Let's face it; David Shaw is nothing short of disappointed with Stanford's 8-5 finish (second in Pac-12 North) last season especially with a top-tier defense.
Shaw and the rest of his team will have to make a statement this season, unfortunately for Pat Fitzgerald, that'll be on his Northwestern Wildcats.
Not only will The Cardinal win Saturday, they will comfortably and control the full game without struggle.
Here are a few reasons why Stanford will easily succeed:
Kevin Hogan will significantly outplay Clayton Thorson
Not only is Hogan the all-around better player, Thorson, being out of organized football for almost two years, is going to show some rust.
Although it is lucky for him that Stanford's secondary is fairly inexperienced, Thorson will still have to face a tough defense up front and poor decision-making will follow.
It is acceptable to see a few mistakes that lead to a change in possession on Thorson's behalf Saturday afternoon.
Christian McCaffrey will build on late 2014 season success
McCaffrey is one of more fortunate backs in NCAA with a stout offensive line that only had to replace All-American Tackle Andrus Peat.
McCaffrey will be looking to take his skills to the next level, getting The Cardinal back on track, honing at least a 1,000-yard rushing season.
His late success last season shows that he has what it takes and when paired up against Northwestern's mediocre run defense (47th S&P according to Football Outsiders), things are looking positive.
Expect at least 100 yards and two touchdowns from McCaffrey.
The Cardinal's crippling front seven
This is where the game is settled. Mismatch is written all over Stanford's pass rush and run defense compared to Northwestern's offensive line. This team's defense was ranked fifth last season for a reason, and those reasons are found in Outside Linebackers Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi. Best part is Kalambayi will now be a full-fledged starter so that only means more sacks for the defense.
Northwestern isn't prepared for the speed that comes from a 3-4 defense and not to mention players of caliber while in the system. Stanford worked immediately to solidify the defensive line, even taking in a Bay Area rival Cal's Brennan Scarlett to fill the hole at defensive end.
Anderson and Kalambayi will pick up right where they left off and tally 2.5 sacks along with six tackles for loss.
My prediction is that The Cardinal will score first and control the game early on, coasting past the Wildcats 31-13. Shaw will have this team fired up and ready to steamroll Northwestern. The only regression will be a scoreless third quarter when the offense shows signs of a 2014 relapse.