As the college football season gets set for kickoff this weekend, we surveyed football writers George Chen, Do-Hyoung Park, Vihan Lakshman and Michael Peterson to see what their expectations are for Stanford football this season.
George: Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy have moved on to the NFL, but the defense will be just fine with A.J. Tarpley and Jordan Richards at the helm. Kevin Hogan was inconsistent last season, but he’s ready to make big gains after his first full season behind center. Cardinal fans should have posted “lost, call if found” flyers for tight ends last year, but this year’s trio of sophomore tight ends should at the very least give Hogan more to work with in the intermediate passing game, even if they’re not going to be Ertz-esque.
The schedule was brutal last season, but this year…well, the schedule is even more brutal.
Let me remind you what’s in store for the No. 11 Cardinal in 2014: a Week 2 tilt with No. 15 USC right off the bat, back-to-back away games at No. 25 Washington and No. 17 Notre Dame (two of the most difficult places to play on the road), a how-the-heck-are-they-going-to-pull-this-off three-game stretch in the middle of season consisting of traveling to No. 19 Arizona State, hosting Oregon State and visiting the place where Pac-12 teams go to die to face No. 3 Oregon. Oh, and they conclude the regular season on the road against media darling No. 7 UCLA. That averages out to playing one ranked opponent every other game.
As much as I’d like to pick Stanford to go the college playoffs, I can’t ignore the tremendous difficulty of the schedule. No team in the nation — including Florida State and Alabama — would have a good chance of going through the Cardinal’s schedule without a blemish. I know better than to pick against the Cardinal just because they’ve lost some veteran fifth-year seniors, but I worry about how they will play on the road. Outside of the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Washington State game, Stanford was unconvincing in some away games last season and downright floundered at Utah and USC.
I think Stanford goes 10-2 during the regular season — losing at Oregon and Arizona State — and misses out on the first college playoffs. It might not be what Stanford fans are dreaming of, but it would still be a very respectable season.
Do-Hyoung: “Cautious optimism” is the term I’ve been using to describe how I feel about Stanford’s upcoming season. Are there unanswered questions? Sure. Do the Cardinal have the ability to run the table? Undoubtedly. But we said the same thing this time last season (when they were in a much better position to do so) before the team slipped up at Utah and at USC to put even Rose Bowl hopes in doubt. But I’m confident that this team and coaching staff came away from those two losses and the Rose Bowl defeat last season all the better for having learned from those experiences and we won’t see as many of those questionable losses this year.
Contrary to what most people around the country are saying, I don’t think the defense is going to take a step back. The departures have been replaced more than adequately, and I’m thrilled to see the unit take on the offenses of the Pac-12 — and confident that it can rise to the occasion every time. On the offense, all of the pieces are there, but it really depends on how well the new offensive line can adjust and gel, particularly against the tough USC and UCLA defensive fronts in two make-or-break games. From what I’ve seen and heard, I think it’s up to the task.
The Cardinal’s biggest enemy this season is the schedule, with daunting road games at Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA, and an early-season challenge in USC. But I think Stanford should get off to a 7-0 start this season, with what I expected to be a tough game at Notre Dame made easier by suspensions. I think a stunning loss to Oregon State at home sends the team reeling before a big win over Oregon at Autzen sets the Cardinal back on course. Wins over Utah and Cal soon follow, and Stanford will once again stare down UCLA in back-to-back weeks, with the conference on the line the second time around. And like they did two years ago, I think Stanford will win out and take the conference, easily heading to the inaugural college football playoff, but losing the first semifinal game.
Vihan: The 2014 rendition of the Cardinal just might be the most individually talented Stanford team of the past five years with several players likely to hear their names called in next year’s NFL draft. Despite being loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball, however, I have a feeling Stanford will post its worst regular season record since beginning its streak of BCS Bowl appearances in the 2010 season.
In reaching four consecutive BCS Bowl games, the Cardinal have set the bar about as high as it can go, but staying up there every single year is extremely difficult in the unpredictable world of college football, where a handful of plays can determine the outcome of the season. As George pointed out, the schedule this season borders on cruel and unusual punishment. Aside from USC, the Card play every other ranked opponent on the road, a place where they have struggled the last two seasons.
Nevertheless, expect this Stanford offense to be one of the most entertaining teams in college football with countless shiny weapons on the outside, several promising tight ends and two home-run hitters in the backfield in Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders. The defense will continue to be among the best in the conference, showing no signs of a drop-off in spring practice or in training camp. If Hogan and the offensive line play to their respective potentials, this season could turn out to be really special. In fact, the Cardinal’s tough schedule might work in their favor come selection time, provided they do not have too many blemishes along the way.
While this team will show more than just flashes of greatness along the way, the number of opportunities to trip up along the way are just too great. I predict Stanford will start off the year 6-0, with nail-biting wins against USC, Washington and Notre Dame, but the Cardiac Cardinal’s luck will finally catch up to them when they travel to Tempe to take on Arizona State. With two more tough losses on the road against the scary-talented squads of Oregon and UCLA, Stanford will finish the season 9-3 and miss out on the Pac-12 Championship and the College Football Playoff, though they will establish themselves as still one of the best teams in college football.
Michael: As David Shaw addressed during training camp, the Card have commonly been “underappreciated,” and that trend continues this preseason as well. The back-to-back conference champions return a bevy of offensive weaponry, deploy one of the most talented offensive line classes in history and posses an experienced secondary and defensive line. The No. 11 preseason ranking feels too low and devalues just how good this football team can be.
This team may go as far as Kevin Hogan’s arm allows it. The defense, while losing several key players, should still be formidable. The receiving corps is arguably the program’s best ever. A diverse set of running backs may collectively be able to fill the shoes of the departed Tyler Gaffney. While inexperienced, the offensive line is fully capable of continuing the tradition of gaping holes for the running backs to follow. For Hogan, there is no excuse not to succeed, and I expect him to deliver with his best season yet.
However, the issue for the Card will come on Nov. 1, when they travel to Eugene. Marcus Mariota, as detailed on ESPN, returned to Oregon for “unfinished business” with unnamed teams, but we all know who he’s referring to. This Oregon team might be the most talented one in a while, and for the first time in three seasons, I think the Ducks beat the Card and prevent them from winning a third straight conference title. A one-loss Stanford would then sit on the bubble for the College Football Playoff after surviving a difficult schedule but failing to win its conference. At that point, it’s doubtful the committee would take both Oregon and Stanford.
Do-Hyoung Park was astonished to find himself taking the most optimistic view of the 2014 Cardinal schedule for once, although he should probably defer to the sagacious wisdom of George Chen, Vihan Lakshman and Michael Peterson, with their advantages in the “life experience” department. Tell them what you think at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu, gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu, vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu and mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.