Stanford QB Josh Nunes (photo courtesy The Big Lead)

Several key players from Stanford’s magical 2011 season have since made their way past the farm in Palo Alto and onto the NFL. Names like Coby Fleener, Griff Walen, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin will all be donning the jerseys of professional football teams this year, leaving a rather large void in what was an elite Cardinal team last year.

Am I forgetting someone? Oh yeah, that Andrew Luck guy. He wasn’t too bad, either.

Life must go on, as Stanford’s season kicks off this Friday against the San Jose State Spartans. Here are a few bits and pieces to digest while you prepare for the return of college ball in the Bay Area:

— Despite losing Luck to the Colts, Stanford still comes into the 2012 NCAA season as the No. 17 team in the nation, at least according to Sports Illustrated. They sit behind #2 USC and #4 Oregon (which I’m sure Joey “Bay Area Duck Guy” McMurry is happy about) in the Pac-12. If Stanford wants to win the division and compete for a Rose Bowl, they face an uphill battle with Matt Barkley’s Trojans and Chip Kelly’s up-tempo Ducks.

— Their preseason ranking isn’t surprising; Stanford has six returning starters on offense and seven on defense. Those back include running back Stepfan Taylor, tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, defensive end Ben Gardner and linebacker Chase Thomas.

— Even with a quarterback like Luck, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton still ran a pro-style, run-first offense in 2011. With a rushing talent like Taylor (whose 30 career touchdowns ranks first among Pac-12 returnees), six incoming O-linemen in the new class rated as four-star prospects or better, and newly named starting quarterback Josh Nunes only attempting two passes at the college level, expect to see more of the same from Stanford’s offense this season.

— Speaking of Nunes, Coach Shaw referenced consistency when explaining his decision to start the redshirt junior over Brett Nottingham. “Josh has been the most consistent,” Shaw said, “It’s not just about throwing the ball. We need to be able to change plays at the line of scrimmage … He can make all the throws he needs to. Josh can throw it 60 to 65 yards. But in a football game, you only need to be able to throw it 40 to 45 yards.”

— Defensively, the Cardinal will welcome back stand out linebacker Shayne Skov after recovering from a season ending knee injury early in the 2011. However, Skov won’t be available against the Spartans on Friday due to a one-game suspension for a DUI arrest in January. Is he still the same playmaking linebacker that he was before his surgery? “He looks like the old Shayne,” Shaw said. “Maybe not quite explosive as before, but he looks good.”

— Stanford’s Friday night match up with San Jose State – affectionately named “The Bill Walsh Legacy game” – kicks off 7 PM Friday at Stanford Stadium.