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Stanford Week Q/A With The Bootleg

Time for a quick lesson on the Stanford Cardinal.

Time for these bitter rivals to battle it out one more time.
Time for these bitter rivals to battle it out one more time.
Jeff Gross

In order to get more details on all-things Stanford, we chatted with Mark Devaughn of Scout.com's Stanford Blog: The Bootleg. Devaughn breaks down how Stanford has been successful over the years, what the game plan will be for future success and what type of an impact the home crowd will have on the Weekender.

1) Stanford has taken massive steps over the last five years to win conference championships and also as a major force in recruiting. How impressive has David Shaw been, and his whole staff in general, luring top California prospects?

Shaw, like his predecessors, casts a wide net across the country to attract what is still a pretty shallow pool of quality players who qualify academically.

While there isn’t a huge influx of them, I think more top-flight California recruits took notice once Harbaugh turned things around. Anthony Wilkerson (Tustin High) had a nice career after turning down Boise State, UCLA and Washington. Francis Owusu (Harvard-Westlake) could carry on the legacy of older brother Chris. These guys would have gone elsewhere in years past. Tight end Austin Hooper (De La Salle) stayed close to home and is already starting as a redshirt freshman.

You have to go back 25 years to find an impact player from that school in the Cardinal lineup. It’s still a long way from’70s and ’80s, when California products (most notably Tony Hill, James Lofton, Darrin Nelson, John Elway and Brad Muster) compiled a huge chunk of the roster. You’re just not going to see that again, but the presence of highly rated recruits from our state is a good indicator of the program’s success.

2) The Cardinal seem to finally have the vertical threats to go alongside Ty Montgomery in the passing game. Given the increase in weapons, will Stanford be more willing to test USC's defense deep in the passing game?

I envision Stanford mixing intermediate routes with the deep ball, looking to keep Cody Kessler and Co. off the field while continuing a revival that occurred against Davis. Hooper caught four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in his debut, a welcome sight considering how little the team’s tight ends contributed last year (10 catches 69 yards, zero touchdowns).

The vertical threat you mention will benefit from Montgomery and the return of Devon Cajuste (642 yards, 22.9 yards per catch in 2013), who sat out the opener for a violation of team rules. This group won’t meet its potential unless Kevin Hogan stays upright. A refurbished offensive line – four new starters join star left tackle Andrus Peat – has a tall order against USC.

3) Given the fact that Stanford has seven (projected) games against ranked opponents, how important is it for this team to make a statement in their first true test of the season?

While a game the week of Labor Day isn’t going to define the season, it’s still a huge deal. Nobody decides the direction of the Cardinal’s season more than ’SC.

Last year marked the first time Stanford made the Rose Bowl the same year it lost to USC, so you can’t underestimate this game’s importance. And then there’s that schedule. Some hope springs from the 2012 campaign, when the Cardinal survived a gauntlet of road trips to Seattle, South Bend, Eugene and Pasadena to win the conference.

This year brings a new set of challenges to go along with that same slate of away games. That new o-line will face its first big road test at Husky Stadium, where Stanford has won only three times since Saturday Night Live came on the air. A loss to USC only makes those tasks more daunting.

4) We know that USC will be bringing plenty of fans up to the Farm but do you feel that Stanford's fan base can be represented well enough -- and also loud enough -- to give the Cardinal a solid home-field advantage.

Stanford fans are filling the stadium like never before, and the 2012 game is a template for what they want to happen.

Despite school not being in session yet, the crowd generated a ton of noise and really represented itself late in the game. The din that erupted as USC’s final drive unraveled, or when Zach Ertz caught the touchdown, was unlike anything I’ve heard in almost 30 years seeing games there. Through the years, fans – Stanford fans, mind you – have told me to sit down and be quiet on several occasions. I once saw someone reading a book in the student section before a game.

Another time, I came across student wearing headphones listening to a portable CD player. Maybe it was the same person, I don’t know. There’s no denying the connection between the program’s resurgence and the renovated stadium. Stanford has won 17 games in a row there, meaning the nation’s longest active home winning streak will be on the line.