2016 season preview: Stanford Cardinal

With a new QB and a tough schedule, can Stanford repeat as Pac-12 champions?

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

2016 season preview: Stanford Cardinal


Stanford is the defending Pac-12 champion and the favorite of many to win the conference again. They feature the best returning player in college football in Christian McCaffrey and are talented on both sides of the ball.

However, they did lose several talented players from their offense and face a brutal schedule, so repeating will be no easy task. Let’s take a look at what the season has in store:

Offense

With Kevin Hogan in the NFL, Stanford will finally get a new quarterback — but who will it be? Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns are both up for the job. In the spring game, Keller Chryst took first-team snaps. However, Burns looked more comfortable in the pocket going through his progressions and more effective moving the offense than Chryst. Coach Shaw will pick one at some point, and his quarterback of choice will be surrounded by weapons. Francis Owusu is their most physically-talented wide receiver, Michael Rector will be their most productive wide receiver and Trenton Irwin should see a good share of third-down targets. Running back Bryce Love would start on a number of other teams but is playing behind the best player in college football in Christian McCaffrey. Love is a quick playmaker who makes nice second-level cuts and should see an increase in touches and production in 2016.

Defense

The defensive line will be anchored by the versatile and productive Solomon Thomas and fifth-year senior DT Jordan Watkins. The Cardinal has some playmaking linebackers, OLB Peter Kalambayi’s 10.6 pass rushing productivity rating ranks No. 11 among returning FBS 3-4 outside linebackers. ILB Noor Davis is returning from injury but looked solid in run defense and in coverage in the Spring. Sophomore CB Quenton Meeks is talented and big (6-2 and 195 pounds) and is poised to have an improved season. Safety Zach Hoffpauir didn’t play last season, as he was a first-round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but is returning for his last year of eligibility.

Biggest star

Christian McCaffrey was our choice for the Heisman Trophy last year, is our early choice this year, and we ranked him the best player in college football going into this 2016 season. McCaffrey is very quick and elusive with tremendous acceleration as he forced 71 missed tackles as a runner and 14 as a receiver in 2015. McCaffrey is equally at home running routes out of the slot as he is running the ball. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and is must-see TV (I’m talking to you, Heisman voters who live in the Eastern time zone).

McCaffrey2

Under-the-radar player

Stanford’s best defensive player — and best player not named McCaffrey — is redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Thomas is very strong at the point of attack and disrupts run plays consistently from both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions. Thomas’s +20.9 run defense grade in 2015 ranks No. 6 among returning Power-5 interior defensive linemen. Expect a big increase in pass rush production and national recognition for Thomas in 2016.

Bottom line

The month of September will tell the tale of the 2016 Stanford football season. They will be breaking in a new quarterback while playing games against Kansas State, USC and UCLA (both of the top teams in the Pac-12 South), and Washington who is their biggest threat in the Pac-12 North. If Stanford stumbles too badly in September they could get caught too far behind to catch up in the Pac-12 North.