Who knows the last time Stanford started 1-2?
Well, I do. The year was 2017, and that year Stanford salvaged their season after Bryce Love’s heroic performance. The team went 9-5, including its loss to USC in the PAC-12 Championship. Overall, with their quarterback issues and defensive holes, the season was likely consider a success by many. This year, Stanford starts the season with a 1-2 record again. Will they be able to repeat the success of 2017?
Let’s start with the case for Stanford to turn around their season.
Connor Wedington has looked like the playmaker Stanford fans expected him to be. Although relatively quiet versus UCF, the junior receiver has shown flashes of Christian McCaffrey:
Against USC, Wedington had 197 all-purpose yards but then disappeared versus UCF. David Shaw must realize that for a team that desperately needs a spark, and Wedington could be the answer. In particular, Wedington has looked useful in screen passes and in the open field. The issue for him is that Shaw rarely calls those plays as they add risk of turnover and loss of yards. However, plays like a screen pass also give the Cardinal a chance at big yard pick-up. Getting the ball to Wedington should be a risk worth taking.
KJ Costello was a dark-horse Heisman candidate ahead of this season, but then he got knocked out of the game versus Northwestern and missed the USC matchup. He didn’t play his best versus UCF, especially in the first half. However, now that Costello is back, he’ll give the Cardinal a chance in almost any game when he’s playing well. Last year, he played hero versus Oregon and UCLA. David Shaw will need to let Costello loose and give him a chance at playing hero again if he wants to keep the team’s bowl chances alive.
Believe it or not this Stanford team has a lot of similarities to the 2017 one. David Shaw had Bryce Love, who three games in was just a young, up-and-coming running back. Connor Wedington could be a similar answer, although he does not typically line up in the backfield. In 2017, Costello came into a struggling offense and resurrected it; he’ll need to do the same again this year.
Unfortunately, however, there are a lot more reasons to think Stanford misses a bowl game.
The first being their difficult schedule. They play Oregon next, Washington two weeks later, and they conclude the season with Washington State, Cal, and Notre Dame. Those are five ranked teams, and Stanford will need to win at least one of those games to make a bowl. Plus, they also face Colorado on the road, and Stanford will likely be the underdog in that game. To get to six wins, Stanford will need upset a couple teams.
The second (and somewhat third) reason is Stanford’s lack of depth after suffering injuries and many seniors departed. Walker Little, Stanford’s star lineman, is out for the year. Foster Sarell, another highly regarded lineman, has been injury prone. Linebacker Ricky Miezan, who showed lots of promise ahead of the year, is out for an extended period of time. Furthermore, aside from losing key players like Love, Arcega-Whiteside, and Irwin, Stanford also had many players exhaust their last year of eligibility, including Kaden Smith and a handful of linemen. With the combination of injuries and departing players, Stanford has been forced to play 13 true freshmen this season, which is not normal for David Shaw.
The last reason is Stanford’s development of players. Most of these players Stanford recruited have not panned out. The defense is filled with upperclassmen, many being at least four-star recruits, and Stanford lacks a dominating force on the defensive side. I blame player development. Senior Curtis Robinson, for example, was considered a five-star linebacker on some recruiting sites, yet he hasn’t progressed (at least partially due to injuries) and is just now starting for the first time.
Ultimately, the odds of making a bowl game looked stacked against Stanford. Can we really expect Connor Wedington to turn into a Bryce Love/Christian McCaffrey type figure? No. Can we expect KJ Costello to play hero every week? No, he simply lacks the offensive line to be protected long enough. However, we must still keep in mind that the Cardinal have David Shaw’s steadying presence. Shaw’s teams seem to always start off slow and turn around late in the season.
But with a difficult schedule ahead and the lack of depth, I just don’t see this team making a bowl game. There’s a long road ahead to six wins.