It’s not even August yet and Stanford is once again the wildcard team in college football conversation. “They could go undefeated…. They could go 6-6…” College football is great because it truly is a sport that is 365 days or 366 for you leap year fanatics and the “what ifs” happen constantly. Recruiting happens year-round and a signing here and there or a decommit from a top prospect could change the foundation of your program. An injury in April workouts could take you from possible National Champion to early December bowl game at best. Heck even a loss in one of the first few games will have pundits throwing your title hopes off a bridge before October even rolls around.
The point is college football talking heads will never shut up for better or worse and Stanford is yet a team that pundits continue to ponder about. Now on paper, Stanford will return the best playmaker in the country in Christian McCaffrey but will be starting a new quarterback. The offensive line took some hits and the defensive line is still is a question mark behind Solomon Thomas. Even years have been tough on Stanford from a schedule point of view as that is when they have played the majority of good conference teams on the road as well as Notre Dame. Again, ON PAPER, the 2016 season looks like Stanford will probably be an 8 or 9 win team. However, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and compare and contrast if that 8/9 win season is giving Stanford a little too much credit or possibly not enough.
The guy calling the shots on offense is the most important player on the field. There’s a reason why guys like Joe Montana and Tom Brady have been considered the greatest players to ever play in the NFL and Tim Tebow and Vince Young, whom did play in the NFL are considered two of the best college football players of all-time. The quarterback position is very important and yet, you don’t have to be a GREAT football player but more of an efficient one to lead a college football team.
Since 2006, there have been 6 different national championship teams and of those 10 teams in all, only 3 had returning quarterbacks who had started in the previous season. Stanford is going to have to find a way to replace the winningest quarterback in school history in Kevin Hogan and it might not be as hard as it sounds.
In 2012, Stanford had a similar situation when Andrew Luck left and the competition seemed to be Josh Nunes versus Brett Nottingham. Nunes would win the battle but would have moments where he’d look absolutely dreadful and yet he still went 7-2. Those two losses, which would be the only two losses Stanford would go on to have that season were by a combined 11 points. That was David Shaw’s second season as head coach so maybe he missed something. Maybe 4 years later, he has better grasp on who should start. Maybe it doesn’t matter as both quarterbacks fighting for the job are more evolved as quarterbacks than Nunes, Nottingham, or Hogan were during their battle. It also helps that whoever wins the battle just has to do what Matt Leinart did on his way to glory and that was be as basic as possible and watch your star running back take care of business.
Last year, Alabama had Jake Coker at quarterback. In his first year as starter, he threw for over 200 yards 8 times so just over 50% of his games and his two best performances were in the College Football Playoff. He threw for 6 less touchdowns than Hogan and did so in one extra game with the same amount of interceptions. Stop stressing on who will be the quarterback for Stanford. David Shaw is 54-14 and I trust his experiences in the past will help him now. Nick Saban won two National Titles during Andrew Luck’s time at Stanford with far less talented quarterbacks. While the quarterback position is the most important, I’ll trust our current history.
Stanford has built a reputation of being a bully in the trenches. Chris Marinelli, Alex Fletcher, David DeCastro, David Yankey, Andrus Peat, and Joshua Garnett have all come through Stanford in the last decade. They have all had different strengths but their biggest skill was continuing to have the mindset of “next man up.” Stanford has built a solid offensive line every year and once again like Alabama, continues to reload every year. Since 2010, Alabama has had 10 different offensive linemen start for 2 or more years while Stanford has had 11. Both schools have had numerous first rounders in that span and it won’t stop anytime soon. Stanford will continue to plug in different names throughout the season but as long as Casey Tucker stays healthy, Stanford would have to come closer to the offensive line days of Jon Cochran and Jeff Edwards to worry about keeping their quarterback and backfield clean.
In case you haven’t noticed, Stanford is no longer a place where smart athletes go to just spend 4 years of their life and use football as a hobby to take time away from studying biomechanics and quantum physics. Football at Stanford is now primetime and all of a sudden, the student-athletes who come to Stanford are no longer 2 and 3 star recruits nor or they guaranteed playing time. It is a battlefield in Palo Alto. 10 years ago, Stanford had zero 4-star recruits. Not a single one. Now don’t me wrong, highly ranked recruits don’t always pan out and players like Toby Gerhart and Richard Sherman who weren’t ranked as high eventually play better than their stars indicated. History would tell you however that the majority of 4/5 star recruits will pan out at least in college and every national champion this decade had had at least one top 5 recruiting class. Stanford had a top-5 class in 2012 and even with their #63-rated class in 2013, Stanford has still averaged a top-25 class every year since 2010. While it is tough to get on the field as a true freshman at Stanford due to the extensiveness of the playbook, don’t be surprised if true freshman Curtis Robinson gets on the field early and often.
This is where most pundits bring up why Stanford is not going to win a national championship, why they won’t win the Pac-12 championship, and why they might struggle to make a bowl game. Now I might be overdoing it on the possibility of Stanford missing the entire bowl season altogether but it’s more of buying in how hard the schedule is ON PAPER.
Stanford lost week 1 last season so that will be in the back of their minds and it doesn’t matter who that game would be played against, the Northwestern game will come up if that week 1 game stays close in the second half. Stanford gets a BYE week in week 2. Absolutely a killer to have a bye week before you play arguably the toughest schedule in the country and need to play EVERY week after September 10th. Stanford does get USC at home but that has been a real rivalry for the last 10 years and with USC losing twice to Stanford last season (NEITHER BEING AT STANFORD), they will come in ready for revenge and will have already played Alabama so they will have played a team with similar concepts as Stanford.
The road schedule is UCLA, WASHINGTON, NOTRE DAME, ARIZONA, OREGON, CAL. UCLA hasn’t beat Stanford since the Bush Era but continue to recruit at a high level. Washington might be the Tennessee of the west as the team the media can’t stop drooling over and expects to get back to contending for titles. Notre Dame gets EVERY call at home and every phantom penalty will go their way. The last two times there have ended in dreadful defeats for Stanford. At Arizona will be a trap game coming off most likely a blowout win versus Colorado and looking past Oregon State a week later at what has been the de-facto Pac-12 championship game against Oregon. Oregon will probably struggle a little this season but I don’t expect this game to be light for Stanford as Oregon probably hates us as much as we hate them. And then Big Game where anything can happen…. BUT…. What if I told you Stanford will be ready. If David Shaw finds the right guy at quarterback before the USC game, Stanford will escape Washington with a 4-0 record and Shaw will be on the path to redeeming the 2012 season, which was “ONLY A ROSE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP”.
If #5 stays healthy, Stanford will be just fine…..