So here's what I've written in this space so far over the course of this preview series:
About the quarterbacks:
College football teams develop indentities over time, but sometimes the perception does not match reality. Such is the case for Stanford Football, a team with a rich legacy at the quarterback position...
About the running backs:
Even with Andrew Luck leading the way as the best player in America over the past three seasons, Stanford has still been a run-first offense. During the three years of the the Andrew Luck Era, the offense produced the three most prolific rushing totals in school history and ranked 10th, 18th, and 20th in the nation. Quarterback U? Guess again.
About the tight ends:
I can't imagine that a college team has ever had a tight end rotation like that, and the three were so good that Stanford ran a variety of different three tight end sets in their offense.
Forget all that. All of it. Jim Harbaugh might've provided the spark necessary for the transformation and Andrew Luck might've been the genius at the helm, but Stanford Football -- today, tomorrow, and always -- is about the offensive line.
Also known as the Tunnel Workers Union, a moniker which describes their blue-collar attitude and collective unstoppable force, this is a unit which has produced more NFL players in the Harbaugh-Shaw era than any other position group. Chris Marinelli, Chase Beeler, Jonathan Martin, and David DeCastro have all moved on to play on Sundays, and there are at least five linemen on the current roster who will one day join them in the NFL.
But how does that legacy translate into production on the field? We'll get to that, but let's start with the current state of the TWU. One of the biggest areas of concern regarding the 2012 Cardinal centers on the offensive line and last year's departure of left tackle Martin and right guard DeCastro, two All-Americas who combined for 76 starts while paving the way for the three most productive rushing seasons in Stanford history.
Big losses, to be sure, but it's nothing that the team hasn't dealt with before. When Chris Marinelli left before the 2010 season, there was concern, but the two strongest members of the line (DeCastro and Martin) returned and helped Stepfan Taylor rush for a thousand yards. In 2011, even as Andrew Luck was readying for what was sure to be a Heisman winning season, there was real concern across the nation about whether or not the rebuilt offensive line (minus Andrew Phillips and All-America center Chase Beeler) could keep Luck healthy. He was sacked just eleven times in 13 games, and at least two or three of those were simply statistical sacks assigned when Luck ran out of bounds.
This year left guard David Yankey, center Saw Schwartzstein, and right tackle Cameron Fleming all return. Yankey and Fleming were both honorable mention All-Pac-12, and Schwartzstein has drawn raves from the coaching staff during the recently completed training camp.
The real story, though, lies in wait. As great as all those linemen were who graduated from Stanford to the NFL, not one of them arrived on the Farm with the credentials of the next five names on the depth chart. While Marinelli, Beeler, Martin, and DeCastro all received three stars from Rivals.com, freshmen Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Josh Garnett, and Nick Davidson, as well as sophomore Brendon Austin, were all four-star prospects or higher, and the expectation for this next wave of linemen is to do more than just maintain the recent level of success.
Peat and Murphy are currently battling for the vacant left tackle spot. To have an eighteen-year-old starting in what some have called the most important position on the field is not unprecedented, but it normally reeks of desperation. In this case, however, it speaks of the talent and vast potential of these two phenoms. Though neither will likely start this Friday against San Jose State, they both will see action, and Coach Shaw has indicated that one of the two will probably win the starting job before the season is over.
At a certain point, college football observers will come to understand what card-carrying members of Mighty Card Nation already know. Stanford University produces Supreme Court Justices, Nobel Prize winners, and offensive linemen. When one group leaves, there will always be two or three players waiting to step in and fill the void. Because they've been admitted to the University, they will have the intellectual capacity to master the intracies of the position. Because of the coaching they receive, they will be prepared the first time they set foot on the field. Because the system often calls not only for a rotation of linemen, but also an entire herd of them in various power and hulk formations, they will be experienced.
At Stanford University, the offensive line is not rebuilt. It is reloaded. Today, tomorrow, and always.