We’re almost halfway through August, so there’s no denying it any longer — it’s college football season. True, 23 days remain until Stanford football kicks off its Andrew Luck Farewell Tour, but that just means we all have a bit over three weeks left to analyze the heck out of the Cardinal’s chances.
Roughly 99.999 percent of the offseason news surrounding Stanford football has been concentrated on Luck staying for one more season (sorry, Class of 2013, it’s just one more) and David Shaw replacing Jim Harbaugh. Yes, coaching changes in college football really do matter, and having the preseason Heisman favorite and a candidate for sainthood under center is certainly a big deal, but there is a lot more to this team than the coach and the quarterback.
How will the new-look O-line perform? Can the defense match its breakout 2010 campaign despite losing five starters? Will anyone step up at wide receiver? Can Jordan Williamson or Eric Whitaker match Nate Whitaker’s output at kicker? Will Chris Owusu be the Chris Owusu of 2009 (one of the most explosive players in the country) or the Chris Owusu of 2010 (hurt too much of the year to make a significant impact)?
These questions will go a long way toward determining if 2011 will look like 2010 or 2009. One of the most important factors in Stanford’s success, though, is something that cannot make a play or run a practice. I’m talking, of course, about the schedule. You can talk personnel all you want, but the fact is that you’re more likely to have success against Directional State than against a BCS contender. Just ask Kentucky.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at what the 2011 season has in store for Stanford football, along with my level of worry for each game (and don’t worry, I’m not nearly powerful enough to jinx anything):
Week 1 opponent: San Jose State (home). 2010 record: 1-12. Outlook: If the Cardinal can’t beat the lowly Spartans at home, Stanford might very well be on the other side of the new Biggest. Upset. Ever. SJSU fans, don’t hold your breath. Worry factor: subzero.
Week 2 opponent: Duke (road). 2010 record: 3-9. Outlook: Two of the best academic institutions in the FBS face off on a football field. Unless the folks at Durham find a way to move the game to Cameron Indoor or they draw a whole lot of phantom clipping calls, Stanford shouldn’t have any problems in this trip to ACC territory. Worry factor: barring a Jarrett Mann vs. Austin Rivers showdown, zero.
Week 3 opponent: Arizona (road). 2010 record: 7-6 (4-5 Pac-10). Outlook: The Wildcats ended 2010 in the worst possible fashion, losing five in a row after a hot start. Tucson is not an easy place to win, and Arizona returns the best QB-WR combo in the conference in Nick Foles and Juron Criner, but the O-line is entirely new and the defense has questions. It still should be the toughest test of the first half of the season. Worry factor: moderate.
Week 4: Bye.
Week 5 opponent: UCLA (home). 2010 record: 4-8 (2-7 Pac-10). Outlook: Kevin Prince’s health has meant everything to the Bruins. Even a healthy Prince doesn’t figure to stand a chance on the Farm. Worry factor: minimal.
Week 6 opponent: Colorado (home). 2010 record: 5-7. Outlook: The Buffaloes escape the Big 12 only to play their first Pac-12 road game against a team that is superior in seemingly every aspect of the game. Worry factor: low.
Week 7 opponent: Washington State (road). 2010 record: 2-10 (1-8 Pac-10). Outlook: This isn’t your older sister’s Washington State. Yes, they’re picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North, but Jeff Tuel and Co. could be in bowl contention in 2011. Worry factor: mild.
Week 8 opponent: Washington (home). 2010 record: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-10). Outlook: Chris Polk is back, Jake Locker is not. This might mean something more to the Cardinal if the Huskies had gotten within 40 points of Stanford in Seattle last year. Worry factor: slight.
Week 9 opponent: USC (road). 2010 record: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-10). Outlook: Stanford has had success in its past two trips to the Coliseum (24-23 and 55-21 will live on in Farm lore for years to come), but that still doesn’t make playing in L.A. easy for anyone. If the Trojans found a pass defense over the summer, this could be the first major challenge to Stanford’s title hopes. Worry factor: just less than what it was with a minute left in last year’s game (before this happened).
Week 10 opponent: Oregon State (road). 2010 record: 5-7 (4-5 Pac-10). Outlook: The Beavers didn’t put up much of a fight in 2010, and now they are missing the one player Stanford couldn’t contain: Jacquizz Rodgers. Worry factor: small.
Week 11 opponent: Oregon (home). 2010 record: 12-1 (9-0 Pac-10). Outlook: If you have to ask, you haven’t been watching college football. This is the game of the year for Stanford, for the Pac-12 and possibly for the nation. Worry factor: the only reason I’m not shaking in my boots already is that I’m not wearing boots.
Week 12 opponent: Cal (home). 2010 record: 5-7 (3-6 Pac-10). Outlook: No rivalry game is a guarantee, there’s no debating that. But based on pure talent, Stanford should run over the Bears once more. Worry factor: mild, if only because of a possible letdown after Oregon.
Week 13 opponent: Notre Dame (home). 2010 record: 8-5. Outlook: If it was anyone else, all the preseason hype would mean this is a team to be truly scared of. But it’s Notre Dame, where hype is more ingrained in the school than NBC and Touchdown Jesus. Still, there’s definitely talent and a winning coach visiting from South Bend. Worry factor: decent.
Dec. 2: Pac-12 Championship (home).
Jan. 9: BCS National Championship Game (New Orleans).
Hmm, now why did I include those last two dates?
Jacob Jaffe isn’t concerned at all with Stanford’s Week 4 bye. Send him your worry factor at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu.