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Stanford: Living The SEC Lifestyle

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Shayne Skov and Stanford's defense is as strong as the SEC elite, but will that be enough to take them to the national championship game? Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images.
Shayne Skov and Stanford's defense is as strong as the SEC elite, but will that be enough to take them to the national championship game? Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images.

An elite, fast, hard-hitting defense. A deep running back corps. Throw in a quarterback that can manage games, though it wouldn’t hurt if he can sling it. One might associate this description with the SEC. Yet these qualities also define Stanford.

The Cardinal look like an awkward good ol' boy at the flashy, high-scoring Pac-12 party.

Whether intentional or not, Stanford has copied the SEC elite with a speedy, blue-collar defense. Co-defensive coordinators Derek Mason and Vic Fangio had four of their starters listed on Phil Steele’s Preseason All-American list (Ed Reynolds, Trent Murphey, Shayne Skov, and Jordan Richards) and eight on the All-Pac-12 team (those listed above, Henry Anderson, Ben Gardner, A.J. Tarpley and Alex Carter).

I would go as far as saying that this year’s defense is the deepest it has been in the last decade, especially considering they only graduated two starters last year. It also doesn’t hurt that the current starters on the inside can out-run you, smack you and drop you all in one down.

Ed Reynolds is a top-three safety in the country and a future first-round pick. If Reynolds were Batman, then Richards is … Bane, except they joined forces. Comic books aside, these two sophomore safeties combined for nine interceptions in 2012 and Richards is only a true sophomore.

The linebacker rotation is as dynamic as ever with the trio of Murphey, Skov and Tarpley. Their depth makes the 4-3 scheme so effective. They can have all their best players on the field. This linebacker corps is the country’s finest, Skov being the defensive MVP and a top-five backer in the nation.

Standout defensive linemen like Gardner and Anderson allow so much freedom for the linebackers. Gardner’s ability to get after the passer and Anderson’s strength in taking on blockers allows the linebacker to tee up the opposition. Without huge name recognition, Stanford’s defensive line has quietly had the most sacks in the FBS (132) since 2010.

Will Stanford's defensive prowess prove effective in the Pac-12? Is it a good idea to play like an SEC team in the Pac-12?

During the SEC’s seven consecutive championships, the SEC is 9-5 against the Pac-12, winning almost two-thirds of the time. The SEC has been highly effective against everyone. Like I said, seven championships in a row.

Last year, Stanford held opposing offenses below their season scoring average in all but one game, finishing 8-2 in that scenario (losing to Washington and Notre Dame, both of which they kept well under their scoring average).

Their game plan has worked in improving their program and clinching bowl appearances. Bowl appearances are all well and good, but Stanford has been there and done that. They want a championship and this scheme has yielded, at best, one-loss seasons. No matter how much they look like an SEC team, the BCS will not rank them with the one-loss SEC teams. They will have to go undefeated to make a national championship appearance.

There’s one more thing in the fine print. Stanford was only 72nd in the nation in scoring last year. While the defenses get the hype, the SEC offenses are not too shabby. This seems to be the incongruity in my comparison.

There is no way Stanford’s offense will be as good as their defense, but it needs to hold itself to an elite standard — Top 25, perhaps. While its defense is a known entity, the offense is best known for their blockers. The skill position players need to step up, make plays and put points on the board. Otherwise, this team will have flashbacks of the Notre Dame and Washington games, where they scored 13 points.

Stanford believes it is a championship contender, and they could prove the doubters wrong. But they will have to do it by scoring touchdowns, not just stopping them.