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5 Big Questions for Stanford Football in 2019

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There’s a lot of change for the Cardinal, but some key contributors could help them punch above their weight in the competitive Pac-12

NCAA Football: Stanford at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

1. How will Stanford survive a brutal schedule?

It’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s been named by just about everybody as one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The first six games of the schedule:

  • Northwestern
  • at USC
  • at UCF
  • Oregon
  • at Oregon State
  • Washington

Sure, three of those games are at home, and getting Oregon State on the road might be good luck, but overall it’s pretty daunting. If Stanford starts slow, it could be 2-4 and totally out of the Pac-12 conference race by the first weekend in October. But if Stanford starts 4-2 or better, it could have the inside track in the Pac-12 North.

2. No Bryce Love, no JJ Arcega-Whiteside... so what does the offense do?

Sure, Stanford didn’t get the season they expected out of Bryce Love last season, but they got an all-time great season from Arcega-Whiteside, and the two of them were the focal points of the Stanford offense all season long, for better and for worse.

This year, a lot of new faces are going to have to get the job done instead. Receivers Osiris St. Brown, Michael Wilson, and Conor Wedington are likely to employ a more “catch-and-run” style than JJ’s “box-out-and-dominate” game. But big targets are still around, like 6-foot-7 tight end Colby Parkinson, who torched Oregon State for 166 yards and four touchdowns.

The running game is a little less clear, but solid Senior runner Cameron Scarlett should get the lion’s share of the carries in an offense that (gasp!) might throw more than run. More on that in a moment.

3. Can KJ Costello carry the offense?

KJ enjoyed a breakout season a year ago as the full-time starter, throwing for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns.

However, his favorite targets from a year ago, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trent Irwin, and Kaden Smith, are all in the NFL. Those three alone accounted for 63 percent of the catches, 67 percent of the yards, and 62 percent of the touchdowns. That’s a lot to replace.

KJ might lean a lot on Parkinson, who was second on the team with seven touchdown receptions a year ago, and should command the middle of the field with authority.

But it’s more than just replacing production—KJ is also going to have to protect the football and be the leader and face of the team. With a tough schedule and lot of young pass-catchers jockeying for touches, KJ is going to have to be even better in what is likely to be his final year on the Farm.

4. Is the offensive line ready for prime time?

By many metrics, last year was the worst year for a Stanford offensive line in a decade. Injuries, position changes, and a new offensive line coach led to a puny 3.65 yards per carry, a massive dropoff from 5.9 yards per carry the year before.

The offensive line wasn’t even healthy enough to field a full squad through spring practice, but summer has given the line a chance to heal and solidify itself before the season. All the other talk about the offense is indeed important, but the offensive line has an opportunity to be Stanford’s biggest year-over-year improvement from 2018.

5. Can the defense raise its game?

Paulson Adebo had a breakout year as a true lockdown corner a year ago, but the defense as a whole hasn’t quite been able to reach the standard of the 2013 and 2014 Stanford defenses for a few years now.

The Stanford defense gave up 7.4 yards per attempt in the pass-heavy Pac-12, and was carved up by Justin Herbert and Gardner Minshew for a combined 784 yards and four TDs.

To win nine or ten games against this tough schedule, or get back to the top of the Pac, the Stanford defense will have to be sturdy against tough QB competition.