Even after capturing the conference crown a year ago, Oregon is no longer the easy pick for Pac-12 supremacy. Marcus Mariota is now in the NFL and Thomas Tyner is reportedly done for the season due to injury, which meansthe conference's throne might just be up for grabs. While USC is the favorite for many to win the Pac-12 title, there is a toss up between the Ducks and Cardinal to take the north. Here are the three reasons you can feel safe betting on the latter.
1) Kevin Hogan
Kevin Hogan had his breakout season as a redshirt freshman, but it's not like his last season was sub-par. His performance was just overshadowed by the Ducks having the Heisman winner in Marcus Mariota. Now that the Super Mariota hype machine is gone, Kevin Hogan's abilities will be recognized more. It helps that there are four well established offensive lineman returning to the Cardinal, so there should be a well protected pocket each time Hogan drops back to deliver a strike. Couple that with his strong performance at the end of the year, and Hogan might be primed for his best season yet.
2) A solid running back committee
Tyler Gaffney's departure left a pretty big role to be filled. After a season of a less-than-ideal running back committee, coach David Shaw now has a solid string of guys to fall back on. Christian McCaffrey averaged 7.1 yards per carry last season, but only received 42 carries, so he really didn't get his chance to shine until late in the year. That is sure to change this year. Of course, there is the speedy Barry Sanders who has the best mentor any runner could ask for in his father, Barry Sanders. And finally there is senior Remound Wright, who scored 11 touchdowns on 135 carries in 2014. These three backs (and the four returning starters on the line ahead of them) leave the team plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about the ground attack.
3) The Schedule
The Cardinal kick off the 2015 season with a game at Northwestern on September 5th, then host UCF on the 12th. After that, they take on USC on the road. Right out of the gate, Stanford will test themselves against the team favored to win the south division. Should they upset the Trojans, Stanford could potentially face a Mariota-less Oregon on the Farm with a 7-0 conference record, and the chance to position themselves in place for the PAC-12 north crown, and a shot at the conference championship. Stanford's toughest games this year - minus the USC contest - are all at home, and that's a big boost to a team that had to play Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA all on the road a year ago.