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Looking ahead to the 2016 Stanford football season

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A game by game break down of the 2016 Stanford football season

The 102nd Rose Bowl Game - Iowa v Stanford Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Last year the Cardinal went 12-2 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12. Looking forward to this season, let’s try to anticipate this year’s record and see if there are any potential trap games or upsets.

Kansas State Wildcats - Home

This is a solid win for the Cardinal to kick off the season as the Wildcats are coming off a 6-7 season in which they ranked 104th in total offense. The biggest advantage however for Stanford is that last season Kansas State let up 20 touchdowns to opposing running backs, along with 159 rushing yards a game and 4.3 yards per attempt. Christian McCaffrey will have a field day on this soft run defense.

USC Trojans - Home

Arguably the toughest stretch on the Stanford schedule is home to the Trojans and then away to the Bruins. Despite the fact that they lost their quarterback USC will be returning with All-Conference tackles in Chad wheeler and Zack Banner. They also have All-Conference cornerback Adoree Jackson and All-American wide receiver JuJu Smith. This will be a shoot out, but the team around Stanford’s elite athletes is better than the team around USC’s top tier players. USC’s defensive front seven is also wildly inexperienced and untested which should allow for a great offensive day for Christian McCaffrey. Finally, having the home turf will be a big advantage in this one. The Cardinal start out 2-0.

UCLA Bruins - Away

This is my trap game for the Cardinal. I know that they waxed UCLA 56-35 last year. I also realize that UCLA has not won a game against Stanford since 2008. I also realize that the Bruins lost guys like Myles Jack at linebacker and Paul Perkins at running back. But there are three reasons I have this down as a loss for Stanford. First, this game is on the heels of the USC, a game in which Stanford will have to play lights out in. Second, the Bruins are returning all of their secondary, including Fabian Moreau who was one of their top players before falling early last season to injury. This will take a lot of pressure off a young, but very athletic front seven because now they have the option to play more man coverage and really load the box against McCaffrey.

And finally, while obvious, it must be said: Quarterback Josh Rosen is a stud. Last season he had a 60% completion rate and threw for 3,670 yards, averaging 134 yards a game. This is a guy who has a huge ceiling and will have running backs who all saw time last year in the backfield. Furthermore, with a healthy defense we will see a better version of Rosen because he will not have to play from behind in so many games. He was a true freshman last year and played like it in a lot of spots but now that he has played in the spotlight there isn’t any reason he doesn't come out better. Stanford takes their first loss and is 2-1.

Washington Huskies - Away

The hype train has been rolling for this Huskies team all offseason long. The primary driving force for it is star quarterback Jake Browning, after coming off a 2,955 yard passing season. 2015 also witnessed him throw for a 63% completion rate and average 246.3 yards per game. Their defense also was ranked in the top 30. Never the less Stanford has a stout defense to lean on and more importantly the Huskies let up 133 yards rushing a game. Stanford can yet again use their most dynamic athlete to gain the advantage. Stanford battles on the road to reach 3-1 record.

Washington State Cougars - Home

Not many call this a close match up, as the Cougars are coming off a nine win season. They averaged 31.5 points per game last season and this year they will also be returning All-Conference quarterback Luke Falk and wide receiver Gabe Marks, which gives them a very good edge on offense. And they also only gave away 28 points a game which is a recipe for a tight game. Stanford squeezes out a close one to get to 4-1.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Away

This was a fantastic game last year which ended in a 38-36 win for the Cardinal. In the rematch it will truly be a matter of who is coming back. Jaylon Smith (LB), Ronnie Stanley (OT), Willie Fuller (WR), Nick Martian (C), KeiVarae Russell (CB), sheldon Day (DT) and C.J. Prosise (RB) all left the Irish in rounds 1-4 in the draft. You cannot lose that much high grade talent and expect the same team the next year. This is not close to the same team and will not be close to the same game. Stanford moves to 5-1.

Colorado Buffaloes - Home

This one is a great home game after playing the Irish on the road. All Stanford has to make sure of is not to get sloppy and drop what should be an easy one. Stanford 6-1.

Arizona Wildcats - Away

The Arizona defense struggled last season when Scooby Wright got injured, and took a step back when he got drafted. However, the offense last season scored 37.4 points a game, and almost every game they played last year was an offensive shootout. As long as the Cardinal do not get pulled into playing Arizona’s game they should be fine, for this is another game McCaffrey could really put up some big numbers as he squares away against a weak interior defense. Stanford improves to 7-1.

Oregon State Beavers - Home

The only two teams that Oregon State beat last season were Weber State and San Jose State. Stanford is leagues above those schools at every position on their roster. Stanford crushes the Beavers at home to get to 8-1.

Oregon Ducks - Away

Stanford has been a very dominant team for a while now, and through the last six years the Ducks have beat them four times- the only team to beat the Cardinal more than twice in that timespan.

Stanford has watched the Pac-12 go fast, small and spread out and then they headed the opposite way. They stuck with big, ground and pound ball, which has worked extremely well on everyone except Oregon. That’s because the Ducks can go faster than anyone else in college football. They also are constantly setting themselves up for the big play: They employ a multitude of screen or pitch option plays early in drives to get defenders committing to going downhill immediately off the snap, and then hit the long fade over your head when you are on top of the guy in the flat who has been catching the screens all game.

Stanford will counter with linebackers that can play in coverage and make the right decisions in space. Defensive guys flying around making plays will be the difference in this one as they slip past the Ducks to make 9-1.

California Golden Bears - Away

The Bears were headed up in the college football world, but with Jared Goff's departure this team regresses severely. Even with three years of having Goff on the roster last year was their first time above .500 since 2011. This squad just does not have the playmakers, especially on defense, to break into the top level of the Pac-12. Stanford cruises past the Bears to get to 10-1.

Rice Owls - Home

Against other Conference USA teams the Owls are pretty good. But they regularly get bulldozed a couple of times a year by top five conference teams. This is just one of those cream puff games for Stanford, timed perfectly before the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford finishes the season with an 11-1 record.

Overall Prediction

Stanford will go to the Pac-12 Championship game and beat whoever they play. They are a very solid roster from top to bottom and have a very real shot at being a top four team, competing for the College Championship. They also have the best college football player in the country in Christian McCaffrey, which will make a difference in every game they play. This will be a great year for Stanford football. You won’t want to miss a game.