Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
1. Four years = bona fide
Until otherwise noted, Stanford is a part of college football's ruling class, and none of the Pac-12's up-and-comers is there yet.
That would work pretty well as the last sentence of this preview, but I wanted to get it out of the way up front.
The Cardinal have some name-brand pieces to replace in 2014: running back Tyler Gaffney, three all-conference offensive linemen, linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, defensive end Josh Mauro, defensive backs Ed Reynolds and Usua Amanam, and of course defensive coordinator Derek Mason. They made a huge difference in Stanford's second straight Pac-12 title run, in the Cardinal's ability to turn the "Oregon owns Stanford" narrative into "Stanford owns Oregon" over the course of about 13 months.
Considering this is a program that recruits plenty of star athletes but doesn't necessarily sign as many of them as college football's other national powers, it might be tempting to knock David Shaw's squad down a couple of pegs in 2014, at least temporarily. Don't.
We're buzzing about UCLA's potential this year. I called USC a possible top-10 squad in the Trojans' recent preview. Washington's likely to stick in the top 20 again. Oregon's still Oregon no matter how jarring that Arizona game was last year. The top tier of the Pac-12 is simply loaded. But it was loaded last year, too, and Stanford still won the conference.
In the last four years, Stanford has had to replace Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck, Chase Thomas, great tight ends, great offensive linemen, etc. And in the last four years, the Cardinal have ranked sixth, seventh, 11th and third, respectively, in the F/+ rankings. And in that "down" year, in which they finished all the way down at 11th, they finished 12-2, won the Pac-12, and won the Rose Bowl. And they followed that up with their best overall performance yet.
That said, like everybody else (sans maybe Florida State), Stanford does still have questions to answer, and the questions strike at the Cardinal's identity. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is approaching his third year as starting quarterback, and he's got three explosive deep threats in his back pocket. And even without Reynolds and Amanam, the secondary returns one of college football's better cornerback duos and an excellent strong safety. But the offensive line and running back positions are going to be far less experienced, and the defense has to return a lot of players who dominated near the line of scrimmage.
Stanford's identity, as much as anything, has been based on pushing you around with its run game and preventing you from doing the same. There are plenty of blue-chippers in the mix, but can the Cardinal avoid any sort of regression in these areas? The answer might make the difference between a top-three finish and a top-12 finish in the national rankings.
Not long ago, I was asserting with great confidence that teams like Boise State and TCU had established themselves in the sport's top tier. And they absolutely had ... until they hadn't anymore. But once you've survived key graduations and staff changes and continued an elite level of play, you get the benefit of the doubt until you prove you don't deserve it.
Stanford gets it. Challengers can come at the Cardinal. For now, the Cardinal are still on a higher level.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-3 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 3|
Opp. F/+ Rk
|Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|7-Sep||San Jose State||74||34-13||W||29.4 - 17.6||W|
|14-Sep||at Army||100||34-20||W||33.3 - 20.5||W|
|21-Sep||Arizona State||13||42-28||W||37.3 - 21.9||W|
|28-Sep||vs. Washington State||53||55-17||W||45.0 - 21.6||W|
|5-Oct||Washington||18||31-28||W||25.2 - 24.8||W||12.7|
|12-Oct||at Utah||31||21-27||L||36.8 - 32.3||W||11.3|
|19-Oct||UCLA||15||24-10||W||35.9 - 14.1||W||13.1|
|26-Oct||at Oregon State||42||20-12||W||23.1 - 14.4||W||11.7|
|7-Nov||Oregon||5||26-20||W||35.6 - 17.2||W||10.7|
|16-Nov||at USC||11||17-20||L||35.1 - 20.8||W||13.5|
|23-Nov||California||103||63-13||W||35.3 - 25.7||W||14.6|
|30-Nov||Notre Dame||26||27-20||W||39.9 - 18.8||W||14.4|
|7-Dec||at Arizona State||13||38-14||W||44.2 - 17.5||W||18.0|
|1-Jan||vs. Michigan State||6||20-24||L||31.4 - 27.4||W||15.1|
|Points Per Game||32.3||45||19.0||10|
|Adj. Points Per Game||34.8||22||21.0||11|
2. Seven top-18 opponents
In 2013, Stanford's schedule was as hard as SEC teams always say their schedules are.
According to the F/+ rankings, the Cardinal played the No. 5 team (at home), No. 6 (neutral), No. 11 (road), No. 13 (home), No. 13 again (road), No. 15 (home), No. 18 (home), No. 26 (home), and No. 31 (road) teams in the country. They played 10 games against bowl-eligible teams and an 11th against a Utah team that probably would have been bowl eligible if not for a quarterback injury. Their schedule was absurdly tough; that's how you can lose three games (by a combined 13 points, and with poor turnovers luck) and stil finish third in the F/+ rankings yourself.
That said, the Cardinal did suffer an ill-timed stint of lesser form on the offensive side of the ball.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Stanford 36.3, Opponent 20.4 (plus-15.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Stanford 31.3, Opponent 20.6 (plus-10.7)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Stanford 37.2, Opponent 22.0 (plus-15.2)
During the five games from October 12 to November 16, Stanford did beat both UCLA and Oregon, so it's not like the form was outright bad. But they slipped up on the road to Utah and USC and looked less than amazing at Oregon State.
Maybe that was because their focus was on the Bruins and Ducks. Maybe fatigue was already setting in a bit after so many marquee games -- they had already played two top-20 teams among the first five contests. Maybe Tyler Gaffney's legs were tired. Whatever the reason, it happened. Kevin Hogan got a little loose with the football (against Utah, OSU, and USC: 53 percent completion rate, one TD, two INTs), the running game had a couple of iffy weeks, and Stanford's offense failed just enough to drop two tight games.
And then the Cardinals rallied and won the Pac-12 anyway.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.7%||50||Succ. Rt. +||116.4||15|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||26.5||7||Def. FP+||107.5||3|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||68||Redzone S&P+||101.7||54|
|Q1 Rk||3||1st Down Rk||55|
|Q2 Rk||30||2nd Down Rk||12|
|Q3 Rk||18||3rd Down Rk||2|
3. Not quite what you expect
As much as we want to fit teams into a neat little box, it doesn't always work that way. Stanford's identity is pretty much established: the Cardinal are going to run and run and run, they're going to lull you to sleep until you get wrong-footed, and they're going to burn you on play-action. You know how every game at the Rose Bowl is green and vivid and looks like it's being filmed in the 1980s? Stanford's offense is straight out of the 1980s, too.
Weird nerd overlords
Weird nerd overlords
Still, in 2013, the Cardinal were a bit surprising from a statistical perspective, and not necessarily in a good way. For one thing, they were wholly mediocre at closing out drives. Rushing teams have the reputation for being good near the goal line, but they averaged only 4.3 points per trip inside the opponent's 40-yard line.
Asking your kickers to attempt 26 field goals is fine if you've got a top-five defense, but it severely decreases your margin for error. Just think back to the Oregon game: the story was that Stanford completely dominated that game, but the Cardinal had to settle for five field goals (they made four), and thanks to that, they struggled to put the game away and only won by six points. Always be closing. Despite appearances, Stanford really couldn't last year.
You would also expect this power offense to get better as a half progresses and the other defense's legs grow weary. That wasn't the case for Stanford. The Cardinal ranked third in first-quarter S&P+ and 18th in the third quarter, but 30th in the second quarter and 28th in the fourth. They were never bad, but opponents appeared to adjust and stiffen as a half wore on.
One more: Stanford's biggest strength was its ability to bail itself out on passing downs. The Cardinal ranked only 29th on standard downs but eighth on passing downs. Quarterback/dork Kevin Hogan was asked to throw a lot of passes in passer-unfriendly situations, and as it turned out, he was pretty good at it. On third-and-7+, for instance, he was 27-for-44 for 526 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. When Stanford was trailing, he was 30-for-47 for 349 yards, three scores, and no picks. He had some sketchy moments, especially against USC, but for the year as a whole, he and his receivers were able to overcome the fact that Stanford was only good, not great, at establishing its identity.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Kevin Hogan||6'4, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||180||295||2635||20||10||61.0%||13||4.2%||8.3|
|Evan Crower||6'5, 214||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||10||15||141||1||0||66.7%||1||6.3%||8.6|
|Ryan Burns||6'5, 219||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Keller Chryst||6'5, 228||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Kevin Hogan||QB||6'4, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||70||439||2||6.3||4.1||54.3%|
|Remound Wright||RB||5'9, 204||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||20||102||1||5.1||8.6||30.0%|
|Kelsey Young||WR||5'10, 195||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||14||110||1||7.9||7.9||57.1%|
|Ty Montgomery||WR||6'2, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||159||2||12.2||9.8||69.2%|
|Ricky Seale||RB||5'9, 202||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||40||0||3.6||5.6||18.2%|
|Dallas Lloyd||QB||6'3, 212||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||6||26||0||4.3||3.6||66.7%|
|Barry Sanders||RB||5'10, 192||So.||4 stars (5.8)||5||42||1||8.4||5.8||60.0%|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||6'0, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Ty Montgomery||WR||6'2, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||98||61||958||62.2%||33.4%||55.3%||9.8||207||9.8||169.5|
|Devon Cajuste||WR||6'4, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||45||28||642||62.2%||15.4%||55.8%||14.3||297||13.1||113.6|
|Michael Rector||WR||6'1, 187||So.||3 stars (5.5)||27||14||431||51.9%||9.2%||60.0%||16.0||241||16.3||76.2|
|Jordan Pratt||WR||6'3, 213||Jr.||NR||16||12||148||75.0%||5.5%||53.8%||9.3||13||8.7||26.2|
|Barry Sanders||RB||5'10, 192||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||6||4||36||66.7%||2.0%||50.0%||6.0||-12||5.9||6.4|
|Kelsey Young||WR||5'10, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||6||3||37||50.0%||2.0%||66.7%||6.2||-5||0.1||6.5|
|Jeff Trojan||WR||6'3, 195||Sr.||NR||6||6||39||100.0%||2.0%||60.0%||6.5||-21||6.1||6.9|
|Charlie Hopkins||TE||6'6, 262||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||5||2||10||40.0%||1.7%||60.0%||2.0||-22||2.1||1.8|
|Francis Owusu||WR||6'3, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||5||2||56||40.0%||1.7%||N/A||11.2||24||0.0||9.9|
|Austin Hooper||TE||6'4, 254||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Eric Cotton||TE||6'6, 242||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Greg Taboada||TE||6'5, 231||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Dalton Schultz||TE||6'6, 240||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
4. Who needs tight ends?
That Stanford wasn't actually amazing running the ball is, strangely, one reason for optimism in 2014.
In this way, losing Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson wasn't crippling -- they were powerful and relatively efficient (well, Gaffney was, anyway), but their production was replaceable, especially considering what Stanford has in the pipeline: four former four-star running backs, three of whom combined to average 5.1 yards per carry in about three carries per game last year. We have no idea how Remound Wright, for instance, might handle some enormous load of carries, but Stanford has options in case of injury. Wright has waited his turn, as have fellow senior Ricky Seale and redshirt sophomore Barry Sanders. Stanford has enough options here that I can't even pretend to worry about the running back position.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal have perhaps the most explosive trio of receivers in the country. (Yes, Stanford. Not Baylor, not Texas A&M, not Oregon, not Florida State. Stanford.) Ty Montgomery was the breakout star of 2013, but while he was serving as the new No. 1 target, his No. 2 and No. 3 were doing even more damage. The trio of Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, and Michael Rector combined for 2,031 receiving yards at an obscene clip of 11.9 yards per target. And as mentioned above, these yards didn't all come on wide-open play action passes. These guys got open when they needed to, and Kevin Hogan was able to connect with them in key situations.
And while we're talking about the ways in which Stanford defied its own stereotypes in 2013 ... notice I didn't mention tight ends at all in that last paragraph. Last year's leading tight ends, Luke Kaumatule and Charlie Hopkins, combined to catch five of 11 balls for 26 yards. At Stanford! We can point to this as a sign of weakness, and we can point to this year's tight end crop (basically all redshirt freshmen) as the same.
But Stanford had one of the nation's most underrated passing games and ranked third in the country overall without much help from tight ends beyond blocking. They can probably do it again in 2014.
|David Yankey||LG||40||Consensus All-American, 1st All-Pac-12|
|Cameron Fleming||RT||39||2nd All-Pac-12|
|Khalil Wilkes||C||27||2nd All-Pac-12|
|Andrus Peat||LT||6'7, 312||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||14||2nd All-Pac-12|
|Joshua Garnett||LG||6'5, 316||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||2|
|Kyle Murphy||RT||6'7, 295||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0|
|Johnny Caspers||RG||6'4, 301||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Brendon Austin||RT||6'6, 304||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Graham Shuler||C||6'4, 282||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Nick Davidson||LT||6'7, 289||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Kevin Reihner||C||6'4, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|David Bright||OT||6'5, 293||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Thomas Oser||C||6'5, 302||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Casey Tucker||OT||6'6, 295||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
5. Recruiting rankings better matter
It's a funny thing to say about a team that doesn't pull in the high recruiting rankings of other national powers, but here we are: Stanford's 2014 success depends in part on recruiting rankings being predictive. If Cardinal linemen live up to their blue-chip hype, the Cardinal offense will be just fine.
Stanford started the same five players for all but one game last season, and four of those five are now gone. That includes All-American guard David Yankey and all-conference performers Cameron Fleming and Khalil Wilkes. Former five-star tackle Andrus Peat was the only first-time starter last year, and he did just fine; now it's time for fellow blue-chip juniors Josh Garrett and Kyle Murphy to do the same.
Stanford is known for having one of the most competitive cultures around, and in that sense the fact that the Cardinal have six juniors in the mix, all of whom were given either four- or five-star ratings out of high school, is probably a sign that there won't be much of a drop-off here. But while there is a proven quarterback and receiving corps in Palo Alto, the line still bears the burden of proof.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.0%||31||Succ. Rt. +||115.4||16|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.4||18||Off. FP+||107.6||3|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.7||19||Redzone S&P+||108.6||30|
|Q1 Rk||9||1st Down Rk||4|
|Q2 Rk||7||2nd Down Rk||33|
|Q3 Rk||12||3rd Down Rk||4|
6. Opponents knew to (try to) pass
If you were going to get anywhere on the Stanford defense, it was probably via the pass. Now, that could be a bit misleading -- you probably weren't going to get anywhere on Stanford no matter what. But while the pass defense was usually good, the run defense was pretty much always good.
You see the results in the chart above. Opponents threw the ball more than 50 percent of the time on standard downs, while the national average hovered around 41 percent. And despite a killer pass rush, opponents threw the ball more than 70 percent of the time on passing downs as well. (Yes, there were some pass-happy teams on the schedule -- there were also Army, Oregon, and Michigan State.) Part of this had to do with the score of the game, but only part; the above stats filter out garbage time. Even when the game was really close, opponents decided the pass was the way to go.
It will be interesting to see how much this changes in 2014. With corners Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter back, it's still going to be difficult to throw on Stanford, even if the pass rush regresses a bit. But with big David Parry and Henry Anderson returning on the line, along with inside linebackers A.J. Tarpley and Joe Hemschoot, end Blake Lueders and a wealth of juniors, the run defense might actually be a step ahead this year. Will that alter opponents' approach?
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Blake Lueders||DE||6'5, 260||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||14||18.0||2.3%||5.0||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|David Parry||DT||6'2, 303||Sr.||NR||14||17.0||2.1%||5.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Henry Anderson||DE||6'6, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||8||14.0||1.8%||4.0||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Aziz Shittu||DE||6'3, 280||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||10||3.5||0.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Anthony Hayes||DT||6'3, 293||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Luke Kaumatule||DE||6'7, 267||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jordan Watkins||DE||6'5, 275||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Nate Lohn||DT||6'3, 272||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Ikenna Nwafor||DE||6'6, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Solomon Thomas||DE||6'3, 255||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|A.J. Tarpley||ILB||6'2, 238||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||72.5||9.2%||5.0||1.0||1||3||1||0|
|James Vaughters||OLB||6'2, 254||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||14||28.0||3.5%||6.0||4.0||0||0||1||0|
|Joe Hemschoot||ILB||6'1, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||22.0||2.8%||2.0||1.0||1||1||0||0|
|Kevin Anderson||OLB||6'4, 244||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||17.5||2.2%||6.0||1.5||1||1||0||0|
|Blake Martinez||ILB||6'2, 234||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||9.0||1.1%||0.0||0.0||1||0||1||0|
|Noor Davis||ILB||6'4, 235||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||3||4.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Peter Kalambayi||OLB||6'3, 236||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Mike Tyler||OLB||6'5, 219||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Joey Alfieri||ILB||6'3, 230||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Bobby Okereke||ILB||6'3, 215||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
7. Wanted: play-makers
Stanford will be sturdy and experienced in its front seven. Of that, there is little doubt. But the Cardinal have finished in the national top five for tackles for loss in each of the last two seasons. They were a solid 20th in the Havoc rating you see above (percentage of plays with either a tackle for loss, forced fumble, or pass defensed). They were immovable, sure, but they were also capable of taking your head off.
Knowing how good Stanford has been at attacking, it's worth pointing out four players logged more than 6.0 tackles for loss last year -- Josh Mauro, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, and Ben Gardner (combined: 56.5 TFLs, more than 12 FBS teams) -- and all four are gone. New play-makers could emerge; in fact, they probably will. But the bar is set awfully high, and any slip-up could result in a few more points allowed here and there, not to mention a few more field position losses.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Wayne Lyons||CB||6'1, 196||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||14||55.0||6.9%||4.5||0||2||2||2||0|
|Jordan Richards||SS||5'11, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||54.0||6.8%||4||0||3||3||1||0|
|Alex Carter||CB||6'0, 200||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||13||48.0||6.1%||1||0||1||8||0||0|
|Ronnie Harris||CB||5'10, 174||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||18.0||2.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyle Olugbode||FS||6'1, 205||Sr.||NR||14||9.5||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Hoffpauir||SS||6'0, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10||9.0||1.1%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Ra'Chard Pippens||CB||6'2, 202||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Kodi Whitfield||FS||6'2, 196||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Dallas Lloyd||FS||6'3, 212||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Taijuan Thomas||CB||5'10, 171||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Brandon Simmons||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
8. Star power and depth issues?
In Lyons and Carter, Stanford has two former four-star recruits who have lived up to their billing. And in senior strong safety Jordan Richards, the Cardinal have a steadying force and underrated play-maker. But you need more than three good defensive backs to thrive when opponents are attempting to exploit the pass (especially if the pass rush regresses), and at the very least, the depth chart has been thinned of experience.
Ed Reynolds went pro, and Usua Amanam, an underrated scrapper at nickel back who allowed Stanford to go small-and-fast when it needed to (with no drop-off near the line of scrimmage), graduated. Backups Devon Carrington and Barry Browning are gone, as well. There are few knowns after the big three.
In all, there are some potential cracks in the Stanford defense; they aren't chasms, mind you, and this is still probably a top-15 defense. But let's just say that the offense might want to finish drives a little better this year than last. The defense might not be able to bail it out quite as often.
|Ben Rhyne||6'2, 203||Sr.||52||42.9||2||13||15||53.8%|
|Jordan Williamson||5'11, 194||Sr.||46||64.2||25||1||54.3%|
|Conrad Ukropina||6'1, 185||So.||42||60.5||4||1||9.5%|
|Jordan Williamson||5'11, 194||Sr.||43-44||15-16||93.8%||3-6||50.0%|
|Conrad Ukropina||6'1, 185||So||11-12||2-3||66.7%||0-1||0.0%|
|Ty Montgomery||KR||6'2, 215||Sr.||36||30.3||2|
|Kodi Whitfield||PR||6'2, 196||Jr.||9||4.4||0|
|Barry Sanders||PR||5'10, 192||So.||7||10.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||2|
|Field Goal Efficiency||82|
|Punt Return Efficiency||29|
|Kick Return Efficiency||1|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||117|
9. Making the most of special teams
The kickers were pretty much automatic inside of 40 yards. Kickoff coverage was masterful. Punt returns were solid. Oh, and Ty Montgomery was the best kick returner in the country.
Special teams only accounts for about 10-15 percent of a game's outcome, but when you're playing so many great teams, that 10-15 percent can suddenly make a huge difference. It did in 2013, and basically everybody from this unit returns in 2014.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|4-Oct||at Notre Dame||25|
|18-Oct||at Arizona State||21|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||27.8% (3)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||39|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||0 / 6.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (5, 7)|
10. What a road slate
Once a program achieves unexpected heights, we find ourselves in a race to be the first ones to predict its downfall. After Stanford's 2012 conference title, we just knew that it was Oregon's turn to take the crown back in 2013. This year, we just know that it's Oregon's turn again (I'm pretty sure I'm going to say just that on Monday), and we just know that UCLA might be making the Pac-12's Big Two a Big Three.
But Stanford's still the king until proven otherwise. We probably shouldn't forget that.
That said ... wow, what a road slate. Last year, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon all came to Palo Alto. This time, the roles are reversed. Trips to Tempe, Pasadena, Seattle, and Eugene loom, and while Stanford won its last trip to three of those four locales (the only slip: 17-13 at Washington early in 2012, when the Cardinal were not yet rolling), this looks like another situation where, if Stanford wins the North division, it's with a 7-2 record. A top-five team might only go 2-2 in those four games.
Stanford has proven play-makers at receiver and defensive back, a veteran quarterback, and plenty of high-end potential at running back and offensive line and on the defensive front seven. The Cardinal are going to be just fine. The schedule is brutal again, but one gets the impression that David Shaw wouldn't want it any other way.