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Football roundtable: Bye-week reprieve
Junior running back Bryce Love (above) has been on a tear for the Cardinal with 1,387 rushing yards -- which leads the nation.(GRANT SHORIN/isiphotos.com)

Football roundtable: Bye-week reprieve

Stanford football moves up in the rankings to 22 after defeating Oregon 49-7 last Saturday night. Star junior running back Bryce Love suffered an injury in the second half but he will have time to heal because the Cardinal are on a bye-week. Alex Bhatt and King Jemison discuss how the season has gone for Stanford and other questions surrounding the team.

 

First of all, a question that is seemingly on everyone’s mind: If the season were to end today, who deserves the Heisman Trophy? Bryce Love, Saquon Barkley or someone else?

Alex Bhatt (AB): If the season were to end today, I believe odds are that Saquon Barkley would be hoisting up the Heisman Trophy in New York. Though neck-and-neck in mid-season polls, I believe Love is disadvantaged for two reasons. First, most Stanford games are played later in the night in accordance with Pacific time, alienating the viewers of the Midwest and East Coast who would have already gone to sleep. Second, and this is yet to change as Stanford does have big upcoming games, undefeated Nittany Lions are simply a more household team name at the moment, ranked only behind Alabama in the most recent AP poll.

However, with each game that passes, Love shows why he not only deserves to be in the conversation (which he undoubtedly is today) but why he deserves the Heisman Trophy. The speed, the quickness and the unrelenting effort show why Love is that man. His unprecedented rushing yards/game and yards after contact rival that of any of the great backs in history, and with each performance, more and more people realize why Bryce Love should win the 2017 Heisman Trophy.

King Jemison (KJ): Bryce Love has really stolen the Heisman conversation over the last three weeks. After he amassed over 300 yards against Arizona State, people (finally) started to pay attention. Then the few East Coasters to stay up for Stanford’s very late starts the last two weeks against Utah and Oregon saw Love break off runs of over 65 yards in both games.

Meanwhile, Saquon Barkley’s been quiet since his incredible performance against Iowa where he racked up 358 all purpose yards in a dramatic road victory. That certainly qualified as a Heisman moment. But his pedestrian games the last few weeks have given Love the edge. If the voting happened today, I think Love would become the first Stanford running back to win the Heisman.

That being said, Penn State has huge games the next three weeks and is in much better playoff position than Stanford. Barkley is likely to receive a lot more attention than Love in the back half of the season, which might prove to be the difference.

 

Stanford’s quarterback situation has been complicated this season to say the least. Looking at both Keller Chryst’s and KJ Costello’s bodies of work in the first half of the season, who performed better? While Chryst will undoubtedly start against Oregon State, especially after his performance against the Ducks, does he deserve the starting job?

AB: Just looking at the box score from the Oregon game, K.J. Costello was more accurate, threw fewer interceptions and even found freshman tight end Colby Parkinson for a two-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, Chryst looked really good and I believe that is who we should start against the Beavers. With his only interception coming from a bobbled pass, Chryst held his own against the Oregon defense, completing 15-of-21 passing attempts and finding the end-zone for three of them.

Costello, by contrast, played far fewer snaps, but still completed five of six passing attempts, including a two-yard touchdown to Parkinson late in the fourth. Both quarterbacks look good going into the bye-week, but, like Shaw, I would stick to Chryst come time to play the Ducks.

KJ: Two weeks ago, my answer to this question would have been different. At that point, it was perfectly clear that KJ Costello had outperformed Keller Chryst and deserved the starting job. But David Shaw decided to stick with his senior when he returned from injury, and I think Chryst’s performances in the last two weeks have validated that decision.

Absolutely nobody believed in Keller Chryst after Stanford’s rough start, but if you go back to last year, he has shown the ability to make quality throws and beat good teams. I believe that Shaw’s confidence in Chryst gave the quarterback a huge boost, and he’s had very solid performances the last two weeks. The numbers weren’t great against Utah, but his big throws on third down kept Stanford in the game while the running game struggled. Against Oregon, he was fantastic, earning an “A” grade from Shaw after the game.

I still believe Costello possesses another gear that Chryst just doesn’t have, but for the time being, the senior has earned the opportunity to be the starter. I do believe constant competition has made both quarterbacks better, so I think we will continue to see that throughout the season.

 

The Cardinal defense has stepped up lately, allowing an average of 17 points per game in their last three contests, will the Stanford defense, especially the secondary, be able to sustain their strong performance against offensive juggernauts like Washington and Washington State?

KJ: Considering the offensive juggernauts from the state of Washington combined to score 16 points last weekend, Stanford should have an excellent chance to continue their solid play against the Cougars and Huskies. Washington quarterback Jake Browning has struggled against the good defenses he’s faced the last two years, and lowly Arizona State was able to hold him to 139 yards. If Stanford can slow down the UW rushing attack, I think they should be able to limit the Huskies to under 30 points at least.

The problems for Washington State over the entire Mike Leach era have been a nonexistent run game and dismal defense. Those things seemed to be fixed this year, but then the Cal game happened. “Heisman candidate” Luke Falk threw five picks, and they couldn’t generate any rushing attack. Once again, I like Stanford’s chances on defense against the Cougs.

The Cardinal secondary is absolutely elite. Even though the Washington schools do have pretty good quarterbacks, I believe Justin Reid, Quenton Meeks, and co. can slow down those passing attacks. The problem all season has been the rush defense. In particular, the defensive line has struggled to stop the run, and the entire defense has been guilty of too many missed tackles. We’ll see if Stanford can get any better in those two areas over the bye week because if they do, watch out.

AB: The Stanford defense, specifically the secondary, is one of the most dominant forces not only in the Pac-12 but also in the entire FBS. Last week against the Ducks, Stanford held the Ducks to a mere 33 passing yards. Moreover, the Card defense rattled the rookie quarter Burmeister, ending the game with two interceptions (Quenton Meeks, Casey Toohill) and one lost fumble. I expect the Cardinal to sustain their defensive dominance within the secondary, especially under the leadership of Justin Reid, who is still tied for the lead in interceptions in the FBS with five.

However, one area of concern would be the runs allowed. Granted, multiple linemen were deemed ineligible for the first half due to penalties the week prior against Utah, but, nevertheless, Oregon had 276 rushing yards by the end of the game. Two hundred and seventy-six. Stanford, by comparison, rushed for 248. Although Oregon’s three turnovers limited the Ducks to a mere seven points, the Stanford defense will not be able to let up that many rushing yards against teams like Washington and Washington State.  

 

Now leading the Pac-12 North on a four-game winning streak after back-to-back losses early in the season, Stanford’s outlook for the year has officially returned to optimistic. How do you see the Cardinal faring in the second half of the season? What is their best and worst case scenario?

KJ: The David Shaw effect is in full swing. Get off to a slow start, lower expectations and then get red hot in the second half of the season. It seems like Stanford is on track to do that again this year. Since the loss to San Diego State, the Cardinal have improved tremendously. It hasn’t been perfect, but the passing game has returned and the secondary is living up to its high billing before the season. Obviously, Bryce Love is absolutely incredible, and he’s made the offense look a lot better. But he’s getting a lot of help from an offensive line that has really turned into a dominant unit.

That being said, Stanford has three games in the final month against ranked opponents. That’s a tough stretch for any team. I believe Stanford will beat the Washington schools and win the Big Game but then lose to Notre Dame on the final day of the regular season. Still, a 9-3 record and a Pac-12 North championship would be a solid year.

Best case scenario: The Cardinal win out, avenge the early season loss to USC in the Pac-12 Championship and finish 11-2 to earn a trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl game. Worst case scenario: the passing game woes return and Stanford drops three of their final five games to fall to 7-5 and end up in an insignificant bowl game. The margin between those two scenarios is fairly slim. It all depends on generating a consistent passing attack and stopping the run.  

AB: The Cardinal are still in it. It seems that they are always somehow in it. As last Saturday’s games proved nationwide, nearly any team can let one game slip on any given night. Change one drive of the San Diego State game, and we would not even be having this conversation.

Nevertheless, Stanford has proven to be resilient and, to many people’s surprise, currently leads the Pac-12 North. At the pace they are at now, I expect the Cardinal to win out and maybe, depending on how well the passing game can hold up against the tough Washington defense, lose to the Huskies at home. In my opinion, that is the most important game left of this season and will surely define the mindset near the end of the season.

As for the Cal and Washington State game, they will not be easy, but with enough Love and power in the secondary, the Cardinal will win. An away victory in an environment like Pullman would be just what they need to further propel them, their defense and Bryce Love into national conversation.

 

 

Contact Alex Bhatt at abhatt21 ‘at’ stanford.edu and King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.