Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2018: 15. Stanford Cardinal

15. Stanford Cardinal

The offense is going to be one of the best in recent memory, with Heisman frontrunner Bryce Love fueling the charge

Bryce Love

Offense: 2017 was a fine offensive season for Stanford, as they averaged 32.4 PPG, 38th nationally and sixth-best in the Pac-12. Now, the top passer, top five rushers and top four receivers are all returning, along with three starters on the offensive line. Needless to say, this offense has the chance to be special.

Sophomore K.J. Costello managed to wrestle the starting job away from Keller Chryst, who transferred to Tennessee. Costello played very well down the stretch and seemed to grow in confidence each outing. Another spring and fall camp under his belt will prepare him for what should be a very strong campaign. Don't expect prolific numbers, but the young QB can still be a very effective game manager and distributor for this offense.

Many expected a breakout 2017 from running back Bryce Love, but he still managed to exceed expectations, rushing for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns en route to a Heisman runner-up finish. Love was adept at finding lanes and his excellent burst was on full display all year long. Fully healthy and playing behind a pretty good offensive line, he will put up huge numbers, perhaps even improving on an astounding 8.1 YPC average from '17. Junior Cameron Scarlett proved to be a quality No. 2 option with 389 yards and eight scores. Scarlett does not have Love's speed or explosiveness but he is a powerful runner that is incredibly useful in short yardage. Add in junior Trevor Speights (142 yards) and OC Tavita Pritchard will not be hurting for guys to utilize.

Stanford is not been known for producing top-flight wide out talent, specializing mainly at the tight end spot, where they have produced a number of NFL talent. However, veteran receivers J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin have the chance to change that narrative. Irwin is a senior and as reliable a weapon as they come, while Arcega-Whiteside is coming off a 781-yard, nine touchdown year and is a big play threat. Big things are expected of redshirt freshman Osiris St. Brown, who was a high profile recruit a year ago but had to deal with injury issues. He could end up being the best receiver on this roster with the upside he has as a playmaker. Tight end will again not be an issue, as the Cardinal reload at the position again and again. Sophomore Kaden Smith looks like the next stud at the position, with Colby Parkinson sure to feature in.

Up front, Stanford will be as good as ever, with four starters returning. Senior center Jesse Burkett is among the top interior linemen in the Pac-12, with tackles A.J. Hall and Walker Little blocking on the perimeter. Little is especially talented, earning Freshman All-America honors a year ago. This line could very well be among the best in the entire country.

With so much talent back, it's hard to imagine this Stanford offense not being extremely productive. The interesting thing to watch will be Costello's growth at the game's most important position. He showed real promise last season, but if he can develop into a more prolific down-the-field passer, this could legitimately be a historic offense at his school.

Defense: The other side of the ball is much less settled, which has been completely contrary to past Cardinal teams. The defense took a huge step back in 2017, allowing over 400 yards per game and rating 76th in the nation in total defense. They allowed too many big plays and were too disciplined, putting some pressure on this group to get Stanford back to their old, defensive ways.

The defensive line is a clear concern heading into fall, without much experienced talent returning. Sophomore Jovan Swann showed enough last season to have some people excited, but he is the most noteworthy name of the unit. Junior Dylan Jackson is a fine run stopper at end, but needs to take a step forward if this pass rush is going to be imposing at all. There is also some hope that newcomers Thomas Booker and Andres Fox see instant action. Both are not typical Stanford recruits; Booker was stolen from the East Coast (Maryland) and Fox out of SEC country (Alabama) but they have superb upside.

The linebacker situation is significantly better, due in large part to the return of senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke. Okereke was third on the team in tackles last year, managing to rack up 88 and 8.5 TFL. He also leading returner in sacks, showcasing his versatility as a pass rusher and coverage weapon. Senior Joey Alfieri is a smart, instinctive 'backer who has been in the system for awhile. He should be able to lock down a starting spot on the outside. Senior Jordan Perez and Sean Barton should also play big roles. Perez had 62 tackles last season and is very underrated, while Barton is recovering from a season-ending knee injury suffered in the third week of 2017.

Stanford's pass defense was the big issue of the defense a year ago, but it could take a step forward. Stud safety Justin Reid is off to the NFL, leaving behind his five interceptions and leadership, but there is still a decent amount of experience here. Senior Alijah Holder has struggled with injuries throughout his Stanford career, but there is no denying his talent. If he can stay healthy, he can certainly be a No. 1 corner on a good defense. Senior Alameen Murphy is likely to start opposite of him after a rocky '17. Junior Frank Buncom is a key returnee at safety after picking off three passes last year, but is unclear who will replace Reid at the other slot.

It will be fascinating to watch how this defense performs in 2018. Coordinator Lance Anderson is a respected mind that has engineered some really stingy groups, but they struggled mightily at times last year, and this group has some big questions. The secondary should be able to improve, but I still expect this defense to be mediocre unless there are some major breakout stars up front.

Special Teams: Sophomore Jet Toner is set to take over the reigns once again at placekicker, after knocking down 21 of 26 last year. Punter is also in good hands, as senior Jake Bailey returns to Palo Alto. The return game is a bigger question, but Cameron Scarlett should be able to do some damage as a kick returner.

A program that has made their living off defense and smashmouth offense, Stanford will look quite a bit different in 2018. They still lean heavily on Love and their ground attack, but don't be surprised if the Cardinal try to open things up more with Costello and the passing game. Either way, it won't be an easy route in the improving Pac-12 North. The Cardinal open their season with a sneaky tough matchup with San Diego State then get USC at home. That isn't exactly the best opening for a team still trying out plenty of fresh faces on defense. However, the offense and David Shaw's calming nature should keep this team in the Pac-12 Title race. If Costello grows rapidly and the defense is once more elite, a Playoff berth could at least be in the conversation.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 10-2 (7-2 Pac-12)
Offensive MVP: RB Bryce Love
Defensive MVP: LB Bobby Okereke
Breakout Player of the Year: DE Jovan Swann

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.