For that reason alone, expectations are more subdued. There's little talk of a national championship, for instance. After all, no one can expect the Cardinal (11-2 last year) to repeat last season's record-setting 561 total points or 489.3 total offensive yards per game.
"I feel good with 90 percent of what we'll put out on the field," Stanford coach Davis Shaw said. "We'll have to see about the rest."
It's the 10 percent that will determine whether the Cardinal is in the running for a major bowl game or just looking to become bowl-eligible come November.
The defense, an often over-looked part of the Stanford's success last year, is in better shape, particularly with the return of linebacker Shayne Skov (6-3, 242), who, last year, was lost for the season with a knee injury in the third week.
Stanford will have to replace five defensive starters, but those who do step in, for the most part, have plenty of experience.
"We still have special guys," Shaw said. "Our combination of linebackers; I'd love to see a group anyone says is better."
The Cardinal will play its first game without Skov, who will sit out a game for a violation of team rules, an alleged DUI incident.
Nunes is where the talk begins. He's had minimal playing experience during his first two years, appearing in four games. Even at that, he takes more college experience into his first start than Luck.
"I feel excited and ready to go," Nunes said. "It's been a long time since I've been hit in a real game."
Like Luck, Nunes also said he enjoys the first contact of the game. During his freshmen season, former coach Jim Harbaugh would sometimes allow the defense to go after him on the practice field.
"Harbaugh would yell, 'OK quarterback live,' and the defensive line would perk up and run back in for a a few plays," Nunes said. "I got to know Chase Thomas quite well."
Nunes received a text message from Luck after Shaw announced him as the starting quarterback: "Congratulations, now it's time to get to work."
It's also time for guys like senior right guard Kevin Danser (6-6, 298), who takes over for All-American David DeCastro, and whomever takes over at left tackle for Jonathan Martin.
Danser, who grew up in Saratoga and rooted for his older brother Chris, who played at San Jose State, will be making his first collegiate start.
"Being consistent every day is the biggest thing I am working on," Danser said. "David is such a great player, I'd watch him on film and wonder 'Wow, how can I ever do that?'"
Left tackle will be manned, whether as the starter or otherwise, by a pair of true freshmen in Andrus Peat (6-7, 308) and/or Kyle Murphy (6-7, 280). If Shaw feels neither is ready, he'll go with veteran guard David Yankey (6-5, 301).
"I have seen tremendous growth from Andrus and Kyle," Shaw said. "We'll see how much one or both are ready to help. Who takes the snap on the first play is not important. I'd love to keep David at guard, where he at his best. If for some reason neither freshman is ready, I'm not worried about David."
Peat and Murphy are both considered two of the better overall recruits in the nation.
"They could both be dominant by the end of this year," Shaw said. "The entire freshmen class is special and this is the best group of freshmen linemen I've seen."
Center Graham Shuler is part of that class and is considered the best at his position (in the nation) by Shaw, even though senior Sam Schwartzstein (6-3, 292) will Stanford's starting center with redshirt sophomore Connor McFadden (6-3, 284) as the backup..
Senior Drew Terrell (5-11, 180) and sophomore Ty Montgomery (6-2, 212) step into starting roles as wide receivers, taking over for Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu. Terrell and Montgomery, the team's best kick returner, have seen action in the past.
"For the last two years Drew has been our best blocking receiver," Shaw said.
Tight end Coby Fleener joined Luck with the Indianapolis Colts and will be replaced at Stanford by the experienced Levine Toilolo (6-8, 285) or Zach Ertz (6-6, 252). They combined to catch 10 touchdown passes last year.
Schwartzstein and Cameron Fleming (6-6, 314) join Yankey to give the front four some stability and should help the running game remain as one of the team's strength.
Senior Stepfan Taylor (5-11, 215) has quietly put together an impressive career at Stanford and could set the school's career rushing record. Fullback Ryan Hewitt (6-4, 248) is the team's leading returning receiver.
Jordan Williamson (5-11, 192) and Daniel Zychlinksi (6-3, 208) return to handle kicking and punting duties, respectively.
Skov and outside linebacker Chase Thomas (6-4, 248) are the heart and soul of the Stanford defense and both are expected to be top choices in next year's NFL draft.
"The defense has grown over the last couple years," Thomas said. "This year we're really at the top and playing faster."
With the injury to Skov came opportunity for inside linebackers Jarek Lancaster (6-1, 242) and A.J. Tarpley (6-2, 238), part of the talented group of linebackers that also includes Trent Murphy (6-6, 261), Palo Alto grad Kevin Anderson (6-4, 250) and James Vaughters (6-2, 246).
Terrence Stephens (6-2, 305) and Ben Gardner (6-4, 275) return to the defensive line and will be joined by the experienced group of Henry Anderson (6-6, 278), Josh Mauro (6-6, 277) and David Parry (6-2, 300).
Terrence Brown (6-1, 178) is the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield, but there's plenty of depth there, as well, with Ed Reynolds (6-2, 207), Jordan Richards (5-11, 208) and Barry Browning (6-1, 182).
Former running back Usua Amanam (5-10, 176) will be utilized as a nickel back.
Hewitt (ankle) and senior fullback Geoff Meinken (6-4, 252) are both out for San Jose State. Meinken is expected to return mid season while Hewitt is likely to miss one more game.
In addition to Anderson, other locals at Stanford include Menlo-Atherton grad Sam Knapp (6-3, 208) and Sacred Heart Prep grads Chris Gaertner (6-1, 182) and Brian Moran (6-7, 309).
This story contains 1094 words.
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