10-3, 6-3 in Conference
Key Wins: USC
Key Losses: Washington, Washington State, Colorado
Death, taxes, and Stanford Football: these have been universal constants for the last seven years. 2016 was considered a down year by the Cardinal’s standards going 10-3 and only appearing in the Sun Bowl. Despite having the 84th highest points per game (26.4 ppg), they coupled it with the 18th best defense (20.4 points allowed per game). A combination of Washington’s “Hello World” season and Christian McCaffrey’s injuries led to a slow start. Shaw showed his mettle by ironing out the issues and ending the year strong.
Ever since the Pac-12 was formed, it has been the Oregon and Stanford show. If one finished #1, the other finished second and typically appeared in a BCS bowl. 2016 sang a different tune where Oregon finished last in the North and Stanford finished third after losing to the Huskies and the Cougs. The Cardinal should not be worried, though, as they have the habit of reloading with oodles of talent each and every season. This review might not be as compehensive as the other teams but that is not for a lack of expectation. Quite the opposite, Stanford should reload and remain at the top of the favorites for the Pac-12.
Head Coach: David Shaw
Jim Harbaugh was the architect of this Stanford program. He carried the same philosophy to the San Francisco 49ers with similar success and has since moved to Michigan. David Shaw has maintained the success that Harbaugh established. Year in and year out Stanford recruits incredible talent at QB, RB, OL, and everywhere on the defense, this season was no different. What he may lack in personality (at least compared to Harbaugh), he completely makes up for it in anchoring the program and shielding it from any media hoopla.
The Cardinal lose its offensive identity with Christian McCaffrey going pro. While his 2016 was mired in injury, he still performed at an elite level when healthy. Behind McCaffrey’s nearly-2,000 yard season was Bryce Love at 800 yards. Love is a junior this season with two years of experience under his belt and has another season of Stanford brand talent on the offensive line. Look to him to push the Stanford offense if the QB situation doesn’t situate itself. The big question mark sits at quarterback: Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst went back and forth as the chosen starter (including one complete back and forth during the UW game). If Chryst (the presumptive starter) can build some consistency, expect the Cardinal to contend for the Pac-12 Championship.
The cornerstone of Stanford’s consistency has been their lockdown defense. In a conference that touts offensive excellence, Stanford has been one of the only programs to competently contain these high-scoring opponents. Stanford sports one of the best linebacking corps in America and, barring injury, should lead the defense to another Top 20 performance. Keep an eye on LB Joey Alfieri, S Justin Reid, CB Alameen Murphy, and MLB Sean Barton. These names, and more, will contribute to another spectacular performance.
Projected Record: 11-1
I have Stanford losing to USC in the Coliseum at night. They’ll likely meet again in the championship and I like the Cardinal’s chances. Whether or not they win the Pac-12, look for them to make a move to a New Year’s Six bowl appearance.