Stanford football coach David Shaw is done talking about expectations.
"Last year we were supposed to be terrible, the year before that we were supposed to be good and the year before that we were supposed to be terrible," Shaw said. "So for us, the preseason rankings don't matter."
And while the next college football coach to publicly state the contrary would likely be the first, Stanford's track record gives Shaw even more reason not to buy the hype or lack thereof.
Despite the varied expectations he alluded to in those three seasons, each was capped with a trip to a Bowl Championship Series game, making Stanford one of just three programs to have played in BCS bowls the last three years. The other two, Oregon and Wisconsin, saw their head coaches depart for bigger paychecks in the offseason -- Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles and Bret Bielema to Arkansas
After overcoming the perception that the team would be "terrible" to win the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl last season behind freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, the Internet hype machine is again high on the Cardinal. A fixture in the fictitious Top-5s, the Sporting News ranks Stanford No. 2, CBSSports.com No. 4 and ESPN.com No. 5.
It's for good reason:
-- Stanford returns one of the best offensive lines in college football. LG David Yankey leads an impressive group high on talent and long on depth. Sophomore LT Andrus Peat appears destined for a long NFL career, while RT Cameron Fleming was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year go.
-- The team lost all-time leading rusher Stepfan Taylor, a fourth-round pick by Arizona, but returns Tyler Gaffney, who didn't play last season while he pursued a professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2011, Gaffney ran for 449 yards and seven touchdowns. He is expected to share carries with talented senior Anthony Wilkerson, who has been stuck behind Taylor on the depth chart for three years. Barry J. Sanders was highly touted coming out of Oklahoma two years ago and is also expected to fight for carries after redshirting last season.
-- After passing Josh Nunes on the depth chart midway through last season, Hogan instantly breathed life into the Stanford offense which had struggled with bouts of inconsistency. In guiding Stanford to the Pac-12 title, he accomplished something that Andrew Luck never did. In winning the Rose Bowl, he did something no Stanford quarterback had done since the team dropped its Indians mascot in 1972.
A dual-threat player, Shaw is excited to see where Hogan can improve.
"For me, it's truly mastering the offense and controlling it from the QB position," Shaw said. "He did very good at the end of last year, but I would love to give him more to do. He's' ready for it."
-- Defensively, Stanford replaces just three starters and has a handful of players with All-American potential. OLB Trent Murphy was a CBSSports.com second-team All-American last season and could turn another big season into a ticket to the first round of the NFL Draft. Next to him, ILB Shayne Skov is looking to return to 2010 form, when he too was considered a top-flight NFL prospect. Skov tore his ACL in 2011 and only showed flashes of his old self coming off the injury last year.
"I wasn't there quite yet last year," Skov said. "Now i feel like I'm ready."
In addition to his mandated workouts, Skov has taken to yoga to help with flexibility.
Most of the coaching staff returns intact, but there is one major change with the departure of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who left for the same job coaching Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts. In steps Mike Bloomgren, who had served as the team's run-game coordinator and will remain the offensive line coach.
It's a move that Shaw has long seen coming.
"It was a decision that I told him about when I hired him (before the 2011 season)," Shaw said. "Pep Hamilton I strongly believed that he was either going to be an NFL coordinator or a college head coach or eventually an NFL head coach and I was hiring him for when Pep moved on to be my next coordinator."
Unlike Hamilton, Bloomgreen will call plays from the sideline, which will allow him to communicate better with the offensive linemen. Mike Sanford, who moved from running backs coach to quarterbacks and receivers, will spend game days in the booth alongside tight ends coach Morgan Turner, who had served as an offensive assistant the last two years.
Stanford opens the season Sept. 7 at home against San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy Game.