deserved. After Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson, there's Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart, Ricky Seale, and newcomers Remound Wright and Kelsey Young. Taylor is the clear starter and will continue to get the bulk of the carries (last year he handled 43% of the running duties), but I think Wilkerson has done enough to separte himself from the rest. In 2010 he had 89 carries for 421 yards and three touchdowns, but even in that limited action his combination of speed and power was tantalizing. I'm predicting 150 carries for him. Add another 200-225 for Taylor, and the pair will certainly crack 1,700 yards.
4. Ty Montgomery will have 30 receptions.
I've been excited about Montgomery ever since his commitment almost a year ago, and with all the questions about the receivers beyond the top two, I think we might get a glimpse of what this true freshman has to offer fairly early. Can't wait.
5. Andrew Luck will be sacked more than six times.
Going out on a limb here. It's simply preposterous that Luck threw the ball 372 times (in addition to those unplanned scrambles when receivers weren't open) and was only sacked six times. Yes, that number says a lot about Luck's awareness in the pocket and his ability to avoid pressure, but mainly it's about his dominant offensive line. Only two starters return from that group, but it's nice that Moose Martin and David DeCastro were the two best. Both will be All-Pac-12 this season and should get some interest on All-America teams. Even so, six sacks? Let's put the over/under at ten and move on.
6. Andrew Luck will win the Heisman Trophy.
Everyone agrees that Luck is the best player in the country, and it's unlikely that anything will happen in the next three months to change that perception. The reality, though, is that isn't always enough to win the Heisman Trophy. The player who wins the Heisman must play a marquee position, preferably quarterback, on a team that's in the national championship picture. Check, check, and check. There is the thought, however, that there is an East Coast bias that penalizes candidates who play their games west of the Mississippi (or, more specifically, outside of SEC territory). That certainly cost Toby Gerhart in 2009, but it didn't stop Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, or Reggie Bush from winning in 2002, '04, and '05. Luck has two things on his side. First, everyone knows who he is. He was last-year's runner-up, and analysts and pundits spent the entire summer singing his praises. Second, he's a safe choice. During last year's Heisman balloting, many voters were troubled by the idea of voting for Auburn's Cam Newton. On the one hand, he was far and away the best player in the country, and he played for an undefeated team. On the other, there was the specter of cheating hanging over his head. I'm betting that every single one of those voters who was bothered by Newton and continues to be bothered by scandals at LSU and Ohio State and Oregon will turn their lonely eyes towards Andrew Luck. The Heisman is his.
[Photo Credit: John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated]