Stanford looks like a Pac-12 contender again
After a lackluster opening game in Evanston to kick-off the new season and following a disappointing 2014, Stanford appears ready to return to the Rose Bowl thanks to senior quarterback Kevin Hogan.
After a -5.3 PFF rating at Northwestern, Hogan has rebounded with three straight positive efforts raising his overall PFF grade to +5.1, including a +3.1 last night in their 42-24 win in Corvallis.
What has really opened our eyes this season has been Hogan’s big-strike ability down field (20 + yard throws). Hogan has completed 6 of 18 from 20 yards out with four TDs and no picks.
Hogan has also demonstrated the ability to lead and win big games over his career. In his third career start as a freshman in 2012 Hogan completed 25-36 with one TD and ran for another in a 17-14 upset win over No. 1 ranked Oregon in Eugene.
Hogan would go on to lead Stanford to their first Rose Bowl win since ’72 that season while starting his career with 11 straight wins. Entering his final season, Hogan has guided Stanford to two Rose Bowl berths and two Pac-12 titles while going 2-1 against Oregon, 4-0 against UCLA and 3-0 in the Big Game against California.
As good as Hogan is he can’t do it alone. Hogan has time to make those downfield throws because he has a good running game and a quality front line considered one of the PFF’s best led by Joshua Garnett (+13.1), Graham Shuler (+4.4) and Tyler Murphy (+3.5). Garnett is PFF’s third ranked center so far this season.
The line has opened holes for the ground game which is averaging 5.1 yards per rush and eight TDs led by Christian McCaffery. It also helps to have PFF’s top rated fullback in Daniel Marx at +11.8.
On defense — even after losing four draft picks to the NFL with a combined PFF rating of +107.2 — the Cards once again have a top flight unit led by redshirt freshman end, Solomon Thomas (+9.0 PFF grade). Thomas and senior ends Aziz Shittu (+6.3) and Brennan Scarlett (+6.2) form a strong line of scrimmage while linebackers Peter Kalambayi (+7.7) and Blake Martinez (+6.7) help complete one of the toughest front seven’s in the nation.
After opening the season with three road games in four the Cards will play six of their last eight games at Stanford Stadium including against top-rival Oregon on November 14th. Their only two road games are at Washington State and Colorado, who were a combined 5-19 last season.
The Rose Bowl is every Pac-12 players dream game, but with a home-heavy schedule, an experienced Heisman-worthy quarterback and power in the trenches the Cardinals might just be good enough to dream about playing in Glendale instead on January 11th.