Head Coach: David Shaw
2015 record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Pac 12 North
2015 Postseason results: Beat Iowa 45-16 in the Rose Bowl
2016 returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 28/1
Odds to win 2016 Pac 12 Championship Game: +335
Odds to Win 2016 Pac 12 North Division: +213
Regular season wins: over 8 1/2 -120 / under 8 1/2 +100
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The Pac 12 is arguably the most wide open of the power five conferences. At least five or perhaps six teams have a legitimate shot at winning the conference title game. That could be good and bad as the potential exists for them to beat each other up and knock each other out the playoff similar to what happened last year.
The Stanford Cardinal finished last year 12-2 and won both the Pac 12 title game and the Rose Bowl with convincing wins over USC and Iowa. The season opened on a sour note with an upset loss at Northwestern but Stanford would lose only one more game for the rest of the season. A two point loss to Oregon likely kept them out of the playoff. Coach David Shaw gets 12 starters back and the Cardinal are again one of the favorites in the Pac 12.
Here is a more in-depth look at Stanford in all three phases of the game, plus a look at the schedule.
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Stanford averaged 436 yards per game on offense last year including 224 rushing yards per game and 38 points. Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren gets six starters back in 2016.
The offense must replace four year starter Kevin Hogan at quarterback. He was a fifth round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. He threw for 2,867 yards with 27 touchdowns and 8 interceptions and rushed for 336 yards with 6 touchdowns. Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns were locked in a tight battle to replace Hogan, but it looks like Chryst is ahead right now. Cryst is the nephew of Wisconsin head coach Paul. Chryst played sparingly last year mostly in garbage time.
Running back Christian McCaffrey was second in the Heisman Trophy voting last year and set an NCAA record for all-purpose yards with 3,864 yards. He had 337 carries for 2,019 yards and 8 touchdowns, plus he made 45 catches for 645 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also added almost 1,100 return yards and took both a punt and kickoff for touchdowns. For good measure he even threw 2 touchdown passes. He is a Heisman contender again if not the favorite. His primary back-up Barry Sanders, Jr. left as a graduate transfer for his father’s alma mater Oklahoma State. Short yardage back Remound Wright had 13 rushing touchdowns last year and has also graduated. Bryce Love will get a lot of carries and catches in 2016. He rushed for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns and made 15 catches with a touchdown last year. Daniel Marx and Chris Harrell will be the fullbacks but are mainly used for blocking.
Receiver Michael Rector is also back after making 34 catches for 559 yards and 7 touchdowns. Francis Owusu becomes a starter at receiver after making 13 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. Stanford loses Austin Hooper and Devon Cajuste who combined for 61 catches and 9 touchdowns last year. Tight end Dalton Schultz could be a star after making 10 catches with a touchdown last year.
The offensive line must replace three starters. Left tackle Casey Tucker and guard Johnny Caspers are back but there will plenty of new faces.
Stanford allowed 368 total yards per game on defense and 23 points per game. Six starters are back for coordinator Lance Anderson.
Solomon Thomas has 10.5 tackles for loss last year and can play either end or tackle. He will likely start at the end position along with Dylan Jackson. Harrison Phillips is coming off a torn ACL but will start at tackle.
The Cardinal must replace leading tackler linebacker Blake Martinez who had 141 tackles last year. Still, the Cardinal are deep at the position with Kevin Palma and Bobby Okereke on the inside. Peter Kalambayi, Mike Tyler and Joey Alfieri will man the outside positions in a rotation.
Alijah Holder and and Terrance Alexander return as the cornerbacks. Dallas Lloyd is also back at safety. Quenton Meeks led the team in interceptions last year with 3 as the nickel back.
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Kicker Conrad Ukropina made 18 of 20 field goals and all 67 extra points. Jake Bailey takes over as the punter. The return game remains in the capable hands of McCaffrey who averaged 28.9 yards per kick return and 8.7 per punt return. Love could also figure into the return game.
Schedule and Outlook
We will find out how good Stanford is really quickly as they open with six straight games against bowl teams from last year. The Cardinal open at home against Kansas State and USC before road games at UCLA and Washington. They then host Washington State before traveling to Notre Dame. Stanford hosts Colorado, Oregon State and Rice and travels to Arizona, Oregon and California in the second half of the season.
If Stanford can survive the opening gauntlet unscathed then they could go to the playoffs. I think they lose at least one of those games if not two. Still this team has a great shot of winning their fourth Pac 12 North title in the last five seasons.
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