Ryan Burns was tabbed by David Shaw last Wednesday as the heir apparent to fellow Northern Virginian Kevin Hogan. Depending on who you wanted to win the QB competition, there can be two alternate groups of thinking.
Thought Group #1 (Pro Keller Chryst): Burns, a redshirt junior, is only going to start one year, and the Pac-12 might be on the outside looking in, in terms of securing a playoff spot this season. McCaffrey might stay for his senior year if he does what he did last year, and it would be nice to have a consistent signal-caller for his last two years to develop the same rapport with Chryst which he had with Kevin Hogan.
Thought Group #2 (Pro-Burns): Okay, we can work with this...although he hasn't thrown a meaningful pass, much less taken a meaningful snap (besides a victory formation) since the first game of his sophomore year. There's no reason he shouldn't be able to come in and be as good as Hogan... even if it's just for one season. I just don't know... that K-State defense can be sneaky good at times.
Let's stop and think about that second opinion for just a few minutes. Why not more optimism?
Burns has had the opportunity to watch Hogan lead the Cardinal offense to 36 wins. He's also been inserted into a backfield next to a Heisman contender. But there are less pressing concerns in terms of the depth/talent of the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball.
First, we should consider that, even though Burns' only career pass attempt/completion happened over two years ago, this is a Stanford offense full of new faces. I believe that this group of backs and receivers is one of the best Palo Alto has seen in the last few years.
In fact, despite the departures of reliable red zone target Austin Hooper and vertical threat Devon Cajuste, the Cardinal welcome eight of their 10 top pass-catchers of 2015 back into the fold. Fifth-year senior Michael Rector, who is expected to assume Cajuste's role as the top receiving target in 2016, and sophomore Trent Irwin, who was labeled by Coach Shaw at Pac-12 Media Days as "the best route runner out of high school," look to lead a young, talented unit.
This is also without mentioning Francis Owusu, the guy I thought made the catch of the year in college football against UCLA, and Dalton Schultz, who is developing into one of the conference's best and most versatile tight-ends.
The running back conversation is no different. Behind the #WildCaff are sophomores Bryce Love and Cameron Scarlett. Love, the 5-10 speedster and change-of-pace back, is the subject of screen passes and could be flexed out as a receiver on passing downs. Scarlett has the size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) and strength to step into the role vacated by a departed Remound Wright as a short-yardage or goal-line option.
The only chink in the armor of a powerful running game could be the fact that David Shaw's group will need to fill a trio of holes on the offensive line. If they can do that, then Burns will be like a kid at Christmas, unwrapping all of his offensive playmakers with glee and utilizing all of them to reach the end zone safely and frequently.
Which brings me to Thought Group number three.
Thought Group #3: You really can't go wrong with either quarterback. However, when Burns takes the first snaps against the Wildcats, he is going to have a full arsenal of offensive weapons to play with. September 2nd can't come fast enough.