Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. "Bet against Stanford at your own risk"
It is sometimes staggering how quickly we jump off of bandwagons.
The NBA Playoffs are the most recent example. San Antonio kills Oklahoma City in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, and it's over. Golden State takes the first two games of the NBA Finals, and the only mystery remaining is whether Cleveland can salvage one game at home.
Fourteen games ago -- barely two weeks in a baseball season, a month in an NBA season -- Oregon was playing for the national title. From 2010-14, the Ducks went 60-8, finishing in the AP top 5 four times and finishing as national runner-up twice. They went 9-4 last fall, losing to three ranked teams and beating two more. They're barely in preseason top 25s this year.
Stanford dealt with the same thing. The Cardinal went 46-8 from 2010-13 but lost to five ranked teams in an 8-5 2014; three of the five losses were by three points. They crushed a top-10 UCLA team, and when their quarterback was reasonably healthy, they looked like your typical Stanford.
But in last year's Stanford preview, titled "Bet against Stanford at your own risk," I felt like I was taking a risk by pointing out the Cardinal could bounce back.
It's not hard to like Stanford in 2015, but it takes a little bit of faith. You have to assume that new linemen and defensive backs will be somewhere between solid and good, and you have to figure that, after a 2014 stumble, the run game and special teams units become relative strengths. It doesn't take many ifs to make the Cardinal an elite or nearly elite team again.
David Shaw's Cardinal were given a courtesy No. 21 ranking in last year's preseason AP poll. They went 12-2, won the Pac-12, and romped in the Rose Bowl.
Programs rise and fall enough for us to justify proclaiming that new days have arrived. But there's a reason why looking a team's five-year history (even if it's weighted more toward recent results) tends to make statistical projections stronger. Oregon has a track record and will likely bounce back soon; Stanford had a track record and needed only a healthy quarterback and an offseason to reassess. They didn't even need a defensive line.
Stanford will have its depth and recruiting tested in 2016 as it gears up to replace quarterback Kevin Hogan, three awesome offensive linemen, and a majority of its starting front seven. The Cardinal are projected a conservative 16th in S&P+ this year because of turnover on offense, but guess what: If they do take a backwards step, they'll probably make it up soon.
Short-term change doesn't have to be permanent, but let's marvel for a moment at the long-term. I'm talking about Stanford as a proven entity, a program that deserves more benefit of the doubt than it gets. The Cardinal's five-year average S&P+ rating (plus-18.0) ranks sixth in college football, barely behind No. 3 Ohio State (plus-18.3), No. 4 Oregon (plus-18.2), and No. 5 Oklahoma (plus-18.0).
Ten years ago, Ohio State finished second in the AP poll, Oklahoma 11th. Oregon beat (well, "beat") Oklahoma. And Stanford finished 1-11. Things do change in college football, even if they don't change quite as instantly as we tend to think.
|Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 13-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 6 | Final S&P+ Rk: 10|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|25-Sep||at Oregon State||107||42-24||W||84%||100%||+0.5||+2.5|
|31-Oct||at Washington State||54||30-28||W||74%||78%||-7.9||-10.0|
|Points Per Game||37.8||18||22.6||32|
2. False start, then ignition
Stanford began 2015 by doing a pretty good 2014 Stanford impersonation. Offensive mistakes and woeful drive-finishing were among the primary culprits for their 2014 struggles, and against Northwestern in Evanston, the Cardinal lost 16-6 because of offensive mistakes and woeful drive finishing. They crossed the Northwestern 40 on four occasions; those drives resulted in a punt, two field goals, and an interception.
Two weeks later, the Stanford defense got torched by USC (7.1 yards per play) in a win driven by a surging offense.
Though there would be defensive struggles, Stanford began to peak around week 4 and maintained this top form.
- First 3 games:
Record: 2-1 | Average percentile performance: 65% (~top 45) | Yards per play: Stanford 5.8, Opp 4.6 (+1.2)
- Last 11 games:
Record: 10-1 | Average percentile performance: 83% (~top 20) | Yards per play: Stanford 6.8, Opp 5.8 (+1.0)
After that dreadful Week 1 dud, Stanford exceeded its S&P+ projection in 11 of the 13 remaining games and beat Vegas' projection in 10. And after the progress seemed to slow, the Cardinal found a second peak in thumping USC in the Pac-12 title game and obliterating Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||51.4%||3||Succ. Rt. +||121.8||9|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||25.5||3||Def. FP+||25.4||8|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.4||3||Redzone S&P+||118.1||17|
|Q1 Rk||33||1st Down Rk||11|
|Q2 Rk||14||2nd Down Rk||6|
|Q3 Rk||3||3rd Down Rk||37|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Keller Chryst||6'5, 237||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9745||5||9||59||1||0||55.6%||1||10.0%||5.0|
|Ryan Burns||6'5, 233||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9272|
|K.J. Costello||6'5, 220||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9746|
3. Hogan was massively underrated
Hogan started for about three and a half seasons and never finished outside of the national top 30 in passer rating. From the moment he took over as first-stringer midway through 2012, the Cardinal went 37-10, and four of those losses occurred in the middle of 2014, when he was dealing with a leg injury.
In his career, he threw for nearly 9,400 yards and 75 touchdowns with a 66 percent completion rate. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards. His interception rate was a little higher than you'd like, especially during his sophomore season (3.4 percent), and he held onto the ball too long on passing downs, taking a few too many sacks. And for most of his career, he had a strong supporting cast of skill guys. But that goes for a lot of quarterbacks. And in a Stanford offense based on strength, rushing, play-action bombs and efficient passes to tight ends, Hogan was tremendous.
He was also incredibly maligned, and not just in the typical "We pick apart every quarterback" way. To be sure, he had his bad games and bad throws. But the hatred was pathological.
Hogan set the bar deceptively high for his successor. But whoever wins the starting job for Stanford in 2016 will come with a pedigree. Sophomore Keller Chryst, last year's backup, was as well-regarded a recruit as Andrew Luck, and junior Ryan Burns was a four-star guy as well. Incoming freshman K.J. Costello's recruiting rankings were identical to Chryst's. All three are 6'5 and between 220 and 240 pounds.
They all pass the eyeball test. But we'll see if they bring the same accuracy and selective mobility.
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||6'0, 202||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9556||337||2019||8||6.0||4.9||47.2%||2||2|
|Bryce Love||RB||5'10, 181||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9077||29||226||2||7.8||9.5||48.3%||1||0|
|Keller Chryst||QB||6'5, 237||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9745||5||19||0||3.8||2.5||40.0%||1||0|
|Ryan Burns||QB||6'5, 233||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9272||4||13||0||3.3||0.5||25.0%||0||0|
|Daniel Marx||FB||6'2, 253||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8308|
|Cameron Scarlett||RB||6'1, 216||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9037|
|Reagan Williams||FB||6'3, 237||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8528|
|Trevor Speights||RB||5'11, 207||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8807|
4. McCaffrey can improve
Whoever wins the job will also have one of the best running backs in the country at his disposal.
That I only called McCaffrey "one of" the best RBs tells you how well-stocked the position is in college football. Regardless, as much as I feel like defending Hogan, he wasn't last year's Heisman runner-up. McCaffrey was the primary catalyst for Stanford's surge from 45th in Off. S&P+ to fifth. He hinted at incredibly well-rounded potential during his freshman season, averaging 7.1 yards per carry and catching 17 of 18 passes. And in 2015, he stole the spotlight.
Stanford used him in every possible way. He rushed 24 times per game and led the team in receptions and receiving yards. He was the Cardinal's primary return man. Combining rushes, targets, and returns, he was asked to touch the ball 32 times per game. At barely 200 pounds, you could wonder about his durability, but he rarely seemed to take solid hits. (Wear and tear still has to be a concern, though.)
The scariest part of McCaffrey's game: It can improve in one clear way. As explosive as he is -- 14.5 yards per catch, 28.9 yards per kick return, 8.7 yards per punt return -- he wasn't very explosive on the ground. His 47 percent opportunity rate, combined with just 4.9 highlight yards per opportunity, fits the profile of a 235-pound power back with only decent explosiveness.
We know he's explosive, but it didn't show up that much in his rushing stats. If it does in 2016? Holy moly.Meanwhile, as a freshman reserve last year, Bryce Love put up stats that were better than McCaffrey's freshman numbers. If both stay healthy, this could end up the best running back duo in the country.
McCaffrey will provide the new QB with the ultimate security blanket. The receiving corps will help, too. Stanford has to replace an awesome tight end in Austin Hooper and an efficient receiver in Devon Cajuste. But Michael Rector, Francis Owusu, and Trenton Irwin combined to average 9.6 yards per target, and it would be surprising if sophomore tight end Dalton Shultz didn't approximate Hooper's numbers. (He exceeded them last year on a per-target basis.) Irwin is a blue-chip sophomore who could thrive with more touches, and another blue-chipper (tight end Kaden Smith) comes to The Farm this fall.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Michael Rector||WR||6'1, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8242||55||34||559||61.8%||18.0%||10.2||56.4%||52.7%||1.92|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||6'0, 202||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9556||53||45||653||84.9%||17.3%||12.3||56.6%||52.8%||2.22|
|Francis Owusu||WR||6'3, 223||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9085||19||13||175||68.4%||6.2%||9.2||47.4%||57.9%||1.60|
|Trenton Irwin||WR||6'2, 202||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9629||18||12||150||66.7%||5.9%||8.3||50.0%||50.0%||1.56|
|Bryce Love||RB||5'10, 181||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9077||16||15||242||93.8%||5.2%||15.1||68.8%||62.5%||2.23|
|Dalton Schultz||TE||6'6, 240||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9513||13||10||121||76.9%||4.2%||9.3||76.9%||53.8%||1.73|
|Greg Taboada||TE||6'5, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8731||7||5||66||71.4%||2.3%||9.4||85.7%||71.4%||1.47|
|Daniel Marx||FB||6'2, 253||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8308||3||3||25||100.0%||1.0%||8.3||66.7%||66.7%||1.03|
|Isaiah Brandt-Sims||WR||5'11, 181||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8613||2||0||0||0.0%||0.7%||0.0||50.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Taijuan Thomas||WR||5'10, 173||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8268||1||0||0||0.0%||0.3%||0.0||0.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|JJ Arcega-Whiteside||WR||6'3, 221||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625|
|Jay Tyler||WR||5'8, 169||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8141|
|Kaden Smith||TE||6'5, 250||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9794|
|Simi Fehoko||WR||6'4, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9285|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Joshua Garnett||LG||14||27||Outland Trophy winner, 2015 All-American, 2015 1st All-Pac-12|
|Kyle Murphy||LT||14||26||2015 1st All-Pac-12|
|Johnny Caspers||RG||6'4, 296||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8382||14||25|
|Casey Tucker||LT||6'6, 296||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9617||14||14|
|David Bright||RT||6'5, 301||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432||0||0|
|Brandon Fanaika||LG||6'3, 318||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8953||0||0|
|Jesse Burkett||C||6'4, 304||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8535||0||0|
|A.T. Hall||LT||6'5, 275||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625||0||0|
|Nick Wilson||LG||6'3, 287||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8923|
|Brian Chaffin||C||6'2, 278||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8691|
|Jack Dreyer||RT||6'8, 286||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600|
|Austin Maihen||RG||6'5, 292||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8321|
|Clark Yarbrough||OT||6'6, 282||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9211|
|Devery Hamilton||OT||6'7, 290||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9085|
5. Red flag up front? Maybe?
Despite its reputation, Stanford's line stats were only good in 2015, not great. The sack rates might have been dragged down by Hogan's overly patient tendencies, but opponent adjustments weren't particularly kind to the rushing averages.
Regardless of whether it was solid or spectacular, the line must now replace three two-year starters, including two all-conference guys and Joshua Garnett, whom Outland voters deemed the best lineman in the country. That's quite a bit of talent out the door.
Of course, it's hard to worry too much about Stanford's line, isn't it? The Cardinal still return five juniors and seniors and are grooming the next batch of redshirt freshmen to take over pretty soon. In theory, this could be an issue. But it probably won't.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.5%||66||Succ. Rt. +||106.6||43|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.8||16||Off. FP+||32.1||23|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.4||61||Redzone S&P+||99.5||74|
|Q1 Rk||56||1st Down Rk||31|
|Q2 Rk||26||2nd Down Rk||70|
|Q3 Rk||43||3rd Down Rk||31|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Solomon Thomas||DE||6'3, 275||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9881||14||31.5||4.4%||10.5||3.5||0||0||0||1|
|DE||6'7, 294||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9104||13||5.5||0.8%||1.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Watkins||DT||6'5, 277||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9045||3||2.0||0.3%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Cotton||DE||6'6, 265||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8653|
|Harrison Phillips||DT||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8594|
|Dylan Jackson||DE||6'6, 268||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8615|
|Wesley Annan||DT||6'4, 281||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8593|
|Michael Williams||DT||6'2, 300||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8904|
|Jovan Swann||DT||6'2, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8584|
6. Surviving with no line
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of 2015 is how the Cardinal were able to control games despite a sudden lack of depth on the defensive line. David Shaw typically does as good a job of anyone at balancing the roster and keeping the next generation in reserve. But Stanford suddenly lacked linemen and got away with playing three for most of the season. One was a freshman end spending a lot of time at tackle.
Stanford's defensive line stats were predictably terrible. Though the trio of Aziz Shittu, Brennan Scarlett, and aforementioned freshman Solomon Thomas combined for 32.5 tackles for loss, the Cardinal still ranked 88th in Adj. Line Yards and 105th in Adj. Sack Rate. They managed reasonably efficient run defense, but there were quite a few glitches and big plays.
Basically six linemen saw the field at all, and four are now gone. That's pretty scary. But Thomas should be great, and OLB-turned-DE Luke Kaumatule, hurt in 2015, is back. Stanford will desperately need a freshman or two to step up -- just because you got away with a total lack of depth once doesn't mean you'll do it again -- but the starting three should be pretty exciting, at least.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Peter Kalambayi||OLB||6'3, 245||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9315||13||42.0||5.9%||5.5||4.5||0||3||1||0|
|Joey Alfieri||OLB||6'3, 240||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9149||14||31.5||4.4%||7.0||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Palma||ILB||6'2, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8910||14||29.5||4.2%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Perez||ILB||6'2, 223||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8547||11||20.5||2.9%||1.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Mustafa Branch||ILB||5'11, 218||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8478||11||13.0||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Tyler||OLB||6'5, 236||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8381||10||13.0||1.8%||6.5||5.0||0||1||0||0|
|Craig Jones||ILB||6'0, 223||Sr.||NR||NR||10||11.0||1.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Noor Davis||ILB||6'4, 244||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9725||6||9.5||1.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bobby Okereke||ILB||6'3, 232||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9268||6||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Lane Veach||OLB||6'6, 239||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8538|
|Casey Toohill||OLB||6'4, 245||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8478|
|Curtis Robinson||OLB||6'3, 215||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9644|
7. Plenty of linebackers
The dicey situation on the line meant coordinator (sorry, Willie Shaw Director of Defense) Lance Anderson couldn't be nearly as aggressive with his linebackers. In 2014, Stanford LBs combined for 46.5 tackles for loss; in 2015, that total fell to 37.5. But if the line has a few more warm bodies to rotate in and out, there shouldn't be much problem at linebacker.
Of the 10 linebackers to record at least 9.5 tackles last year, eight are back, including a potenially awesome trio of OLBs in Peter Kalambayi, Joey Alfieri, and all-or-nothing Mike Tyler (13 tackles, 6.5 for loss). There's not even a guaranteed spot in the rotation for incoming all-world freshman OLB Curtis Robinson.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dallas Lloyd||SS||6'3, 213||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8843||14||44.5||6.3%||0.5||0||1||2||1||0|
|Alameen Murphy||CB||5'11, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8507||13||38.5||5.4%||0.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|FS||6'0, 197||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8518||12||34.5||5.2%||4||0||0||5||0||0|
|Alijah Holder||CB||6'2, 185||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8685||13||32.5||4.6%||1||0||1||7||0||0|
|Quenton Meeks||NB||6'2, 195||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8831||12||29.0||4.1%||1.5||0||3||4||0||0|
|Terrence Alexander||CB||5'10, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8668||10||25.5||3.6%||0.5||0||0||4||0||0|
|Justin Reid||FS||6'1, 196||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8857||9||19.5||2.8%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Ben Edwards||SS||6'0, 195||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8892||5||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Brandon Simmons||SS||6'0, 190||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9106||7||6.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Calvin Chandler||FS||6'2, 203||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667|
|Frank Buncom||CB||6'2, 194||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9428|
|Treyjohn Butler||CB||5'11, 186||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9112|
|Andrew Pryts||S||6'1, 196||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8936|
8. The secondary isn't a concern
Stanford had to not only deal with problems up front; the Cardinal also had to survive with a brand new secondary. The top five DBs from 2014 were all gone, and four freshmen and a sophomore were in the 2015 DB rotation. Combined with the complete collapse of the pass rush, that resulted in predictable regression. In 2014, Stanford ranked fourth in Passing S&P+ and allowed a 105.8 passer rating; in 2015: 57th and 124.0.
The pass rush will help to dictate the level of improvement, obviously, but I would be shocked if the pass defense didn't rebound. Free safety Zach Hoffpauir's return after a year of baseball-only focus will help, as will simple freshmen-become-sophomores experience. Corners Alijah Holder and Alameen Murphy held their own for freshmen, Quenton Meeks is a star nickel back in the making, and Hoffpauir and Dallas Lloyd give the Cardinal a pair of seniors in the back. Anderson's system doesn't ask to a ton of aggressiveness in the back (outside of the nickel position, anyway), but with players like Holder, Hoffpauir, and Meeks, he'll have options in that regard.
|Alex Robinson||6'0, 216||Jr.||38||42.4||2||11||13||63.2%|
|Jake Bailey||6'2, 187||So.||10||34.7||2||0||7||70.0%|
|Jake Bailey||6'2, 187||So.||65||61.8||11||6||16.9%|
|Conrad Ukropina||6'1, 192||Sr.||31||60.7||7||0||22.6%|
|Conrad Ukropina||6'1, 192||Sr.||67-67||12-13||92.3%||6-7||85.7%|
|Christian McCaffrey||KR||6'0, 202||Jr.||37||28.9||1|
|Christian McCaffrey||PR||6'0, 202||Jr.||15||8.7||1|
|Special Teams S&P+||10|
|Field Goal Efficiency||3|
|Punt Return Success Rate||93|
|Kick Return Success Rate||6|
|Punt Success Rate||56|
|Kickoff Success Rate||67|
9. McCaffrey + Ukropina = unassailable
The ifs I set up for Stanford last year basically revolved around the run game and special teams improving. Check and check. Stanford rose from 61st to 15th in Rushing S&P+, and in special teams, McCaffrey and Conrad Ukropina took over for Ty Montgomery and Jordan Williamson. Montgomery was very good, but that was still a double upgrade. McCaffrey was slightly better than Montgomery, and Ukropina was simply awesome. And both are back for one last go-round this fall.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|15-Oct||at Notre Dame||11||-4.9||39%|
|Projected wins: 7.9|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||44.2% (4)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||24 / 18|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||1 / 2.9|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-0.7|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||36% (20%, 52%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||11.2 (0.8)|
10. The ultimate September minefield
Let's just say McCaffrey won't have to worry about a lack of exposure this time around.
Theory is that, since the Pac-12 title game was on at the same time as more important games, not enough people saw what he did to USC (32 carries for 207 yards, four catches for 105, 149 return yards), and that cost him the 300 or so points he needed to catch Alabama's Derrick Henry in the Heisman voting. I'm skeptical; this is the Heisman voting we're talking about, so most voters probably decided who they were voting for in early November.
Still, his unforgettable Rose Bowl (18 carries for 172, four catches for 105, and a 63-yard punt return score) meant he'll start 2016 as one of the front-runners. And Stanford's September will give him plenty of opportunities to garner further attention.
Stanford plays in one of the biggest games of Week 2 (USC), Week 3 (at UCLA), and Week 4 (at Washington on a Friday night), a.k.a. three of the four best non-Stanford teams in the Pac-12. Two weeks later, Stanford heads to South Bend. A month later, the Cardinal play at Oregon.
With four road games against projected top-20 teams, Stanford will be able to get McCaffrey the attention he deserves. But holy smokes ... four road games against projected top-20 teams! The Cardinal could play at a top-10 level in 2016 and easily go 1-3 in that stretch.
I'm more confident in Stanford this year than the S&P+ projections are. While I liked Hogan more than most, the new QB is going to have an outstanding set of skill position guys around him and, at worst, a solid offensive line. And the defense will be better in the back and probably no worse up front. S&P+ says 16th, but I'm thinking somewhere in the No. 6-12 range. And I still think Stanford loses two or three games, minimum.
The Pac-12 probably doesn't have a national title contender this year, in part because USC and Stanford have brutal schedules, I don't quite trust Washington, and I don't trust Oregon's defense to rebound enough. But this could be one hell of a five-team race, and until Stanford actually loses some of these road games, I think the Cardinal have earned enough benefit-of-the-doubt to remain the favorites.
And if there are a couple of early losses in the cards, you should probably think twice before jumping off the bandwagon. Or you should at least put on some kneepads for the landing.