The leaves are turning orange, the air is becoming a little bit more crisp (at least for those of us on the east coast), and all the college kids are coming back to campus. The students aren't coming back for school - they're coming back for the football.
The Saturday night lights and the chance to knock off Oregon and USC is coming sooner than expected, but right now is our final chance to speculate and guess how Stanford will fare this season.
Our experts here at Rule of Tree have tirelessly brought you in depth analysis, breaking stories, and different perspectives of Stanford football, but for now, here are our predictions for the 2015-2016 Stanford Cardinal Season:
Ben Leonard (11-2)
Everything seems to be setting up well for Stanford. The offense is loaded, the schedule is very favorable, and I see this young defense having a good year. I have faith in Stanford's system and coaching to groom a lot of young players for success. Kevin Hogan appears to be ready to take the next step and carry Stanford to a Pac-12 Championship and a New Years Six Game. I think they will drop one to either, USC, Oregon, or Notre Dame and a surprise upset, but it will be enough to win the North and the conference.
Tony Fernandes (10-3)
The team will be challenged early on with trips to Northwestern and USC. Stanford has always been a 2nd half of the season team, and will peak late. The Pac-12 could have at least 7 teams in a bowl game this season; so a 10-3 season is to be highly commended in 2015.
Daniel Gilbert (11-1 regular season)
Stanford is the most overlooked team in America. One bad season, 8-5 at that, and they are considered an afterthought. Stanford will lose a game because it would be biased to say Stanford had the pieces to win every game. Kevin Hogan will finally get the respect he deserves and earn a playoff berth.
Matt Vassar (10-3)
Man, I hate to be "that guy" when many of my esteemed colleagues are calling for two or fewer losses this season, but I have to call it as I see it, and what I see is a three-loss team. Here's why: last year, there were only seven teams in the entire nation that played in a Power Five conference and managed to survive the season with only two or fewer losses (Ohio State, Oregon, TCU, Alabama, Michigan St, Florida State, Baylor). To project Stanford as one of those very few teams at this very early juncture seems a bit optimistic, especially in light of two very important considerations: 1. The Pac-12 is once again absolutely stacked, and 2. Stanford has nine (NINE!) defensive starters to replace this season. Don't get me wrong; Stanford is very strong and if we catch a few breaks here or there, we could easily end up with two or fewer losses, but projecting that to happen at this point is --in my view--a bit optimistic.
Nick Dempsey (10-3)
I would line up the Stanford team that played UCLA last season against just about anyone in the country. However, replacing 9 out of 11 started on defense is concerning. Sure the schedule is favorable (compared to the rest of the Pac-12) but it is still a difficult one. USC, UCLA, Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona is still a tough slate for an inexperienced defense. The most likely scenario is the Cardinal takes two against those five teams and finishes 10-3. But, if (and this is as of now a very big if) the offense plays as well as they should, and the defense is able to pull it together by week three against USC, then Stanford could be the surprise team in the nation.
Chase Cooper (11-1 regular season)
Defense has been Stanford's calling card of late, but this year the Cardinal will have balanced and steady play from all three phases. Look for Shaw and company to rumble through the regular season unscathed outside of an early loss at SC, only to build momentum heading into a Pac-12 Championship and their first ever College Football Playoff appearance.
Sean Levy (9-4)
I am a pessimist who likes to be proved wrong. Yes, the schedule is favorable in terms of where they play their big games, but not in terms of whom they play. Stanford only has one true road game and that would be USC in week three. The only preseason ranked Pac-12 team they don't play is #15 Arizona St. According to Phil Steele, Stanford has the #9 hardest schedule in the nation, but that doesn't stop him from putting them as his #1 surprise team in the country. The schedule is not the only worrisome aspect of the Cardinal's 2015-2016 campaign; the defense is another liability. It was depleted last season through graduating seniors and by the NFL draft. Stanford returns only two of their top 10 tacklers (Blake Martinez and Kevin Anderson). The defense will be young and will struggle against some more experienced QBs such as Cody Kessler, Vernon Adams Jr., and Malik Zaire. With all of that being said, the offense should be electric. Returning nine starters will be helpful for NFL prospect Kevin Hogan. This is the year where Hogan returns to 2012 form. He has all of his receivers back from a year ago besides Ty Montgomery and Christian McCaffrey is poised to have his best year yet. Overall Stanford is more offensively dominated this year which is different than what we have seen over Kevin Hogan's career, but different isn't always bad. I say Stanford loses to USC (Cody Kessler will tear up this young defense) early, either Arizona or UCLA, Oregon (Oregon has too much fire power on offense and if they do struggle early Vernon Adams Jr. should be settled in by week 11), and Notre Dame (17 starters returning and a great QB in Malik Zaire will prove to be too much). Stanford, prove me wrong.