1996 Season Outlook
Prior to the 1995 season, there weren't many people in the college football world who gave Stanford much of a chance to be competitive. In fact, most of the so-called experts picked the Cardinal to finish dead last in the Pacific-10 Conference. No chance for a bowl game, the experts said. A rebuilding year. A new coach. A new system. It will take time.
If that is what the outside world believed, someone forgot to tell Cardinal head coach Tyrone Willingham and his team. From the first day of spring practice, Willingham preached a 12th game. "Our goal is always to play in a 12th game," he would say, referring, of course, to participation in a post-season bowl game. The true believers were few and far between, and most of them resided on the Stanford campus.
Twelve months later, Willingham can claim to have had the last laugh. Not only did he lead his '95 squad to a very impressive 7-4-1 overall record, but the Cardinal also finished fourth in the Pac-10, appeared in the national rankings for several weeks and advanced to the St. Jude Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.
And now, heading into the 1996 campaign, Willingham, who was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year, has raised the level of expectations both on and off the Farm. While his team will once again adhere to the "12th game" battle-cry, the Cardinal will also get more respect off the field. But, in order to improve on last season's seven wins, Willingham has one simple philosophy.
"For Stanford football to continue to improve each season, the players and coaches must believe that hard work and intelligence will enhance our cause - which is to be a good football team and win games. We have a chance to be a good football team this season, but we must improve in all aspects of the game in order to take the next step," Willingham said.
There is reason for optimism on The Farm. Stanford returns 14 starters in 1996, including seven on defense, six on offense, one kicker, and 35 lettermen.
The Cardinal running game has a chance to be even more productive in '96 with the return of its top four running backs, including Second-Team All-Pac-10 pick Anthony Bookman. Senior flanker Brian Manning returns to spearhead what should be a talented group of receivers.
The question at quarterback that existed last spring has reared its head once again. Like last year, the two candidates have great potential, but little to no game experience. Senior Tim Carey (one series of downs in his career) and sophomore Chad Hutchinson (redshirt as a freshman last year) will do battle for the starting nod in '96.
Defensively, junior inside linebacker Chris Draft had an outstanding season a year ago and his continued improvement will play a large role in how far the Cardinal defense can go in '96.
Junior defensive end Carl Hansen, senior free safety Josh Madsen, senior cornerback Leroy Pruitt and senior defensive tackle Pete Swanson all must rise to the occasion in 1996 if Stanford is to put together the kind of defense necessary to move up to the next level.
"As with any professional or college team in the country, we have to stay healthy for us to have a successful season," said Willingham. "If we can stay healthy, keep our focus and intensity at a high level from the first day of practice and continue to work hard and work smart, then I believe we can have a tremendous season in 1996 and realize our goals."
Below is a position-by-position rundown of the 1996 Cardinal.
You'll excuse Willingham and his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Dana Bible, if they pull from their files the same quotes they used last year at this time. While the names of one of the candidates has changed, the situation at quarterback is unfailingly similar to what transpired prior to the 1995 season opener. Last year it was fifth-year senior Mark Butterfield and junior Tim Carey - only Butterfield had game experience - doing battle. This time around, it is still Carey, now a senior with two years of eligibility remaining, competing with sophomore Chad Hutchinson, the erstwhile pitcher who redshirted his freshman season a year ago. Carey did get a chance to play last year, albeit one series of downs in a 24-3 victory over Oregon State, while Hutchinson patiently watched from the sidelines. Carey is in his fourth year at Stanford and is very familiar with a quarterback-battle. It wasn't until the Monday before the first game of the season last year that Willingham named Butterfield as his starter. Hutchinson, meanwhile, was selected in the first round of the 1995 Major League Baseball draft as a hard-throwing right-hander. He turned down a lucrative offer by the Atlanta Braves to play baseball and football at Stanford. Hutchinson, who did not participate in spring football practice, enjoyed an outstanding freshman season in baseball in 1996. He has all the tools to become an outstanding quarterback for the Cardinal this season.
The Running Backs
Perhaps the strength of the team in 1996, Stanford returns its top four running backs from last year's team that finished with 1,819 yards rushing - the ninth highest single season total in school history. The combination of Anthony Bookman and Mike Mitchell at running back and Adam Salina and Greg Comella at fullback give the Cardinal four very talented backs who compliment each other very well. Bookman, who has rushed for 1,449 yards the past two seasons, has led the Cardinal in rushing in both 1994 and '95. He gained 872 yards last year, which ranks ninth on Stanford's single season list. Bookman had four, 100-yard rushing games, including a 133-yard effort in the season opener vs. San Jose State. Mitchell, meanwhile, gained 593 yards and scored six rushing touchdowns. His 26-carry, 138-yard, two touchdown performance in the Big Game was testimony to Mitchell's potential. In Salina and Comella, Stanford can boast of two fullbacks who can run inside effectively, catch passes out of the backfield and provide excellent blocking skills. At 6-3 and 250, Salina can be a menacing force in the backfield. Comella led the team last year with nine touchdowns (five rushing, four receiving) and proved to be a great weapon inside the 20.
The Wide Receivers
Now in his fourth year, senior flanker Brian Manning enters his final season at Stanford as one of the school's all-time great receivers. He should break the school record for career receiving yardage and be among the all-time top-10 in career receiving touchdowns. Manning, who has 103 career receptions for 1,897 yards (18.4 ypr), is surrounded by a group of quality receivers who help make the receiving corps a solid area for the Cardinal in 1996. Seniors Andre Kirwan and Marlon Evans along with junior Damon Dunn are all expected to play significant roles this season. Kirwan (13-175-13.5 in 1995) will back up Manning at the flanker position while Evans (7-41-5.9 in '95) and Dunn (5-29-5.8), two of the nation's top kickoff return specialists, will battle for the starting spot at wide receiver. Others who will be in the hunt for playing time in 1996 include flankers Troy Walters and Jauron Pigg as well as wide receivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Allen, who converted from safety last spring.
The Tight Ends
Greg Clark transferred to Stanford a year ago from Ricks Junior College in Utah and immediately moved into the starting lineup. He finished the year with 23 receptions - third best on the team - for 260 yards (11.3 ypr) and two touchdowns. He has great size (6-5, 250) to go along with the athletic ability to catch the ball over the middle. He is also a tremendous blocker who can be very effective in the Cardinal's running game. Behind Clark, seniors Tommy Hanson and Derek Hubbard, who both saw playing time last year, help give Stanford three experienced tight ends.
The Offensive Line
"This is an area of concern," says Willingham. "When you lose guys of the caliber of LT Jeff Buckey (First-Team All-Pac-10 in '95), C T.J. Gaynor (three-year starter) and LG Ryan Waters, it's very difficult to replace not only their talent and experience, but the other intangibles they bring to the team," he said. Returning starters Brad Badger at right guard and Nathan Parks, who will move from right tackle to left tackle, are expected to anchor the offensive line in '96. Add junior Geoff Wilson, who started eight games at three positions last season and is penciled in as the starter at right tackle this year, and the Cardinal has three returning linemen with significant game experience. The two biggest questions marks are at center and left guard. Sophomore Mike McLaughlin, who redshirted his freshman season last year, and junior college transfer Blaine Maxfield, are the two leading candidates to replace Gaynor at center. At the left guard spot, the leading candidate is junior Andrew Kroeker, who played a reserve role last season. Junior Brian Donoghue and sophomore Matt Motherway, a redshirt last season as a freshman, will compete with Kroeker for the starting spot. Others who may contribute include left tackle Eli Burriss, right tackle Jeff Cronshagen and right guard Joe Fairchild, a converted tight end.
The Defensive Line
"The losses on the defensive line are substantial," says Willingham. "The three players we lost from last year - Jason White, John Hebert and David Carder - brought more to the team than just their play on the field." The three returning defensive linemen who must spearhead the group in 1996 include fifth-year senior tackle Pete Swanson and junior ends Carl Hansen and Kailee Wong. Hansen was among the league leaders in quarterback sacks (eight) and tackles-for-loss (10), but in order for the Cardinal to show marked improvement from a year ago, Hansen must have help in putting pressure on the quarterback and controlling the line of scrimmage. Both Wong and Swanson are experienced veterans who must take their game to another level if Stanford is to compete for national recognition. At nose tackle, junior Anthony Willis, senior Evan Wagner and sophomore Desmond Cook will battle for the top spot. Senior Bryan Werner, a two-year letterman, will back up both Wong and Hansen at defensive end. His ability to stay healthy throughout the season will be a key factor in Stanford's success on the defensive line. Sophomore tackle Andrew Currie has shown the ability to provide quality depth as has sophomore end Konti Pellegrin. Sophomore Tony Vella, who converted from tight end during the spring, is another active lineman who should be able to add quality minutes off the bench.
The Outside Linebackers
Senior Brian Batson returns as the Cardinal's starter at its one outside linebacker position. Batson has started 19 games at OLB the last three years and is the most experienced player at this position on the team. Senior Nicodemus Watts, a three-year letterwinner, has become an outstanding special teams player but his improved play at outside linebacker would be a tremendous asset to the Cardinal defense this season. Sophomore transfer Donnie Spragan, who came to Stanford this past January from UOP, was very impressive during the spring and he has put himself in position to compete for the starting spot. Sophomore Marc Stockbaur, who redshirted his freshman season last year, will also battle for playing time.
The Inside Linebackers
Junior Chris Draft opened some eyes around the Pac-10 last season and his development into a dominant player in '96 will help bolster what may be an area of strength on the defense. Draft, who doubles as an outfielder on the Cardinal baseball team, was among the league leaders with 103 tackles last season. Draft will spearhead a three-man rotation at the two inside linebacker spots which include juniors Jon Ritchie and Jon Haskins. Ritchie, a transfer from the University of Michigan who had to sit out last season, was moved from fullback to inside linebacker late last year. He has all the talent to become an outstanding defensive player and if he can adjust to his new position rapidly, the Cardinal will be stocked with three quality ILBs. Haskins has played a lot of football for Stanford the past two seasons and he, too, has the ability to become a dominant player in 1996. Sophomores Sharcus Steen, Brian Toner and Adam Cabell will also be in the hunt for playing time and should contribute in 1996.
The Defensive Backs
Three of Stanford's four starters from last year's secondary return in 1996, but the Cardinal still finds itself lacking in depth at the one open cornerback spot. Senior Leroy Pruitt returns for his third season in the starting lineup at cornerback, but replacing Kwame Ellis at the other corner position will be critical to Stanford's success in '96. Seniors Josh Madsen at free safety and Eliel Swinton at strong safety return in 1996 after coming off fine seasons a year ago. Madsen and Pruitt both finished tied for second in the Pac-10 with four interceptions apiece while starting all 12 games last season. Madsen was among the league leaders in tackles as well with 91 - third best on the team. Swinton started the final nine games in 1995 and finished fourth on the team with 66 total tackles. He is an experienced defensive back who has played all four positions in the secondary during his Cardinal career. The open cornerback spot will likely be manned by junior Corey Hill, who has played a lot of football for Stanford in nickel and dime situations the past two years, or senior Alistair White, who moved over from free safety during the spring. Junior strong safety Kadar Hamilton and senior free safety Charles Young, both of whom have spent time in the starting lineup during their careers, will fill backup roles in 1996 along with sophomores Tim Bass and Robert Latham and senior Greg Hairston. Sophomore Tim Smith, who was a redshirt freshman quarterback in 1995, was moved to wide receiver and then free safety during the spring. His ability at free safety opened some eyes during the spring and, at 6-4 and 220, he may be able to contribute immediately in 1996. Sophomore Frank Primus was moved from wide receiver to cornerback during the spring and he, too, may be able to be a contributor this season.
Eric Abrams, a First-Team All-Pac-10 pick last season and the school's all-time leading scorer, has manned the placekicking chores for Stanford the past four seasons. His departure leaves the Cardinal in search of a quality placekicker. Sophomore Patrick Shinnefield, who redshirted his freshman season a year ago, will compete with junior Kevin Miller, the Cardinal's starting punter in '95, for the starting assignment this season. Shinnefield enjoyed an outstanding prep career, but is yet untested in a Cardinal uniform. The punting duties will again fall in the hands of Miller, who averaged 37.4 yards per punt in 1995.