|Rarely has a college football program opened its season with as much anticipation and excitement as Stanford, despite coming off four consecutive losing seasons -- including a one-win season last year.
Rarely have people like Palo Alto grad Jim Harbaugh come along to make things sound so wonderful. Dale Carnegie has nothing on Harbaugh, who is in his first season as coach at the Division I level.
"I can't tell you how excited we are to start the season," Stanford senior nose tackle Chris Horn said on Tuesday. "We don't feel any pressure. We're ready to start a new era. The emotion is sky high. Coach is enthusiastic and we've embraced that enthusiasm. We're following his lead."
They will also be following him out the south side tunnel on Saturday against No. 14 UCLA for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff to start season 2 in the new Stanford Stadium, and on the newly dedicated Bill Walsh Field.
Whether that enthusiasm translates into victories will be decided over the next few months. Harbaugh turned the University of San Diego into a national powerhouse on the Division I-AA Mid-Major level. The Toreros won the national title in each of the past two seasons, each time finishing 11-1. He was 7-4 in his first season at San Diego.
Can Harbaugh work miracles on The Farm in the competitive Pac-10 Conference?
"I know we'll play hard," Harbaugh said. "The opener in football is different from any other sport. There is no preseason. You go into the opener not exactly knowing; there's a little doubt."
There's no doubt about his starting quarterback. Menlo-Atherton High grad T.C. Ostrander has been the No. 1 guy from the moment Harbaugh walked onto campus and accepted the job.
Ostrander has been backing up Trent Edwards the past three years, although he's started seven games and appeared in 22 because of injuries to Edwards.
This year it's Ostrander for better or worse.
"It has been a long journey and I don't regret any of it," Ostrander said. "It's made me a better player having to compete with Trent the past three or four years. We've been through a lot here and it's made us stronger. Our confidence is high and our expectations are even higher."
Stanford returns 17 starters and 53 lettermen off a team that set a school record for most losses (11). UCLA brings back a conference-best 21 starters from a team that played in San Francisco's Emerald Bowl.
"In the back of our minds we know we had a horrible season," Horn said. "We can use that as motivation to turn it around. But then again, you can't focus on it too much. We're looking forward."
Last year wasn't a complete loss. The defense features eight returning starters and several others who played significant minutes. Last year's rush defense was ranked 117th (out of 119 NCAA Division I teams) but the pass defense was rated 23rd.
Senior cornerbacks Nick Sanchez and Tim Sims bring the most experience, while sophomore strong safety Austin Yancy is learning a new position after converting from wide receiver, where he started six games last year. Sophomore free safety Bo McNally has returned to the practice field after dealing with some injuries. He played in all 12 games last year, returning an interception for a touchdown against Washington.
Sims will backup junior Wopamo Osaisai, who was Stanford's best special teams player last year. Osaisai is the school's 100-meter recordholder in track with a mark of 10.39.
Sophomore linebacker Clinton Snyder and junior linebacker Pat Maynor give the Cardinal some stability in the middle. They both started a majority of games last year and Snyder earned All-Freshman honors.
Sophomore Fred Campbell rounds out the starting linebacker corps. He played in nine games but was limited by injury.
Six players are vying for time on the defensive line. Horn and sophomore Ekom Udofia are sure bets inside, while junior Pannel Egboh and senior Udeme Udofia will likely see the majority of time at defensive end. Converted tight end Erik Lorig and sophomore Levirt Griffin will also compete for playing time.
"I think it's a big improvement," Horn said of the new 4-3 defensive scheme. "With the new defense, we anticipate matching up much better than in the past. I think we're finally headed in the right direction."
The offense will feature five seniors in Ostrander, wide receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore, and offensive linemen Tim Mattran and Mikal Brewer.
Junior guard Alex Fletcher, sophomore tackle Chris Marinelli and junior tackle Allen Smith add experience to one of the most experienced units on the team.
Junior Anthony Kimble gets the nod over sophomore Toby Gerhart at halfback, but both players should see plenty of time.
Sophomore tight end Jim Dray returns after starting 11 games last year and sophomore receiver Richard Sherman stepped in last year and led the team in receptions. Junior Kelton Lynn also took advantage of some of the injuries to produce his best season yet, catching 19 balls for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
Owen Marecic, a true freshman who will start at fullback, is the surprise of training camp.
"It's an unbelievable surprise," Ostrander said. "To come in and be that physical as a freshman, that's unheard of. He likes to initiate contact and run through people."
Senior Derek Belch appears to have won the placekicking job over incumbent Aaron Zachary. The punting is in the good hands of senior Jay Ottovegio, a fourth-year starter.
Ostrander, Bradford and Moore, fifth-year seniors all, are the heart and soul of the offense.
"Mark, Evan and I have one goal," Ostrander said. "If we run the ball all over people 60 times a game, we'll be happy. My whole attitude is to concentrate on the small things. If I do my job and take care of things; that will make us successful."
Ostrander and Harbaugh have developed a close relationship, one that centers on similar ideas about running the offense.
"He feels comfortable with the system," Harbaugh said of Ostrander. "He represents a group of seniors who are tired of getting their butts kicked. They're trying to make a statement."
NOTES: Sacred Heart Prep grad Tyler Holland will be at tight end when the Bruins visit on Saturday. He's third on the depth chart. The 6-4, 240-pound redshirt junior was a quarterback for the Gators. Gunn grad Tom Blake will likely see action as a defensive end for the Bruins . . . Stanford senior Brent Newhouse returns for his fourth year as the long snapper . . . Freshman receiver Ryan Whalen is officially a former walk-on. The NCAA removed Emeka Nnoli from the Cardinal's 85-man scholarship roster and Whalen became the replacement. Nnoli was forced to retire from football because of hip problems . . . Freshman Kellen Kiilsgaard has moved again, to tight end from free safety. He arrived at Stanford as a quarterback. In other moves, Sam Weinberger went to fullback from linebacker, Matt Kopa went from defensive tackle to offensive tackle, and Will Powers switched to tight end from linebacker.
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