I know, it's barely June. Players won't even start practicing for the upcoming season until August. But there is no offseason for predictions. You can start them the minute after the final ticks melt off the clock to end the season, or even before that if you're really zealous.
Here are my snap judgements on the first six games on Stanford's schedule this season. Stay tuned for part two of these predictions coming up soon. All games are on Saturdays unless otherwise denoted.
Sept. 2nd (Friday) vs. Kansas State
Last season, Stanford came in confident against a seven-loss, non-conference Wildcats team, but couldn't wake up. ESPN's announcing crew said Stanford looked like a 'scout team' at the line of scrimmage, their mojo getting dashed along with Stanford's national title hopes.
This season, Stanford will come in confident against another seven-loss, non-conference Wildcats team, and hopefully won't fall victim to the same issues they did last year. It could take awhile to break in the new offensive line -- Stanford's prolific 2015 offense didn't score a touchdown until six quarters into the season -- but perhaps playing at home will mask some of these potential problems.
Kansas State also brings back just two starters on the offensive line, who have logged just 17 career games. That certainly won't help a team that finished above only Kansas in the Big 12 in total offense last season. Solomon Thomas and Co. should eat this line alive, enough to give Stanford a win to open the season.
Prediction: Stanford 24, KSU 10
Sept. 17th vs. USC
The outcome of this one should send a clear signal as to the direction of Stanford's season. Will the Cardinal seamlessly adjust to a new quarterback and a retooled line, or will it take a few games (or more)?
As usual, this game could go either way. USC always has its fair share of talent, but the playing field should be leveled given that the Trojans also have to replace last year's starting quarterback, Cody Kessler. I give Stanford the slight edge given that the students will be back at school (returning students come back on game day, and new students a few days earlier) and rocking "The Library." It'll be down to the wire, but I see Stanford holding on.
Prediction: Stanford 24, USC 23 (No significance at all to this score)
Sept. 24th @ UCLA
Another game against UCLA, another win. Stanford has won its last eight games against UCLA in a seven-year span -- and it hasn't been cheap victories. In that time, Stanford outscored the Bruins 277-131. The last time Stanford lost to UCLA, Tavita Pritchard and Alex Loukas were taking snaps under center.
Sure, Josh Rosen has another year under his belt, but Myles Jack is gone. UCLA will give more of a test than in recent years, but it won't be enough.
Prediction: Stanford 35, UCLA 20
Sept. 30th (Friday) @ Washington
Every year, Stanford lays an egg on the road in a game where it really shouldn't. It was Northwestern in 2015, ASU in 2014, Utah in 2013, and Washington in 2012. I think this could be that game this year.
With a good defense and an offense with tremendous room for growth, Washington has a very good chance to unseat Stanford or Oregon in the Pac-12 North. The two-headed monster of running back Myles Gaskin and quarterback Jake Browning could prove very tough to beat.
Rivaling Autzen for the loudest stadium in the conference, Husky Stadium is a very tough place to play, and will be a big test for Stanford's new quarterback. Josh Nunes failed that test in 2012, and I think Stanford's inexperience will catch up with them again in this game.
Prediction: Washington 31, Stanford 20
Oct. 8th vs. Washington State
Last year, Stanford had to hold on for dear life against the sneaky-good Cougars. Don't expect them to underestimate Wazzu again. This isn't to say that it'll be a walk in the park -- quarterback Luke Falk will likely grow on his huge season last year, and Washington State has an underrated backfield -- but it's hard to see Stanford falling at home in this one.
Prediction: Stanford 34, Washington State 22
Oct. 15th @ Notre Dame
As fun as that game was last year, it's hard to say Stanford looked like the better team. They had to have a hyper-efficient, gritty game from Kevin Hogan (quite possibly the best game of his career) in order to hold off the Irish, who out-gained Stanford by more than 100 yards, and put up 10.8 yards per play in the first half.
Although the Irish are losing some key pieces, including wide receiver Will Fuller and three starting offensive lineman, they're returning most of their defense and quarterback DeShone Kizer. They have some very talented receivers to replace the blazing Fuller (CJ Sanders and Miles Boykin), and should be a dominant offensive team again. That should be enough to take down the Cardinal, especialy in South Bend.
Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Stanford 27
So at the end of its first six games, I see the Cardinal facing a tough task ahead: win out or play in the Alamo Bowl (or worse). Certainly, a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game would be will within reach, but the Oregon Ducks would still be standing in their way. Again.
They'll likely face some adversity in the early going, having to break in so many key players on offense, including three new starting offensive lineman and a new quarterback, why I see them slipping up a little bit in this first stretch.