While Stanford is one of the few teams in college football to return eight starters on both sides of the ball, the absence of playmakers such as Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas will be noticeable. If the Cardinal want to continue their unprecedented run of success, some fresh faces will have to step up on The Farm.
Quarterback play has remained essential in determining a team’s success in college football, which is why Stanford’s fate in 2017 will depend heavily upon the performance of Keller Chryst. While the extended quarterback battle between Chryst and Burns limited Chryst’s opportunities under center last year, Chryst looked better and better as the season progressed. Stanford won all six games that Chryst started in 2016, including the Sun Bowl that saw Chryst tear his ACL. Shaw has said that he “feels pretty good” about Chryst being able to start the season opener against Rice, but Chryst’s health and his ability to perform as a full-time starter still remain uncertain. If the Cardinal want to compete for a Pac-12 Championship and a Playoff spot in 2017, Chryst will need to step up next year.
Charlie Beall/Jet Toner
While the losses of McCaffrey and Thomas received deserved attention from analysts and fans alike, the loss of Conrad Ukropina may prove to be costly as well. Conrad Ukropina graduated from Stanford this past June as the holder of a multitude of program kicking records. In the months since Ukropina’s departure, his replacement has yet to be named. Charlie Beall seems to have a slight edge over Jet Toner, but the gap between the two kickers is so narrow that Shaw has yet to name a starting kicker just days before Stanford’s first game. Regardless of whether Beall or Toner win the starting job, they will have to find a way to replicate the consistent offensive weapon that Ukropina represented.
Anyone who has followed college football over the past two years knows what a unique and dynamic playmaker Christian McCaffrey was. It goes without saying that finding a replacement for a player who can produce 3,864 all-purpose yards in one season will be difficult, but Bryce Love may just be the man for the task. With a similar skillset to McCaffrey, Love could conceivably be Stanford’s workhorse in the backfield and on kickoffs as well. In his two games as a starting back, Love rushed for 129 and 115 yards respectively. If the Cardinal want to keep up with the likes of Washington and USC, Love will have to replicate that productivity all season long.
Solomon Thomas’ dominating Sun Bowl performance helped to highlight how crucial the team leader in tackles, sacks, and fumble recoveries was to the Stanford defense last year. Thomas’ 61 tackles last year dwarf the 20 tackles that Dylan Jackson and Luke Kaumatule combined for from the strong-side. With the departure of Kaumatule and Thomas, Jackson will need to step into a significantly bigger role on the defensive line for the Cardinal. Converted tight end Eric Cotton will most likely fill the position left by Thomas, which means that Jackson will need to post significantly more than fifteen tackles next year if the Cardinal want to remain a defensive powerhouse.
There are many other players who need to have good years for Stanford to be successful in 2017. Stanford has prided itself on team football, and that won’t change this season. While every player needs to perform to the best of their ability, the performances of these aforementioned four players will likely go a long way in determining the fate of Stanford’s 2017 season.