On a scale of 1 to Steve Sarkisian, how excited are you for college football? I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’m drinking-my-weight-in-tequila and swearing-in-front-of-donors excited! With less than a week remaining in the offseason, it’s time to review what happened last year and preview what lies ahead for the Cardinal in 2015.
Stanford Cardinal Schedule Analysis: Games 1-6
Stanford went 8-5 last season, which is only disappointing to people who weren’t paying attention during the Buddy Teevens/Walt Harris reigns of terror. Modern day Stanford football means winning, and losing four of six games in the middle of last season wasn’t acceptable. As the sign hanging prominently on the fence of the Stanford practice facility says, “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, you never stay the same.” At 5-5 with two games to play, it certainly felt like Stanford was getting worse. The Cardinal did manage to pull out some strong wins against Cal and UCLA to end the season, thanks, in large part, to much-improved play from quarterback Kevin Hogan. Stanford dominated Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium, but ended the year just a bit above average with a final record of 8-5, the same as in Andrew Luck’s redshirt freshmen season five years ago.
There were lots of reasons for Stanford’s decline last year. Hogan simply wasn’t himself for most of the season, and in retrospect, it likely had something to do with the illness and eventual passing of his father. The offensive line was brand spanking new, and it took a lot of time for them to gel. The coaching staff made some interesting decisions, which made some fans question David Shaw’s ability (and right) to call plays in the red zone. Despite all of that, Stanford lost to USC, Notre Dame, and Utah by a combined nine points. The Card was just a few more yards and a few more points away from 10-2 going into bowl season. Put simply: the talent was there; the execution was not.
All of these things must change if Stanford wants to make a run, and if what I’ve seen in practice resembles how they’ll fare in games, I think they will. Some names to remember: Christian McCaffrey, Devon Cajuste, Blake Martinez, Josh Garnett, Kevin Anderson, and Austin Hooper. I’m picking a three-loss Stanford team. So, without further ado, let’s examine the first six games.
Saturday, September 5, 9:00am PT
Northwestern and Stanford had two common opponents in 2014: Cal and Notre Dame. Northwestern lost to Cal by seven points in the first game of the year, while Stanford beat Cal 38-17 late in the season. Interestingly, the Wildcats beat Notre Dame by three, the same number of points by which Stanford lost.
Prediction: Northwestern went 5-7 last year and just named a redshirt freshman quarterback. Stanford will win by 15 points.
Vs. University of Central Florida
Saturday, September 12, 7:30pm PT
UCF had a solid 2014 season. They went 9-3 in the American and only lost by a touchdown to NC State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. But let’s face it: UCF is returning five starters on offense and four on defense, and the American isn’t the PAC-12.
Prediction: The students aren’t back from summer break, but Stanford wins by 20 anyway.
Saturday, September 19, 5:00pm PT
There’s a decent possibility that this game will be featured on College Game Day, as both teams will be almost certainly undefeated. More than that, Game Day loves a good rivalry, and the Hatfields and the McCoy’s have nothing on the bad blood that exists between Stanford and USC. It started with the Biggest Upset Ever, continued with the ‘What’s your deal?’ game, and ended with Steve Sarkisian and Pat Haden’s questionable behavior on the sideline at Stanford last year. Oh yeah, and there was that one time that, while still at Washington, Seven Win[e] Steve accused Stanford’s Ben Gardner of faking a injury to slow down Washington’s offense. This is the type of game in which anything can happen.
Stanford has lost the past two contests to USC, each by three points, so the Trojans currently have the upper hand. They also have a very talented quarterback in Cody Kessler, who is already generating Heisman buzz. It would be an insult to all that is good in college football if Game Day does not come to The Coliseum for this all-out war.
Prediction: The atmosphere at the Coliseum proves too much, and Stanford loses to USC for the third year in a row. Stanford fans inquire: can we rematch in December?
At Oregon State
Friday, September 25, 7:00pm PT
Oregon State has a new coach in Gary Andersen, and this team is looking to rebound from several disappointing seasons. They are returning eight starters on offense, including running back Storm Woods. With a freshman quarterback, Woods might carry even more of a load this year. That said, Stanford’s defense, particularly their run defense, is one of the best in the business.
Prediction: Stanford wins by 14.
Saturday, October 3, TBD
Arizona had a great season, and a marquee win against Oregon last year (we’re just going to ignore the PAC-12 championship game and move on, shall we?). A significant number of starters are back on both sides of the ball for Arizona, and I’m circling this game on my calendar as one that will surely be close.
Prediction: Stanford wins by one score at the end of the game on a crazy play that involves Devon Cajuste or Christian McCaffrey.
Thursday, October 15, 7:30pm PT
Thursday night PAC-tion? Sign me up!
UCLA hasn’t won a game against Stanford since 2008, and I think this might be the year that the Bruins take out their NorCal foe. Honestly, my only reason for predicting a UCLA win is the fact that they are returning ten players on offense and eight on defense. The missing piece of the puzzle is the quarterback. Brett Hundley is no longer under center, and freshman Josh Rosen is an unknown commodity. If Rosen can play somewhat competently, and the defense can force some Stanford mistakes, UCLA can take this one under the Thursday Night Lights.
Prediction: After a sloppy game full of mental mistakes and turnovers, Stanford loses by 9.
Stay tuned for my article on the last six games. In the meantime, what do you think? How will Stanford fare in the first half?