I was lucky enough to have a Q&A session with Go Mighty Card, a pretty solid Stanford blog. Hopefully this will give you some better insight into tomorrow's game and how Cardinal fans view the Utah football team/program.
Block U: Stanford doesn't appear to have many weaknesses, so, find one.
Go Mighty Card: If you watched last week's game against Washington, you'd definitely say that the Stanford offense is a weakness, even though this is a group that's averaged almost 40 points per game. Last week they looked sluggish and predictable, and quarterback Kevin Hogan was tentative and ineffective as he struggled through the worst start of his ten-game career. Sure, he's won all ten of those starts, but last week was a reminder that for all the progress he's made, he's still closer to the bottom of his learning curve than the top. We'll see. Beyond that, depth has become a bit of a concern for the Cardinal. While the team is definitely deeper than it has ever been, injuries are starting to mount up. Starting defensive end Henry Anderson has missed a few weeks and won't play for at least two or three more, and there are some concerns about defensive end Ben Gardner and linebacker Shayne Skov. (You might recall that Gardner and Skov were involved in the friendly conversation between David Shaw and Steve Sarkisian.)
Block U: What's the expectation for this season - do you believe the Cardinal will
legitimately contend for a national championship?
GMC: I think the Cardinal is already contending for a national championship, and the best part is that they've essentially take control of the match. With seven games remaining on the schedule, there are several potential pitfalls waiting for Stanford, but aside from Oregon, they'll likely be healthy favorites for the entire schedule. It's for this reason that blood pressure is running high in Nerd Nation. In years past a loss to an unranked time wouldn't really be that big of a deal, but I suffered through that Washington State game last weekend. A loss to the Cougs would've crushed any championship dreams, and that's just the way it was.
Block U: What has been the key to such a successful transition post-Andrew Luck?
GMC: As great as Andrew Luck was, he was never the entire show. When he left, a wave of talented recruits had already begun to make their presence felt in Palo Alto, and now we're seeing the result of of four consecutive excellent recruiting classes. Luck played his last game for the Cardinal in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl and many college football pundits predicted an immediate falloff for Stanford. Instead, the team only got better. The 2012 and '13 squads have been better than any of the three teams that Luck quarterbacked. Perhaps the most overlooked factor in all this is the presence of David Shaw. If Jim Harbaugh was the perfect individual to lead Stanford out of the wilderness, then Shaw is perhaps the ideal coach to lead them to the Promised Land. Harbaugh had to change the hearts and minds of the locker room, the fan base, and even the athletic department, and his enormous personality completely changed the perception of Stanford football. Shaw, meanwhile, possesses a much more even-keeled demeanor, and his offensive and defensive philosophies have allowed the team to do more than maintain the level of excellence established under Harbaugh; they've exceeded it. A national championship would seem to be the next step.
Block U: Stanford has yet to play Utah since joining the Pac-12, how do, in general, your fans view the program and this game?
GMC: I think most Stanford fans were excited about the Pac-12 expansion, and even those who weren't have had enough time to adjust, and everyone seems to be excited about the Cardinal's first matchup with the Utes as Pac-12 rivals. Strictly from a football perspective, Utah would seem to be a perfect fit for the Pac-12. They aren't too far removed from that perfect season of 2008, and they've piled up a lot of wins in the five years since then. Also, Stanford has historically recruited well in Utah, so it definitely won't hurt to be playing games in Utah every year or two. (Stanford has also recently agreed to a series of games with BYU. We promise to beat them badly for you.)
Block U: Who do you see as being a major game changer for Saturday's game?
GMC: I think the game changer will be Kevin Hogan. I know we talked about him earlier, but when he's been good, the Stanford offense has been unstoppable. Also, watch junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery. He struggled last season after a breakout freshman campaign, but he had definitely put all that behind him. Montgomery earned Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors following his performance against Washington as he scored on a 99-yard return of the game's opening kick off and took another one back 73 yards in the third quarter. Oh, and he also caught a long touchdown and carried the ball a couple times on sweeps. He's getting better each week, and the development has been fun to watch. On defense, there are the names that people know (Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner, Ed Reynolds), but you should also watch out for sophomore Alex Carter, who is developing into a shutdown corner, and linebacker James Vaughters. Vaughters has the size and speed of a freight train, which is a bad combination if you're an opposing quarterback.
Block U: Stanford is 'only' a nine-point favorite. Did you anticipate the line would be bigger?
GMC: The folks in Vegas know what they're doing. Even though they are undefeated, Stanford has only covered the spread once this season, and I'm sure the wise guys at Caesar's Palace have noticed this. The biggest thing working against those who would like to take the Cardinal and give the points is David Shaw. He plays things close to the vest and will often pull his starters surprisingly early once his Cardinal have grabbed their commanding lead.
Block U: Does this game make you nervous at all?
GMC: Every game makes me nervous. Every single one. Even so, I've got a prediction: Stanford 48, Rogers 28
I don't know what the hell 'Rogers' means, but thanks to Hank for answering some questions. Hopefully his prediction is wrong (I think it'll be a lot closer than he does, but that's just me).