David Shaw tries to regroup and push that Cardinal back to the top of the Pac-12
The college football season is rapidly approaching with the anticipation building as each day passes. At SQ we’ll be rolling out previews of the teams in our top-25. We last covered Georgia, which came in at No. 16 on our countdown. Today we take a look at No. 15 Stanford.
Team Name: Stanford Cardinal
2016 Record and Rank: 10-3 (12)
Coach: David Shaw (7 years, 64-17)
Key Arrivals: OT Foster Sarell, DL Dalyn Wade-Perry, WR Saiid Adebo, TE Colby Parkinson, DL Ryan Johnson
Key Departures: RB Christian McCaffrey, OL Johnny Caspers, DL Solomon Thomas, S Dallas Lloyd, WR Michael Rector
Previewing Stanford’s Offense
David Shaw’s offense wasn’t the reason for last season’s record. The Cardinal picked up 4,776 total yards which ranked them 87th in the country and managed only 26.3 points per game, 83rd nationally. Even with do it all running back Christian McCaffrey rushing for 1,603 yards and picking up 310 receiving yards, the offense failed to find any consistency and will need to replace McCaffrey’s production.
The quarterback issues were a big part of Stanford’s struggles. Ryan Burns got the start at the beginning of 2016, but could only lead the team to a 4-3 record. During that time Burns threw only five touchdowns against seven interceptions and was replaced by Keller Chryst after 10-5 loss to Colorado. Chryst faired much better than Burns by throwing for 905 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only two interceptions while going 5-0 before suffering a knee injury in the Sun Bowl. Expected to be back from that injury, Chryst is the starter, but redshirt freshman K.J Costello (19th ranked recruit from 2016) is waiting just in case.
As mentioned before, replacing McCaffrey won’t be an easy task. His absence will be felt mostly in the running game since he accounted for 1,603 of Stanford’s 2,720 rushing yards. Bryce Love will be the primary back in 2017 after rushing for 779 yards on 112 carries and looked good in McCaffrey’s brief absence. Coach Shaw is excited for Love to be the primary back and believes he can be one of the nation’s best.
On offense, the receiving core shouldn’t have any issues with the return of three of the teams top five targets. Trenton Irwin and JJ Arcega-Whiteside lead the Cardinal with 442 and 379 yards receptively and should make another big impact across from each other. Tight end Dalton Schultz also returns as a weapon for Chryst after posting 222 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 2016.
Previewing Stanford’s Defense
It seems like every year Stanford fields one of the best defensive teams in the country, and 2016 was no different. The Cardinal finished 32nd in yards given up with 4,387 while also finishing 17th in points given up per game at only 20.2. With several key players returning, Stanford should once again be one of the hardest teams to score on.
The strength of the Cardinal defense in 2016 was up front and there was none better than Solomon Thomas, who lead the team in tackles (61), tackles for loss (14), and sacks (8.5). Thomas took his talents to the NFL, but Harrison Phillips will fill the void without missing a beat. Phillips finished the season with 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and seven sacks.
Stanford may have the most talented linebacking core in the nation and are certainly one of the more experienced. Every projected starter in a senior or redshirt senior and lead by outside linebackers Joey Alfieri and Peter Kalambayi. The two combined for 7.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. On the inside, Kevin Palma and Bobby Okereke are a force to reckon with to round out a talented unit.
The secondary wasn’t the strength of the Cardinal finishing 53rd in passing yards per game at 218.9 and will have to improve to compete in the Pac-12. Junior cornerback Quenton Meeks is on the Thorpe Award watch list after picking off two passes and returning one for a touchdown. Senior safety Justin Reid joins Meeks on the Thorpe watch list after accounting for 55 tackles with seven pass deflections. Alijah Hooker rounds out a talented cornerback tandem and should build off his six pass deflections, especially with an increased workload this season.
Three Key Games
1. Sept. 9 at USC- The college football season starts off with a bang in week two with an early Pac-12 rivalry between Stanford and USC. The Cardinal got the best of the Trojans in Palo Alto by a score of 27-10, but that is before Sam Darnold got a hold of the offense. Darnold will provide a test for a secondary that’s looking to improve. Stanford is still looking to find their identity and an early matchup with USC is going to be a major hurdle.
2. Nov. 10 vs Washington- When Stanford traveled to Washington last season, it was for a intriguing No. 7-No. 10 matchup, but the game didn’t live up to the hype. The Huskies steamrolled the Cardinal by a score of 44-6. By the time they play this year in early November, Stanford should be rolling, especially if they were able to pull off a win at USC. Chris Peterson has a dangerous team geared up and ready to go for possibly the best Pac-12 game of the year.
3. Nov. 25 vs Notre Dame- Last game of the season could mean more for Stanford than Notre Dame. As bad as the Irish were last year, they still had plenty of chances at pulling off an upset and ruining Stanford’s season even more. Every matchup since 2011 has been decided by less than seven points and usually always comes down to the final drive. Stanford’s Pac-12 fate won’t be influenced by the result, but their bowl game selection will definitely be impacted.
Stanford will always be in contention for the Pac-12 title and after third in the Pac-12 North looks to have the necessary components at every level to get back to the top. How they play against USC will determine a lot. If Stanford can find a way to beat the Trojans than the rest of the season should fall into place with an undefeated season not out of the question. However, I think this USC team is one of the best and will live up to the hype and beat Stanford. I also believe that will be their only loss and the Cardinal will finish 11-1 and get a rematch in the Pac-12 title game against USC for a possible CFP bid.
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