In 2016, we’ve penned in nine teams that will appear on our schedule more than one time. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages we’re hearing about as these teams prepare for their upcoming spring practice sessions. It’ll give us an idea of what the teams will be focusing on before we get to see them play in the fall.
Stanford (2 games) – In our entire history, we’ve only seen the Cardinal play one football game when we watched them lose a tight game, 34-27, at Boston College’s Alumni Stadium back in 2002. Not only do we get to see them play twice this season against two of their biggest rivals on the road, but we get to see RB Christian McCaffrey, a top Heisman Trophy candidate, perform two times. Coming off a 12-2 season, 8-1 in the PAC-12, and ranked No. 3 in the final 2015 polls, HC David Shaw and his staff will be looking to replace 11 starters from that highly successful team. But give credit where credit is due. Entering his sixth season at the Palo Alto school, Shaw has recorded a career record of 54-14 as HC for the Cardinal since replacing Jim Harbaugh when he left for the pros. Entering this season, he’s only lost one staff member, DL coach Randy Hart, and replaced him with Oklahoma’s Diron Reynolds. David Shaw has built a strong foundation for a program that recruits, develops, and retains great talent. He brings in a top 20 recruiting class this year (13th by some standards) which may help him short term but should definitely keep the Cardinal in the national championship hunt in the near future.
We look forward to seeing RB Christian McCaffrey play in person following his sophomore season when he was named AP National Player of the Year. He ran for 2,019 yards and eight TYDs while gaining 645 yards on the receiving end with five TDs on 45 receptions. We expect to see him build on those numbers. However, the question will be who is going to be handing off and throwing to him with the graduation of last year’s QB Kevin Hogan, the winningest signal –caller in Stanford history. Hogan leaves behind three PAC 12 titles and two trips to the Rose Bowl where he and McCaffrey shone in the devastating 45-16 win over Iowa last season. The two leading QB candidates match in size at 6’5”, 230 lbs., but not in style as RS Soph Keller Chryst is adept in the pro-style offense and RS Junior Ryan Burns’ skills are best at running the triple option. The diversity gives Shaw some opportunities to mix in two different style formations against any particular defense where he sees an advantage. It also gives him the opportunity to change styles during a particular game if the defense is adept at stopping one or the other. And he can run McCaffrey in either and throw to him in the other. It will give him great opportunities to keep defenses off balance which we’ll get to see when the Cardinal visit Notre Dame in mid-October and Cal-Berkeley in The Big Game on November 19 in their traditional PAC-12 season ending rivalry. Looking forward to both! C Graham Shuler returns up front as a starter, but three new O-line talents will have to pick up where others moved on. Shaw may have to develop some of that talent quickly from his incoming list of freshmen.
Defensively DL Harrison Phillips is a force who returns from injury last season to bolster the play of Soph returner Solomon Thomas. Luke Kaumatule, 6-7 295 lbs., moves from TE to shore things up along the defensive front. MLB Blake Martinez leaves behind some big shoes to fill. Experience abounds in the secondary which was the Cardinal rebuilding project in 2015. CBs Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks return with great experience from a year ago. Safeties Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd in his fifth season will play tightly in deep coverage.
The Cardinal will be rebuilding in some key areas, but with a great coaching staff and underclassmen that have been itching for a chance to play and opportunities to allow McCaffrey to be their key playmaker, we think Stanford will be a force to be reckoned with in the PAC 12 and will challenge on the national scene. The Notre Dame game will be a key for both teams when we see them clash. The schedule starts off with some true tests with Kansas State and USC in the first two games to be played in Palo Alto, but then they head to play UCLA at the Rose Bowl and will have other key contests like ND on the road; Arizona, Oregon, and rival Cal among them. There will be challenges for the Cardinal, but we think they will rise to the occasion again this season. It will be a great year for collegefootballfan.com to see Stanford play not once but twice this season.
Stanford games we plan to attend this year: at Notre Dame on October 15; at California on November 19
Spring game: April 9
Next up: Temple