Cleat Geeks

2016 Pac 12 Preview: Stanford Cardinal

For nearly the past decade, the North division has dominated the Pac-12, bringing in the conference champion every year since 2008 and hovering as the best overall division in all of college football. In a division that has been headlined by Oregon and Stanford during that span, there is much more competition heading into 2016. Washington is much stronger this season and faces huge national expectations with a possible conference crown on the horizon. Washington State is no team to sleep on due to their fast-paced offense and high-powered passing attack headlined by All-Pac 12 QB Luke Falk. The bottom feeders of the division this season figure to be California and Oregon State. The Golden Bears are faced with the tough task to replace 1st overall pick Jared Goff under center, while the Beavers are tasked with the mission of bouncing back from a winless season in conference play. Both, however, will be scrappy teams who could serve as a threat to end a team’s Playoff hopes.Pac12IntroPhoto

Take a look as we dig deep into the Pac-12 North division. Comment with some predictions of your own regarding the Stanford Cardinal. Will they have a tough time reloading the roster, or can Christian McCaffrey run them to a division title? Follow @JonValencia_WiB for more Pac-12 updates throughout the offseason as we gear up for opening week.

3 – Stanford Cardinal (8-4, 6-3 – NORTH)

Players to Watch: QB Keller Chryst, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Michael Rector, DT Solomon Thomas, LB Peter Kalambayi, LB Kevin Palma
Key Departures: QB Kevin Hogan, WR Devon Cajuste, TE Austin Hooper, OT Kyle Murphy, G Joshua Garrett, LB Blake Martinez

Coming off their third Pac-12 championship in the past four seasons, David Shaw has transformed Stanford into the team to beat out west. Last season they went as far as romping Iowa for their 2nd Rose Bowl victory since 2012 in a 45-16 rout. Things are a bit different this season in Palo Alto as there remains a question mark at the QB position, something the team is not accustomed to entering the season. Since 2009, they’ve been arguably the most stable under center of any team as Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan combined for 85 starts over that span. Who will step up as Stanford’s signal caller in 2016?

Photo by; Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Photo by; Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

The early favorite in the Spring was Keller Chryst. The promising sophomore was a consensus four star recruit coming out of high school where he threw for 85 TDs. He possesses a rare 6’5”/237 frame with arm strength not very many QBs can match. Chryst has recognizable bloodlines as his dad serves as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and his uncle is the head coach at Wisconsin. Expected to run away with the job, redshirt junior Ryan Burns has turned it into a close competition. Burns is another QB with big stature who looked sharp in the Spring. My money is still on Chryst to start week 1 against Kansas State. Regardless, overcoming the inexperience under center can prove to be a weakness for Stanford as they face a tough schedule early on in the season.

Arguably the most polarizing player in all of college football, Christian McCaffrey returns for the Cardinal after breaking the NCAA record for all-purpose yard as he accumulated 3,864 last season. McCaffrey enters the season as the Heisman favorite and will be the main source of offense on a Cardinal offense which lacks spark in the passing game. The tailback even led the team in receiving last season with 645 of his yards coming as a receiver. Bryce Love compliments McCaffrey in the backfield. A speedy, change-of-pace back who averaged 7.8 yards on the ground last season and chipped in with 226 yards in the passing game as well. He will make a name for himself this season as he completes arguably the best RB tandem in the Pac-12 behind the duo at Arizona State.ChristianMcCaffreyHeisman

In the receiving corps, fifth year senior Michael Rector will serve as the top target. Rector led the team with 7 TD catches in 2015 and should see more production in his final college season. His speed makes him a good vertical threat which should compliment Chryst’s arm strength well. Aside from Rector, the next two guys in line combined for only 25 catches last season as they need to replace Devon Cajuste and tight end Austin Hooper. Luckily, the offense has McCaffrey to lean on.

The offensive line has been the staple for that Stanford offense over the past five years or so, but they need to replace three starters from last season including 1st round pick Joshua Garnett. Casey Tucker leads the unit at right tackle. Senior David Bright will take over the blindside in his first year as a full-time starter. Bright faces high hopes after attending the prestigious Mater Dei high school in California where he earned a four star grade coming out. A group that has always been a huge strength for this program, it’ll be a bit out of character to see so much inexperience, but this group should gel together in due time with the great coaching at Stanford.

QuentonMeeksThe strength of the defense will come in the secondary where the Cardinal are loaded with depth. Sophomore Quenton Meeks projects as the nickel corner who made 3 interceptions in his first college season and has great size at 6’2” – he could be up for All Pac-12 this season. The team gets back safety Zach Hoffpauir back after he took a year off to pursue his pro baseball career. On the outside, the team returns both starting corners from last season in Alijah Holder and Alameen Murphy.

Up front the defense will be forced to replaced both outside pieces on the defensive line. Solomon Thomas serves as the nose tackle and is one of the best interior linemen in the conference after recording 10.5 tackles for loss last season. Along with the offensive line, the Cardinal will be inexperienced in the defensive trenches as well.

The biggest loss on the defense comes in the LB corps as Blake Martinez graduated and heads to the NFL. The tackling machine served as the heart and soul on the Cardinal defense, although Stanford still fields a solid LB corps led by outside LB Peter Kalambayi who racked up 52 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season – he will serve as the team’s primary pass rusher. Redshirt senior Kevin Palma will attempt to take over the role in the middle of the defense left behind by Martinez as the team’s leader.

While they’ve been the most consistent team in the conference since David Shaw took over five years ago and have only seen one season under 11 wins, the Cardinal won’t be quite the same team in 2016 as we’ve seen in years past. Their inexperience under center and in the trenches will hurt them, especially early on in the season where they see a five-game stretch which features the likes of: USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State and Notre Dame – they’d be lucky to come out with three wins during that span. They catch a break as they get over two weeks off to prep before their meeting at home with USC. I do have high hopes for Keller Chryst, but there may be some growing pains – assuming he secures the starting QB job, although he will be on a tight leash. The lack of weapons in the receiving game will hurt a bit, but Christian McCaffrey will make up for that as he looks to win the Heisman this season. The defense is solid but will need guys like Solomon Thomas and Peter Kalambayi to make a big impact.

The Pac-12 continues to get stronger and more competitive year after year which doesn’t bode well for a fairly inexperienced Stanford squad. David Shaw remains one of the best head coaches in all of college football which will payoff in some tight contests with fellow conference foes. Best case scenario, Chryst produces from the start and the Cardinal are able to scrounge up 9-10 wins on a tough schedule.

9/2: vs Kansas State WNCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 19 UCLA at Stanford
9/17:
vs USC W
9/24:
@ UCLA L
9/30:
@ Washington L
10/8: vs Washington State W
10/15: @ Notre Dame L
10/22: vs Colorado W
10/29: @ Arizona W
11/5: vs Oregon State W
11/12: @ Oregon L
11/19: @ California W
11/26: vs Rice W

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