Stanford hasn't even played in the Rose Bowl yet, I know. National signing day hasn't even occurred, I know. Hell, the national champion hasn't even been crowned yet, I know. But people are already talking about next season, why? It is because the Pac-12 has already released the 2016-2017 football schedules. The chatter of the schedule is dismal and dreary. People are already saying "Why does the Pac-12 hate us?" or "Stanford's schedule is always so screwed up". Well let us just take a step back for a second and dissect this said schedule. Oh and if you haven't looked at the schedule yet, here it is:
Disclaimer: There will be some non-seniors going into the draft next season, for all intents and purposes I am writing this article on the basis that only seniors will be entering the draft on these 12 teams.
Week 1- Kansas State (Friday)
In 2015, Kansas State suffered its first non-winning regular season in five years going 6-6 (but they do have a chance to go 7-6 against Arkansas in the Autozone Liberty Bowl). To be fair this year was the first year without a Jake Waters or Colin Klein at QB and they had to play #20 Oklahoma State, #2 TCU, #19 Oklahoma, and #6 Baylor, 4 out of 5 weeks in the heart of their schedule. Moving on to the more relevant topic, can Kansas State win their 7th opener of the last 8 years? Kansas State is returning most of their skill players on offense (QB, leading rusher, and leading receiver) and don't graduate much on the defensive side of the ball. So they have a chance, but they don't have the best player in college football...
Week 2- Bye
Wait you're kidding right? Whoever thought a bye week in the second week of the season would be a great idea. These players just had 32 bye weeks in a row. This means Stanford will have to play 11 (hopefully 12) games until the end of their regular season. Talk about brutal scheduling.
Week 3- USC
Well at least Stanford can use their ridiculous bye week to game plan for the new USC under head coach Todd Helton. Some of USC's key players that are returning are: diva WR JuJu Smith- Schuster, Adoreé Jackson, and the running back duo who consist of Ronald Jones and Justin Davis. The main storyline here will be the changing of the guards at QB for both teams. No Kessler or Hogan for the first time in 4 years and it will be weird. As fans of both teams readjust to their new QB who will be spearheading explosive offenses these QBs have to play in their biggest game of the season in just week 2. Good luck to whomever has to fill those two guy's shoes.
Week 4- @ UCLA
Following up with arguably Stanford's biggest game of the year, they go on the road and take on the Bruins in week 4. Of course UCLA will be led by their phenomenal QB Josh Rosen and all of his skill players will be back as well with the exception of Jordan Payton (UCLA's leading receiver). After the whooping UCLA took against this Cardinal offense in 2015, vengeance will be on their minds and this will be a tough matchup for Stanford. UCLA will be looking to end Stanford's 8-game winning streak and what better way to do that than at home. Coming off a physical battle with USC, then going to Pasadena, Stanford better bring their A game.
Week 5- @ Washington (Friday)
TRAP GAME ALERT: Coming off a game in Pasadena, Stanford goes home for about 4 days and then packs their bags to go up to Seattle and take on the Huskies. The last time Stanford played Washington at Washington on a week night was in 2012, the Cardinal lost 17-13. This game could potentially be a trap game because Stanford could be riding high after sweeping the LA teams. Also Stanford has a short week and on top of that a road game will not do them any favors. This was one of many baffling details about this schedule. Washington will be coming off of an average season (they can make it an above average season if they beat Southern Missouri in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl) and also, will be coming into their 3rd season with ex-Boise State head coach Chris Peterson. Washington's defense was #3 in rush defense, #2 in passing defense, and #1 in scoring defense and total defense in the Pac-12. They return most of their key defensive players so it will be interesting to see if Stanford's high octane offense can once again exploit the Huskies defense.
Week 6- Washington State
Coming home will be nice for Stanford, especially since they will have spent almost 2 weeks on the road. Washington State will bring their air raid offense to test the more experienced, than last year's, secondary. After Stanford escaped with a win in Pullman, the Cougars, finished the regular season by winning 3 out of their last 4. Everyone in this offense will be back next year once again Stanford will be wanted for revenge. The defense will once again have to step up this explosive offense, Stanford can't just rely on emphatic deus ex machina like plays from either Quentin Meeks or WSU's kicker.
Week 7- @ Notre Dame
2015's matchup against ND was an instant classic, whether Stanford had won or lost. This time Stanford will be flying across country to South Bend and will take on the Fighting Irish who will have pretty much the same offensive personnel. RB Josh Adams will be back, Will Fuller already announced his return for his senior season, and ND will retain their 2015 opening starting QB Malik Zaire. Lucky for Stanford, this game will most likely be a night game so it will give them more time to adjust to the time difference, god knows we don't want another slow-to-start Stanford vs Northwestern team.
Week 8- Colorado
Colorado isn't as bad as they first were when they entered the Pac-12, but they still haven't adjusted quite as well as Utah has. Colorado has one of the youngest teams in the nation and could be poised for a breakout year. Colorado is only losing 3 starters on their defense and offense combined. Another offseason for veteran QB Sefo Liufau will greatly help him cut down on the turnovers. I believe Colorado could be the 2015 Washington State, but then again, it's Colorado.
Since this is where Stanford's bye should have been let's pretend that it is. Everyone should get up and stretch and take a break from reading this article. Go get something to eat, play with your kids, watch TV. Do whatever this Stanford team should be doing to relax and hang out.
Week 9- @ Arizona
Ok so you are back and ready for more. We will jump right in and dive into the Wildcats of Arizona. Stanford will hit the road for the 4th time this season to try and win in the desert of Tucson. This is another young team in the Pac-12 with only 4 starting seniors on both sides of the ball. But one that isn't a senior that might leave is outstanding linebacker, Scooby Wright III. Stanford go the pleasure of playing Arizona without Scooby and absolutely decimated them. If he does leave, Arizona has time to figure out who can replace him and which players need to step up in his absence. Look for Arizona to improve on both sides of the ball and become the Arizona of 2014.
Week 10- Oregon State
Entering its second year with Gary Anderson at the helm, Oregon State will look to perform better than in 2015. Winning just 2 games in 2015, Oregon State's total defense was the worst in the Pac-12 and the #117 out of 128 teams in the FBS. Yikes. This will be Gary Anderson's first real recruiting class so he could change the tradition of this perennially bad team, but this will take some time. Stanford should role, especially this late into the season and the team should already be in sync with one another.
Week 11- @ Oregon
Why is the Pac-12 trolling Stanford's schedule? Stanford plays UCLA and USC in back to back weeks, Washington State and Washington in back to back weeks, and now Oregon State and Oregon. Seems like this the Pac-12's idea of fun. Moving on, at Oregon will be a rough one. The team will lose key players in Byron Marshall, Deforest Buckner, Vernon Adams, Tyler Johnstone, and the hero of the Stanford-Oregon 2015 game, Joe Walker. They will have everyone else back, and yes that means Royce Freeman. Oregon just gained a FCS transfer QB in Dakota Prukop, so they will be gaining another veteran QB instead of trying to develop their own. The difference is, Prukop has already graduated and will be transferring in January which will give him a lot more time and what Adams Jr. had. Playing at Autzen is always a tall task, for any team, and Oregon will again be a talented team, so I guess you can do the math.
Week 12- @ California
The Big Game will be played at California in the year of 2016 with both teams resorting to first year starters as their QBs. Jared Goff will be leaving the Golden Bears at the end of 2015 and will pass the torch down to current freshman Chase Forrest. This will be another game that will be weird not having the classic Goff-Hogan rivalry, but it will be good to see how each of these teams will handle life without their star QBs. On the other side of the ball, Cal's defense was towards the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, but they will not be graduating any key seniors. Look for this defense to become better in the offseason as they will be able to get more practice in and improve on their rushing defense. Both defenses will be much improved from last year, Stanford will be the team with the explosive offense.
Week 13- Rice
After 3 consecutive winning season, Rice followed that up with a 5-7 campaign and just missed a bowl birth. If you don't know much about Rice, Rice is in the Conference USA with teams such as Marshall, LA Tech, and Western Kentucky. They are like the old Stanford in a sense that they are very good academically and struggle in the sports department (now Stanford wins the Capital One Cup every year). This will be the last regular season game for the Card, so I can only expect them to be gassed form playing 11 straight games, but that doesn't mean they won't beat Rice. I fully expect Stanford to take care of business against he Owl's.