Last year, Stanford football coach Davis Shaw tried warning anyone who would listen about San Jose State: "That's a good team," he said.
The Spartans, who had struggled in recent years, put a scare into the Cardinal. And, Shaw was right, the Spartans were good. They finished 11-2 and won the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.
"They came out fast and punched us a couple of times in the mouth," Cardinal defensive back Usua Amanam said. "It wasn't until the third or fourth quarter that we realized we were in a dogfight.
"Looking back on that game is going to help us prepare for this year's game a little better. We're a little more aware of what they're capable of."
The San Jose State staff has changed, with head coach Ron Caragher arriving from University of San Diego to take over for Mike McIntyre, now the coach at Colorado.
Stanford coaches have the benefit of watching San Jose State's first game on tape -- a 24-0 victory over Sacramento State. Otherwise, there are few clues to their similarity to last year.
"We've looked just at personnel, just to see them play," Shaw said. "There are things we could have done better and there are things we could have done smarter. That's on us to make sure we don't do that again.
"Last year, we had to get used to our team leader of three years (QB Andrew Luck) not being there, and jelling on the offensive line. We were still coming together as a team."
"We're going to get their best shot, and they're going to get ours," Skov said. "It's going to be a heck of a football game."
Kickoff is Saturday at Stanford Stadium at 8:07 p.m. The game will be televised by the Pac-12 Network.
* * *
Monday represented a turning point in the evolution of Stanford's fifth-year senior linebacker Shayne Skov. It was the first practice in which he took part without a knee brace.
Skov blew out his knee early in the 2011 season and, even though he contributed throughout the 2012 Rose Bowl campaign, he never felt completely recovered.
"It doesn't even compare," Skov said. "Last year was a struggle. I wasn't playing the same way I was used to.
"This year, I'm glad to be back physically. I'm medically cleared. My knee is 100 percent healthy. Having that liberty to run around without my knee brace on was tremendous. I'm really excited."
Skov remains undecided on whether he will wear the brace during Saturday's home opener against San Jose State. His knees don't need the support, but there's that mental need of knowing there is extra protection.
"It's kind of a crutch," he said. "I've got no problem playing without it, but having gone through injuries, I don't know if I want to take that risk."
* * *
Despite all the expectations, the high rankings, and the recent success of the program, "You don't really know what your team is until you've started playing games," Shaw said.
"Training camp, you have an idea. Spring ball you have an idea. Even first week of preparation, you're starting to see guys really teeing up and getting ready to play. But until you play your first few games and face your first adversity, whether it's being down in the fourth quarter or giving up a big play and seeing the team respond, that's when you start to see what kind of a team you have."
Case in point: the 2012 season, and the team's recovery from a 4-2 start with a 6-0 finish.
* * *
Evan Crower, a junior from San Diego, has secured the backup quarterback spot despite having received no action in his first two seasons.
"He's probably made one of the biggest jumps on our team between last year and this year," Shaw said. "He's had a great training camp and we're very comfortable with where he is knowledge-wise. The hardest part for him is he's got to prepare like a starter.
"We had a talk with him last week: 'You've got to ready. You can't have a question. You've got to know it all, because if you get the call, it could be third-and-7 and you're going to have to win the game for us.' He's understood that role and has prepared himself. We're very confident in him."
* * *
Stanford's 31-28 victory over San Jose State in 1993 was a special one for Shaw. After failing to catch a pass in his first start, a week earlier in a loss at Washington, Shaw was eager to contribute.
"I'll never forget, I ran a play, and came back and went over to Coach (Bill) Walsh and said, 'I'm not the fastest guy, but the safeties are sitting.'
"He said, 'Are you sure?'
"I said, 'Absolutely.'
"Unbelievably, a Hall of Fame coach just listened to a kid who wants to catch a ball. He went back and called the same play again, and I made my first touchdown catch."
Shaw also caught the winner -- the only one of his career.
Does that mean Shaw has a soft spot for receivers who sidle up to the coach and claim they're open?
"I take it with a grain of salt," Shaw said. "Having played receiver before, we're always open. Everything's always open. The 'go' route is always there, particularly with NFL receivers. Every time they come off the field, 'Hey, you've got to look to my side. I was wide open.'
"If they're more specific than 'I'm always open,' then we listen."
* * *
What will fans discover about redshirt freshman running back Barry Sanders, who will make his collegiate debut on Saturday?
"He's an electric back," right guard Kevin Danser said. "What he can do is unbelievable. Sometimes you're watching film and you have to wonder, is this guy trying hard? He makes like three jukes and passes through the entire defense. It seems truly effortless for him. It should be amazing to see him play."