The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 17th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 9 Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford did not have their best season last year at 9-5. A down year for Stanford is not the same as anywhere across the country, as they still qualified for the Pac-12 Championship Game. David Shaw will be excited to coach a team that has 14 returning starters including star running back Bryce Love.
Shaw’s offense will be loaded with good players, as nine starters are back on that side of the ball. They ranked 38th in points scored, 30th in rushing and 98th in passing. If the passing offense can improve, the offense will increase dramatically.
Figuring out the quarterback situation during last season, really hurt the development of the offense. K.J. Costello played well in his seven starts and was able to lead the Cardinal to several victories down the stretch of the regular season. He threw for 1,573 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions on 58.8% completion. His development can really help improve this offense.
Trenton Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside are back as the team’s wideouts. Arcega-Whiteside was a red zone threat with nine touchdown catches and was also Stanford’s leading receiver with 798 yards. Irwin had 43 receptions for 461 yards and two touchdowns. With Dalton Schultz now in the NFL on the Dallas Cowboys, Kaden Smith will get a chance to prove what he can do.
In the running game, Love brought electricity to this offense last season. He had huge shoes to fill with Christian McCaffrey leaving for the NFL and Love did not disappoint. He rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns in a great junior campaign. He’s the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy and will make this offense ridiculously hard to stop.
Love is great, but his offensive line will also be of great quality. They return four starters, all of which have NFL potential.
Having Love at running back and a good offensive line is a great start to an offense, Costello just needs to complete the final piece of the puzzle.
Six starters return from last season, but there are some great players to replace. The defense ranked tied for 34th in points allowed per game, 68th against the run and 81st against the pass. There is room for improvement this season.
The loss of Harrison Phillips will be hard to cope with. He led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, all of which are extremely abnormal for a nose tackle to do. Dylan Jackson is the only player back from their three-man defensive front. He didn’t have the greatest production, so players across the line will need to step up.
Inside linebacker is set with Bobby Okereke and Jordan Perez. They ranked third and fourth on the team respectively in tackles. Outside linebackers will have new players in the fold and will need to work with the defensive line to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In limited playing time last season, Joey Alfieri and Casey Toohill combined for three sacks last season.
The secondary loses Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks from last season’s team. The return of Alijah Holder at cornerback should help ease things if he can stay healthy. He is a lengthy corner that can shut down any wide receiver in the country. Reid not being one of their safeties will hurt, but both Frank Buncom and Ben Edwards are seniors who know the program and the defensive system.
Replacing great players is never easy, but there are still enough good players on this side of the ball to be solid.
The non-conference matchups include San Diego State (home), UC-Davis (home) and Notre Dame (away). San Diego State beat Stanford last season, but Stanford should be able to handle them in a revenge game at home. They’ll play the Fighting Irish at the end of September and will need good quarterback play to win on the road.
Stanford has tough games in conference against USC (home), Oregon (away), Utah (home) and Washington (away). While capable of winning all their games, they will likely drop a game or two n conference. The game against Washington will likely decide the Pac-12 North.
Nine to 11 wins should be expected from Stanford this season. If they are fortunate enough to beat Washington they will likely make yet another Pac-12 Championship Game, making it another successful season for Shaw.
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