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Three Potential Roadblocks To A Great Season for Stanford

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There's plenty of reasons to like the Cardinal this year - but what are the biggest things that stand in their way?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It's good to be optimistic, but it's wise to remain realistic. There is a very good chance Stanford could win the Pac-12 North, but it will not be an easy task. So what stands between Stanford and the Conference championship game? Here are the three things that seem the most significant.

1) The Defense

Stanford's defense was beyond stout last season. It took a stellar performance from Oregon's Marcus Mariota to snap the Cardinal's 31 game streak of allowing 30 points or less. Unfortunately, 4 of Stanford's 6 top tacklers - and 9 starters from a year ago - will not be returning this season, leaving defensive coordinator Lance Anderson with a project to undertake this fall. He must replace 3 starters on the defensive line, and another four in the secondary. It will be interesting to see what solutions he comes up with - and if defensive backs coach Duane Akina has prepared the young DBs to step up.

2) A different crew of pass catchers

Kevin Hogan lost his favorite target in Ty Montgomery to the NFL, which leaves Stanford with a hole at the #1 WR spot. It is assumed that Devon Cajuste will step into that top role, but it's worth mentioning that health has been an issue for him in the past, and must still be a concern for the Cardinal. The good news is that between Cajuste and TE Austin Hooper (and fellow TEs Eric Cotton, Greg Taboada and Dalton Shultz) there is plenty of size that opposing secondaries will be forced to deal with.

3) The USC Trojans

If Stanford upsets USC in their first PAC-12 conference game, it will be the biggest morale boost the team can hope for. If they lose, however, it could devastating to their psyche. Every coach and player will say they take their football season one game at a time, but the truth is, there is no way this team is not salivating at the thought of knocking off both USC and Oregon. If the Trojans seize the win, the thought of having such a key opportunity escape them so early in the season could really weigh on the Cardinal all year long.