You can feel it -- spring is in the air, and that means it's finally time for spring football. For every college football team, spring is a time for player development and position battles, while giving us our football fix that we've been craving for months.
For Stanford, the spring culminates with the Cardinal and White game on Saturday (1:00 PST), being played for the first time at Cagan Stadium, the home of Cardinal soccer. It's a much more intimate venue than Stanford Stadium was for the Spring Game, holding a modest 1,900 fans. As always, admission is free, and the gates open at 12:45, or 12:15 for season ticket holders.
The game marks the last time the team will come back together until training camp starts in August, and is part of an all-new "Cardinalpalooza" festival. You can watch beach volleyball all day, men's tennis at 1:00 PM, and women's water polo at 3:00 PM, and take part in other fan activities at Maloney Field. For further details check here.
But as far as I'm concerned, the most important things to watch are on the football field. What should you be watching for as you soak in Stanford football once again?
It's the battle that's been raging ever since Kevin Hogan played his last down at Stanford -- Keller Chryst taking on Ryan Burns for the starting quarterback job. Head coach David Shaw maintains the two are neck-and-neck, but from everything I've heard from sources around the team, it seems that Chryst is the favorite to start the year under center, with newcomer K.J. Costello possibly being in the mix.
Costello was a five-star recruit and Army All-American out of Santa Margarita Catholic High School, but will have a lot to learn heading into the season and isn't on campus yet -- he's still in high school. However, at his press conference after National Signing Day, Shaw didn't rule out the possibility of Costello starting this season:
"For us the at the quarterback position we haven't had a true freshman play for us and we'll see how things go. We have a quarterback competition and there is a lot of information that needs to be digested at the quarterback position so without saying that K.J. is definitely going to redshirt or that he is definitely going to play . . . it is going to be tough to play as a freshman but at the same time his long-term prognosis is pretty dog gone good.
You never say impossible, you never say impossible. You say unlikely, you know because part of it is the mental aspect of it, its probably the biggest part but at the same time to physically prepare for playing college football as a quarterback, that pounding that quarterbacks can take you want to make sure the guy's physically ready as well. K.J. is very bright, he's going to pick up the system I'm sure as well as anybody that we've had but at the same time I do want to put that much pressure on him to say 'you're gonna get it as a freshman' whereas we haven't had a guy that was ready to play first year. . . . I'm not going to speed up K.J.'s progress. His progress is going to be whatever his progress is, and when he gets to that point where he's ready to play he's going to be outstanding."
So assuming that Costello doesn't do the unlikely, it comes down to the underdog Burns and Chryst. Burns does have the edge in experience in the system, having played for three years under Shaw already, but Chryst is just one year behind and seems to have stronger physical tools. You might remember this:
QB Keller Chryst pancake block vs. Arizona
"Hands inside, and he keeps his feet running. Oh yeah, that's textbook blocking."That time when QB Keller Chryst pancaked Arizona defenders as the lead blocker for Christian McCaffrey.#TBT #HomeOfIntellectualBrutality #GoStanford #BeatZonaPosted by Stanford Football on Thursday, October 8, 2015
Nevertheless, a strong performance on Saturday could give Burns momentum going forward. We won't know who will start against Kansas State until roughly a week before the opener, but each quarterback's usage and performance will definitely give us some strong clues.
Zach Hoffpauir's Return to Safety
After "pulling a Gaffney", former Stanford safety Zach Hoffpauir is returning to the Farm for a fifth year of eligibility. Hoffpauir tried his hand at baseball in a brief stint in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, and decided to come back to football. He racked up 44 tackles in his final season at Stanford as a free safety, and was one of the hardest hitters on the team.
A lack of appreciation for baseball wasn't why he made the switch: "It had nothing to do with baseball, necessarily," Hoffpauir said. "It was more just me. I wanted to go back and finish what I started. Right now I'm looking to play well, have a good season and then see where it takes me after that. I kind of just go day by day."
Now, he is attempting to play safety and corner for the Cardinal, and has some work to do. Shaw said he looks like a "baseball player coming back to football," but is generally very encouraged. "You can see (the talent); it's there," he said. "He's so smart. It's all making sense to him. It's just getting your body back to football moves.''
With free safety Kodi Whitfield's graduation, there's an open spot for Hoffpauir. Shaw said he won't be here to "take over the defense," but rather to "be part of the mix" and "part of something special." If he wants to compete for free safety, he'll battle Ben Edwards, Ben Simmons, and maybe even Calvin Chandler for time -- it will be interesting to watch who gets the majority of the reps on Saturday.
Rebuilding on the Offensive Line
Like most teams, Stanford has lived and died by its offensive line. When it was forced to replace several starters in 2014, it struggled to get a push in for the most of the season and the Cardinal floundered to a 8-5 finish and a Foster Farms Bowl appearance. They failed to establish the running game until late in the season, when they finally started winning battles in the trenches. Suddenly, Remound Wright was a dominant running back.
Last season, with one of the best offensive lines in the nation, Stanford paved the way for the best individual season in college football history. Now, they'll have to replace All-American Kyle Murphy, Outland Trophy Winner Joshua Garnett, and All Pac-12 center Graham Shuler, three of the Cardinal's five starters.
To prevent another disappointing season like 2014, the new starters will have to make a big step up. Right tackle Casey Tucker and right guard Johnny Caspers will return, but the other three spots remain question marks. Former four-star recruits Brandon Fanaika and David Bright should take two of those spots, but the final spot is more up in the air. Another former four-star recruit Nick Wilson, in his second year on the Farm, could be in the mix. How Shaw shuffles them around could be indicative of the starting offensive line we'll see come September.