Stanford’s two losses haunt an outstanding season

Despite beating Notre Dame, two losses from the Cardinal will likely keep a strong team out of the College Football Playoff.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Stanford’s two losses haunt an outstanding season

For Stanford, the 2015 season may always be a tale of what might have been. This is one of the better football teams in the country, but one that has slipped up at least once too often to have any real shot at playing in the College Football Playoff.

At 10-2, Stanford just knocked over Notre Dame in a last-second thriller that essentially ended the their rivals 2015 campaign, too. Looking back, Stanford lost the opening game of the season to Northwestern in a low-scoring affair that, though a poor performance, could be marked down to one of those early-season freak results. What effectively ended their playoff hopes this season was the second loss – a 38-36 defeat to Oregon, in a game that featured multiple late fumbles from Stanford.

Despite those two losses, Stanford is a quality team and ranks inside the top five of PFF’s overall team grades. Most of that grade comes from the prolific offensive side of the ball, where running back Christian McCaffrey in particular has propelled this team to prominence.

With 3,025 all purpose yards, McCaffrey leads the nation, and does so by a full 625 yards. In fact, he averages 50 more yards per game than anybody else, and is almost certain to break the all-time record by the end of the season – a mark held by a certain Barry Sanders.

McCaffrey has merely been the best running back in the nation in a year of stand out running backs. He is the highest-graded player at the position at PFF, and one of the nation’s highest graded return men as an added bonus.

Part of McCaffrey’s success is owed to the offensive line and blocking in front of him, with every member of the unit grading positively as a run-blocker, including both tight ends and fullback Daniel Marx.

Joshua Garnett has been arguably the nation’s best guard and only had a hiccup in performance when he faced Oregon — a team that boasts one of the country’s top interior defenders in DeForest Buckner.

Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising performance amongst the Stanford offense has been quarterback Kevin Hogan, who built on a strong finish to the previous season to grade consistently well in 2015.  Hogan has only had a couple of poor outings this season and has several impressive games, including the most recent victory against the Fighting Irish.  The offense is not built around the passing attack, but Stanford’s quarterback has been a reliable counterpart to the running of McCaffrey. Hogan has completed 67.6 percent of his passes and has been accurate on 76.7 percent of attempts.

On the defensive side of the ball the unit has been solid overall, but has struggled in games and is the clear weaker side of the ball. Up front Aziz Shittu, Solomon Thomas and Brennan Scarlett have all been disruptive presences, but a powerful offensive front, like Notre Dame’s, handled Stanford pretty convincingly last weekend. Ronnie Harris at cornerback has consistently been a strong performer, as has linebacker Blake Martinez, but this unit has more flaws than the team’s well-oiled machine on offense.

Overall, Stanford matches up on paper with many of the teams still in the playoff hunt, even if their own chances are minimal (538 rates them at just 10 percent). This is a team that can be left to rue it’s mistakes this season, rather than overall performance.

Thanks to the support from Ohio Film Office.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

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