As you've known for a long time, the first opponent this Saturday is Stanford. Which is why the Cardinal are the subject of our first look this week. Read on for the unedited version of the piece that will appear in tomorrow's S-R.
• Here's the story …
Stanford at Washington State
Time: 3 p.m. (PDT) Saturday. TV: FSN Northwest
Last season's records: WSU (2-11, 1-8 in Pac-10); Stanford (5-7; 4-5)
Last week: Season opener for both schools
Last time: Stanford defeated WSU, 58-0, in Stanford last season.
The line: Stanford by 16.5
What it means for WSU: After all the talk of offseason gains and renewed determination, the Cougars have to show a fire on the field. Time after time last season, when the game started to slip away, WSU backed down. That can't happen in this Paul Wulff's second year. "As long as we keep driving forward," Wulff said last week, "with their mentality, stay positive and just keep improving, every day, each week, there's no question we're going to win games. We'll beat some opponents people think we shouldn't beat. I think that's definitely in the cards for this team right now."
What it means for Stanford: The Cardinal, in their third year under coach Jim Harbaugh, expect to gain a bowl berth. But the better get their six wins in their first eight games, because the final four include Oregon, at USC, Cal and Notre Dame, all losses last season. Harbaugh, speaking on a Bay Area radio show last week, professed "this is going to be a brutal football game for us. It is going to take our very best to get a win." If the Cardinal don't win, it could be a long season.
Key matchup: Stanford's offensive line vs. WSU's defensive front.
The Cardinal has yet to announce a starting group, but it's possible two redshirt freshmen could take spots held last year by All-Pac-10 tackle Ben Muth and center Alex Fletcher. The line dominated the Cougars last season – Stanford rushed for 344 yards in a pouring rain – and most of the Pac-10, propelling 6-foot-1, 237-pound running back Toby Gerhart (above) to a school single-season record 1,136 rushing yards. Tackle Chris Marinelli (6-7, 298) and guard Andrew Phillips (6-5, 299) will try to open holes for Gerhart and protect redshirt freshman Andrew Luck (6-4, 235), playing in his first collegiate game. WSU has rebuilt its defensive front seven, with new starters possible at six spots, including true freshman Travis Long (6-4, 247) at defensive end and Darren Markle (6-1, 224) at middle linebacker. Seniors Kevin Kooyman (6-6, 260), at defensive end, and Andy Mattingly (6-4, 249), at strongside linebacker, are expected to lead this young group.
• That's it for now. We'll be back in the morning with our usual post. Until then …