Playing sports and putting sports into words are two things that I have loved since the moment I could pick up a ball—or read a newspaper. Visualizing the pinnacle of athletic achievement, whether you achieved it—or even just witnessed it—is a feeling unparalleled.
I’ve been a lifelong Stanford fan—and I bring to Stanford football the same fiery passion of an SEC fan—wait, scratch that. The SEC brings the same fiery passion that I bring to Stanford football!
In elementary school, I watched Tyrone Willingham take Stanford to its first outright Pac-10 title in 29 years. In high school, I endured the mockery of all my high school friends while I rooted for a laughingstock of a Stanford team. And, yes, I enjoyed Stanford’s ascension into the football elite over the past decade.
But as we enter 2019—perhaps Stanford’s most important season in recent memory—which Stanford will we see?
First, S&P and FPI can kiss my big, red “S”! They’re projecting six wins? SIX WINS?! Stanford clearing six wins is something I’d bet The Farm on (pun intended)! Stanford’s never had fewer than eight wins since 2008—and that team was still rebuilding under Harbaugh. Perhaps I live in a fairy tale dreaming of a Rose Bowl or a National Championship—but to think Stanford is a .500 team is pure stupidity.
I’ll concede that Stanford has the toughest schedule in the country. But even in the worst-case scenario, Stanford loses only five games—and I only say that Stanford might lose five to appease any Oregon, USC, Notre Dame, and Washington fans out there who might be reading this. Even if Stanford loses to all four of those schools—plus a random fifth loss somewhere—that’s still a 7-5 year in the ultimate doomsday scenario.
It’s not just the statistical models disrespecting Stanford, though—Stanford has the most disrespected QB in all of college football. True, KJ Costello might not be the type of player Coach David Shaw would normally choose, but KJ Costello came along at the just the right time—and now Shaw is happily riding the KJ train. But the total lack of love for Costello in the media is inexplicable, especially with the media going gaga over Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Personally, I’d take Costello over Herbert in a heartbeat—and even ESPN begrudgingly conceded that Costello’s numbers last year were better than Herbert’s! Costello is an NFL talent; not only will he win Stanford those 6 games—but he has the potential to win 10 or more!
“But, nerdnation23, won’t defenses put eight in the box because Stanford no longer has Bryce Love?” Well, Stanford didn’t have the Bryce Love last year either! Last year, there was a Bryce Love, but the injured Bryce Love of 2018 was not the one we saw in 2017 who won Stanford yet another Heisman runner up. While 2017 Bryce Love may not be replaceable, 2018 Bryce Love has a number of suitable replacements. The first is Cameron Scarlett. Scarlett may not be Bryce Love—or Toby Gerhart—or Christian McCaffrey—or, well, you get the picture—but Scarlett was a 4-star recruit out of high school and there was nobody ranked higher than him out of the state of Oregon. He is a bruiser in the mold of a Stanford RB. He’s also a 5th-year guy who Shaw loves. In addition, Stanford also has incoming freshman Austin Jones who was ranked in the very elite of high school running backs. Whether Jones plays as a true freshman is yet to be seen. But last year Clemson rode a true freshman quarterback all the way to the national title. Age isn’t always the determinant of college football success.
Whoever is trusted with running the ball, though, this year’s line needs improvement. With Stanford losing the majority of last year’s line, though, it’s a good opportunity to push the reset button and start anew. And there’s reason for optimism with All-American Walker Little returning, who has the potential to become a David DeCastro-caliber lineman. Stanford bringing back a healthy Foster Sarrell might mean another All-American in the trenches. Add in Drew Dalman returning at center, and three-fifths of the line is teeming with veteran talent—add in a couple surprise young talents and this might just be the best Stanford offensive line in quite sometime.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford will not give up more than 35 points all year and I predict at least one shutout. There isn’t a single weak link remaining from the previous seasons—and Stanford has Paulson Adebo….Paulson Adebo…..PAULSON ADEBO!!! The last time Stanford had a lockdown cornerback as a national focal point was when I made a create-a-character in NCAA 2012.
As for special teams, Stanford lost punter Jake Bailey, which might be Stanford’s worst loss of anyone—and that isn’t an overstatement. Knowing you had a punter who had all-world capabilities meant Stanford could count on winning the field position game. Thankfully, Stanford signed Ryan Sanborn to the 2019 class who, while young, is still a top talent at punter. For placekicking, Stanford has one of the greatest in Jet Toner.
To reiterate: this is Stanford’s most important season in recent memory. That’s because this year will judge the next five years—maybe more. If Stanford is somehow as bad as the predictions say, Stanford will no longer be among the elite football schools; instead, it will hover around eight wins a season, maybe sneaking a conference title once every seven years or so. If, on the other hand, Stanford can overcome its grueling schedule and win 10+ games, Shaw will cement himself as the premiere coach of the Pac-12, proving that it doesn’t matter if it’s Luck, Hogan, Costello, or QB 2020—no matter the talent, Stanford will always be a reloading school—never a rebuilding one.