College Football Betting Selections: #21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats

#21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats
Ryan Field – Evanston, Illinois
Saturday, September 5, 2015, 12:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Stanford -12
Current Line: Stanford -11
Opening Total: 45
Current Total: 47 1/2
Opening Money Line: Stanford -460 / Northwestern +320
Current Money Line: Stanford -440 / Northwestern +350

Stanford opens the season as an 11 point road favorite over Northwestern.
Stanford opens the season as an 11 point road favorite over Northwestern.

The Stanford Cardinal and Northwestern Wildcats meet for the seventh time ever Saturday in Evanston. It is the season opener for both schools. Stanford leads the series 3-1-2 but the teams haven’t played since 1994, when the game ended in a 41-41 tie at Evanston. Northwestern completes the home and home when they travel to Stanford in 2019.

Stanford is coached by David Shaw. The Cardinal went 8-5 last year, including 5-4 in the Pac 12 North Division. The Cardinal ended the season on a three game winning streak but it was too little too late. Stanford settled for a 45-21 win over Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl in nearby Santa Clara. Stanford had gone to four straight BCS level bowls before last year.

Northwestern is coached by Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats went 5-7 last year including 3-5 in the Big Ten East Division. The Wildcats had an up and down season with an 0-2 start, followed by 3 wins, a four game losing streak, and a two game winning streak. Northwestern entered the final game of the season against rival Illinois with both teams needing a win to become bowl eligible. The Wildcats would lose that game at home 47-33. It ended a frustrating season that saw wins over Penn State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame, but also four losses by 8 points or less.

Stanford was 7-6 ATS and the total was 3-9 last year. Northwestern was 5-7 ATS and the total was also 5-7.

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Last year, the Stanford offense struggled somewhat averaging 389 yards and 27 points per game. The Cardinal averaged 230 passing and 159 rushing yards. Last year, Stanford was in the top 10 nationally in all defensive categories. The Cardinal were #3 in total defense allowing just 282 yards per game (178 passing and 105 rushing yards. Stanford was #2 in points allowed at 16 points per game. The Cardinal were -5 in turnovers.

Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan is back as the starter for the third straight year. Last year, he completed 65.9% of his passes for 2,792 yards with 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and also rushed for 295 yards on 91 carries with 5 touchdowns. Keller Chryst, a freshman, and Ryan Burns will battle to be the back-up in case something happens to Hogan.

Last year for the first time since 2007 Stanford failed to produce a 1,000 yard rusher. That was part of the reason the passing game struggled. Including Hogan, 4 of the top 5 rushers are back for the Cardinal. The only exception is Kelsey Young who transferred to Boise State. Remound Wright had 135 carries for 601 yards and 11 touchdowns, plus 8 catches. Barry Sanders, Jr. had 59 carries for 315 yards, plus 7 catches. The break out star over the last several games was sophomore Christian McCaffrey who had 42 carries for 300 yards, and also made 17 catches for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns. McCaffrey looks to be the starter in 2015 but Wright and Sanders will get plenty of carries as well. Fullback Daniel Marx will get very few carries but is an important part of the blocking schemes. Last year’s fullback Patrick Skov transferred to Georgia Tech and had 4 rushing touchdowns last year.

Ty Montgomery was the leading receiver last year but is now with the Green Bay Packers. He had 61 catches for 604 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 23 carries for 144 rushing yards and a touchdown. Devon Cajuste looks to be the go-to receiver after making 34 catches for 557 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. Tight end Austin Hooper had a fantastic freshman year with 40 catches for 499 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Rector had 24 catches for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. Francis Owusu had 11 catches for 138 yards. Stanford will sometimes use a three tight end set with Hooper, Greg Taboada, and Eric Cotton. Taboada and Cotton combined for 15 catches and 3 touchdowns last year.

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Northwestern struggled on offense last year, averaging 353 yards per game. The Wildcats averaged 217 passing and 137 rushing yards per game. Northwestern averaged 23 points per game. The Wildcats were #98 or worse, in scoring, rushing and total offense out of 128 teams. Northwestern allowed 384 yards per game on defense, including 214 passing and 170 rushing yards. The Wildcats allowed 25 points per game. Northwestern was +4 in turnovers.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian is trying to make the Denver Broncos. Senior Zach Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson all competed for the job. Thorson was named the starter earlier this week by Fitzgerald. Oliver threw for 367 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, along with a rushing touchdown last year.

Sophomore running back Justin Jackson had 245 carries for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns, along with 22 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Warren Long will also get some carries.

Receiver Christian Jones is back after missing all of last year with a torn ACL. He has 105 career receptions and 6 touchdowns. Dan Vitale is back after making 40 catches for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns. Garrett Dickerson, Miles Shuler and Solomon Vault will also get some carries.

Stanford is 14-6 ATS in non-conference games, 16-7 in September, 31-15-1 on grass, and 2-5 in road games.

Northwestern is 5-2 ATS on grass, 6-16 overall, 1-4 against Pac 12 teams, and in September, 1-5 in non-conference games, and 2-11 at home.

Both of these teams struggled on offense last year. The difference was Stanford had a dominant defense, while Northwestern had an average defense. Stanford only returns four starters on defense though. I think the Cardinal win on the road but 11 points seems like a lot, especially in an early morning Pacific time game.

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