2018 was an interesting year for the Stanford Cardinals football program. There were quarterback controversies and defensive struggles. Head Coach David Shaw kept the Cardinals headed in the right direction and they ended up playing in the Pac 12 Championship despite these struggles.
Things are different this year in the Pac 12. Most of the top teams are expected to be complete on both sides of the ball and feature potent offenses. The Cardinals will have to be much better if they plan on going to the Pac 12 Championship again.
The pieces are in place for a strong running game. Any team with Bryce Love at running back is going to move the ball efficiently. There are also a lot of returning pass catchers and offensive linemen.
Spring ball has done nothing to quell the worries about the quarterback position. Incumbent starter K.J. Costello has been out with a hip injury. Although he played last year, he was not named the starter to begin the season. Keller Chryst started the year under center, but was awful and lost the job. He is now playing for the Tennessee Volunteers. Davis Mills is suffering from a knee injury and the last quarterback, Tanner McKee, is on a church mission.
K.J. Costello is missing important practice reps with the new Offensive Coordinator Tevita Pritchard. The good news is that Pritchard has been working with the quarterback position at Stanford for the last four seasons and will not be making significant changes.
|8/31||San Diego State||-14|
|9/29||@ Notre Dame||-0.5|
|10/18||@ Arizona State||-20|
Bryce Love will be in the Heisman conversation again after rushing for over 2000 yards in 2017. I cannot express the importance of four All Conference Lineman returning. The running game has a shot at being the best in the nation.
There are also the top four pass catchers returning. The biggest concerns on offense are quarterback and the new Offensive Coordinator. Any concerns about K.J. Costello returning from injury are lessened if he can be kept upright most of the season. Factor in the success of the running game and there is a lot of opportunity for Costello to have a solid season.
With ten returning contributors on offense the transition to Tevila Pritchard as Offensive Coordinator should be seamless. He has been on the Cardinals coaching staff for the last eight years and four of those were as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach.
The Stanford Cardinals lost eight defensive backs and linebackers who played a heavy snap count. There is still talent to fill the holes left, but minimal experience. Redshirt senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke should have a great season and will be the leader of this unit.
There are three cornerbacks who should be able to contribute in Alameen Murphy, Malik Antoine, and Alijah Holder. Holder has the most experience, but has missed thirteen games over the last two seasons.
In the NFL Draft the Cardinals lost Safety Justin Reid, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, and outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi. With another two defensive lineman gone there will be growing pains preventing the run. The Cardinals struggled against the run last year and that issue will likely continue unless the current roster exceeds expectations.
Head Coach David Shaw is one of the best in the country. With a coaching record of 73 wins and just 22 losses (.768 Winning Percentage) over the last eight years, he has proven he knows how to win.
The only change on the Coaching Staff is the hire of Tevita Pritchard as Offensive Coordinator. Pritchard was the starting Quarterback in 2007 when Stanford upset then undefeated USC who was ranked number two in the nation. He has spent the last eight years working on the Cardinals staff and is very familiar with how Coach Shaw wants the Offense to run.
Stanford is fortunate to play USC early in the season. J.T. Barrett will most likely be the starting Quarterback, but he is a reclassified Freshman and will have a tall task ahead of him outscoring the Cardinals’ electric Offense.
There is a really bad travel spot in this schedule during weeks four through seven. The stretch starts with a road game against the Oregon Ducks, followed by a cross-country road game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and then back across country to Stanford to play against the Utah Utes.
My Pick: Under 8.5 wins (-115 Over / -115 Under) and I will be playing a lot of overs on the game totals.
There is uncertainty at the Quarterback position and the already poor Defense lost a lot of starters. As much as I want to have an investment in this Offense, there are too many obstacles. If K.J. Costello is not fully recovered, the Cardinals could be starting a walk on.
My decision to bet the under is a fade of having to replace all the production on Defense that the Cardinals lost. I am a fan of Coach Shaw, but I also expect the rest of the Pac 12 to be better.
Since the defensive secondary could be prone to giving up big plays, I will be betting the over on the totals for Stanford’s opening games. I do expect this Offense to score points even if the QB play struggles. The offensive line and Bryce Love will be able to overcome some of the mistakes. These two factors create a lot of value on the overs to start the season.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Pac 12 – North
2016 record: 10-3 SU & 7-6 ATS
Head Coach: David Shaw – Head Coaching Experience: 7 years (7th with Stanford)
Season Over/Under Win Total: 8.5 Over -140 Under +110
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 80/1 (25th Best odds)
Returning Starters: 16 (Offense: 8 Defense: 8)
Rivals 2017 Recruiting ranking: #19 (total recruits: 14, 5-star: 3)
Aug. 26 Rice (Sydney, Australia)
Sep. 2 Bye
Sep. 9 @ USC
Sep. 16 @ San Diego State
Sep. 23 UCLA
Sep. 30 Arizona State
Oct. 7 @ Utah
Oct. 14 Oregon
Oct. 21 Bye
Oct. 26 @ Oregon State
Nov. 4 @ Washington State
Nov. 10 Washington
Nov. 18 California
Nov. 25 @ Notre Dame
Perhaps it was losing Kevin Hogan, the school’s 3rd All-time passing leader, or parting ways with 3 starters on the offensive line and 2 of the top 3 receivers; whatever the case, the Stanford (26.3 PPG) offense put up its lowest point total since 2008 – 2 years before David Shaw took over as Head Coach. It was most likely a combination of all of the above, along with the fact that Stanford was simply a young and inexperienced team playing the 18th most difficult schedule that lead to a down year offensively.
The inexperience was felt most profoundly at the Quarterback position, where replacing three year starter and team leader Kevin Hogan proved unsuccessful with Jr. Ryan Burns. Burns started the first 7 games, but after losing for the 3rd time, was supplanted by then Sophomore Keller Chryst. Chryst would show to be slightly more effective (133.8 QBR to 120.5), throwing for 905 YDS, 10 TD, and 2 INT in the last 6 games before tearing his ACL in their bowl game. Back for his junior year, Chryst missed spring recovering, but should regain his starting role over Redshirt Freshman KJ Costello, who as a top 5 QB recruit in 2016 should provide adequate depth at the position.
The biggest loss for the Cardinal will come at the running back position, where they will lose 46% of their offense to the NFL in 1st round draft pick and 3rd All-time leading Stanford rusher Christian McCaffrey. He will pass the torch to Jr. Bryce Love, who actually had a higher Yards Per Carry (7.1 to 6.3) than McCaffrey in 2016, with 111 Attempts to McCaffrey’s 253. Love should see the bulk of the workload in ’17 and behind what should be an improved offensive line could put up numbers similar to McCaffrey’s 1603 yards in 2016.
Throwing the ball was a bit of a struggle for the Cardinal in 2016, totaling just slightly over 2000 yards passing, So. Trenton Irwin was the number WR on the team with 37 REC for 442 YDS. As was their QB, this unit was very young with their top 2 WR Irwin and JJ Arcega-Whiteside a sophomore and freshman respectively. “TE U” couldn’t even get So. TE Dalton Schultz going, as he hauled in just 23 balls for 222 yards. 2017 should show major improvement for the Stanford passing game, however, as their top 2 WR’s Irwin and Whiteside return, as well as TE Schultz for what will now be an experienced WR Corps.
2016 was a year of rebuilding for the Stanford offensive line; losing 2 starting lineman to the NFL draft (one an outland award winning 1st round pick), and a starting center to graduation. As a result ,the offensive line numbers, though still respectable, slipped a bit (209 YDS rushing per game, 5.2 YPC, 34 sacks allowed) and for the first time in a number of years, Stanford did not have an All-conference offensive line. This year, they lose RG Johnny Caspers, but return the other 9 lineman on roster (68 starts), for a season that should restore this line to PAC-12 prominence.
Stanford followed up their uncharacteristic defensive performance in 2015 (22.6 ppg, 368 ypg), with a very similar year in 2016 (20.4 ppg, 368 ypg) while returning 7 starters. This year they once again return a slew of starters, with 8 coming back, to what is now a very experienced defense that should be the class of the Pac-12.
The Cardinal will suffer a major loss up-front, however, parting ways with 2nd Team All-American 1st round NFL draft pick DT Solomon Thomas. For a team that more often than not only plays 2 down defensive linemen, as loss like that of Thomas is huge. They will return some experience, though, with Sr. DE Eric Cotton and Jr. DT Harrison Phillips coming back and should be a little deeper than last years’ unit, but will most likely take a step back.
The linebacker unit, on the other hand, will most certainly not take a step back – returning 4 LB’s that started all 13 games last year. With one of the deeper linebacker groups in the nation, Stanford often rolls out a 2-5 defense and rotates extensively. Of all that depth and experience they will only lose 2 players in total and will start 3 seniors and a junior. As the most experienced this unit of blue chip prospects has been in years, this is easily one of the best groups of linebackers in the country.
The Stanford secondary was bit by the injury bug in 2016, losing So. starting CB Alijah Holder for the year in week 3, and even playing 2 games without either starting CB – allowing a 73% completion % in those 2 losses. Though they will lose the teams’ second leading tackler, SS Dallas Lloyd, they will return 7 or their top 8 and will get now Jr. Alijah Holder back from the injury. A secondary made up of all junior starters should be solid and improve upon their 54.7% completion percentage last year.
The loss of McCaffrey will certainly be felt strongly by the special teams units, as though not great last year, he was very explosive for the Cardinal in their return game. Stanford as a whole, however, is known for consistently fielding standout special teams under 6th year coach Pete Alamar and this year should be no exception. Junior Jake Bailey (44TB/71KO) will be back to kickoff and punt (43.5 ypp), but with the loss of K Conrad Ukropina (22-27, 52 Long), Redshirt Freshman Jet Toner will take over as placekicker.
2017 Season Outlook
What was a year of lofty expectations for the Stanford Cardinal, fell flat early with a few significant injuries and 3 bad losses by the end of the first half of the season. This team was young though, and as the 122nd most experienced team in the country, still turned things around to finish the season winning 6 of their last 7 while playing the 8th toughest schedule. This year, though losing quite possibly their two best players in McCaffrey and Thomas, they will return 16 starters and go from 122nd to the 49th most experienced team in the nation. Though there schedule will remain challenging as the 8th most difficult, a total set at 8.5 may be a little low. Under 7 years of David Shaw, Stanford has had a double digit win season in all but one of them, and I think the perception of this team may be down more than it should be in considering their history. Yes their schedule may be daunting, but they will get most of their big games at home with UCLA, Washington, and Notre Dame all traveling to Stanford. Other than the road game at USC, in which they’ll be a significant underdog, the other away games at San Diego St., Utah, Oregon St., and Washington St. are all winnable. Finding 4 losses on their schedule is a bit of a stretch and with the public perception down on Stanford, this year looks like a season to take the over.
Season Win Total Prediction: Over 8.5