The first game of the season is a mere few days away, with the anticipation of an entire summer reaching boiling point.
As the Stanford Cardinal and San Diego State Aztecs hit the turf Friday night, both teams have plenty of expectations and questions around their respective rosters. Here are the top expectations behind each program.
Juwan Washington Breaks Out
Between Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny, SDSU consistently boasted a 1,000-yard running back from 2014 to 2017, with both backs topping 2,000 yards in their final seasons. The pressure is on the new starter, Washington, to follow in their footsteps. Stanford is shaky on the defensive front, and Washington is going to get plenty of shots, as he is returning kicks and punts along with taking snaps in an offense that lost most of their top receivers.
Opportunity and a soft defensive front will spark Washington’s 2018 campaign.
Stat Line - 102 rushing yards, one touchdown, 157 return yards
Osiris St. Brown Electrifies
Equanimeous St. Brown averaged 16.1 yards per reception with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish; now both his brothers (Osiris and Amon-Ra) are in the PAC-12. All three took the top off of defenses throughout high school, and after their older brother’s tenure with ND, Osiris is anticipated to do the same at the colligate level.
He gives the Cardinal something they have not had in a great while: a genuinely devastating burner on the outside. He may not lead Stanford in receptions, but Osiris will change the passing attack of the Cardinal.
Stat Line - three receptions, 84 yards, one touchdown
Bryce Love Runs It Back
The hype train around Love has been chugging along at full speed since last summer, so there is not much to say here. Love is a Heisman contender, expect him to play like it.
Stat Line - 136 yards, two touchdowns
Kaden Smith Acts As Safety Blanket
Quarterback K.J. Costello is the undisputed starter, and there are a lot of reasons to expect an uptick in his production; Smith is one of those reasons. Tight ends accounted for 12 receiving touchdowns last season while the wide receiving corps recorded only 11. Smith himself recorded five scores on just 23 receptions.
When the field gets tight, Smith is a favorite target for Costello. In the junior’s second season of action, all signs point to him being a frequent target following glowing praise from head coach David Shaw and plenty of spring game action. Paired with a receiver like St. Brown, who will pull safeties, and the rise of Costello, success seems inevitable for Smith.
Stat Line - seven receptions, 75 yards
Costello Does Not Over-Extend
The Stanford offense has a running back contending for the Heisman for a second time, a wide receiver featured on HBO’s Real Sports show with his family and is on a team that for the first time in a decade, must compensate for their defense.
In all, there is a lot of pressure on quarterback Costello. The most important thing in game one, against a team they are favored to beat by 14 points, is to drive the Ferrari. Every pass cannot be a home run try to Osiris, nor can he hesitate on every throw in fear of an interception.
Costello needs stay calm behind Love and the running game, finding his comfort zone from last season in the pistol formation and consistently getting through his reads. Calm is all Costello should shoot for in the opener.
Stat Line - 14-of-23, 196 yards, two touchdowns
The Light Stay On
Last season, Stanford lost 20-17 on an 8-yard touchdown pass to David Wells. Six minutes before the dagger of a score, the lights went out in the SDCCU Stadium, causing a 25-minute freeze. Blaming a game on lights may be even worse than blaming a referee, but saying the 25-minute second halftime absolutely did not impact the game is also further than I am willing to go. Hopefully, the lights run as smoothly as Love.
Stat Line - The Cardinal win under consistent illumination
The Cardinal Start 1-0
This season, Stanford has a new twist on an offense that can already churn out rushing yards. Confidence at quarterback for the first time since Kevin Hogan, a deep threat receiver and a tight end drawing Zach Ertz comparisons are all surrounding a ground game that produced over 2,000 yards in 2017.
The defense will bite this team, but not in game one against the Aztecs.
Stat Line - Stanford wins 31-17