Stanford Cardinal Preview 2016

Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the third quarter in the 2016 Rose Bowl at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the third quarter in the 2016 Rose Bowl at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Cardinal best players and season prediction.

10 Stanford Players You Need To Know | 2016 Stanford: Cardinal Reloading

What You Need to Know About Stanford’s Offense

As long as RB Christian McCaffrey is on the field, the Cardinal attack ought to be fine this year. McCaffrey makes everyone around him better, save for unnerved and overmatched defenders.

Still, Stanford has a lot of work to do to match last season’s 37.8 points per game. Four-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan is NFL-bound, spawning a tight battle between Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst to replace him.

Two of the team’s big and reliable targets, tight end Austin Hooper and wide receiver Devon Cajuste, have also graduated, putting pressure on tight end Dalton Schultz and receivers Francis Owusu and Trenton Irwin to fill the void. The greatest offseason concern involves an offensive line that’ll be breaking in three new starters.

The Cardinal figure to ride McCaffrey—and budding star Bryce Love—behind fullback Daniel Marx and the new-look offensive line at least until the new quarterback settles in. Stanford has weapons, but containing McCaffrey and Love is going to be slightly easier if Hogan’s heir stumbles and the blockers are less assertive than in recent years.

Key To The Stanford Offense Chryst or Burns? The Cardinal has enjoyed uncommon stability for the past seven years at quarterback, first Andrew Luck and then Kevin Hogan. Now that Hogan has graduated, the program faces its most uncertainty at the position since 2012. Senior Ryan Burns and junior Keller Chryst are a couple of linebacker-sized hurlers, with just 10 career passing attempts between them. While both flashed potential in March and April, especially during the spring game, neither padlocked the job, so the competition to succeed Hogan will continue in earnest this summer.

What You Need to Know About Stanford’s Defense

For the third year in a row, the defense is undergoing wholesale changes at every level. And yet, no one on The Farm appears particularly worried by the prospect of inserting new starters into the lineup.

Call it a quiet confidence based on the recent track record. The Cardinal is an enigma on the first line of defense. The line is home to the team’s biggest star, Solomon Thomas, and its biggest question marks in the aftermath of the graduation of ends Brennan Scarlett and Aziz Shittu.

Missing from the linebackers will be leading tackler Blake Martinez, though Stanford never struggles to backfill on the second level. Peter Kalambayi, Joey Alfieri and Mike Tyler all had moments in 2015, and Kevin Palma is poised to pick up a lot of Martinez’s slack from the inside.

The staff is especially bullish about the secondary, even after losing Kodi Whitfield and all-star Ronnie Harris. Corners Quenton Meeks, Alijah Holder and Alameen Murphy, are young and rising.

The safeties are flush in experience now that Zach Hoffpauir has foregone a Major League Baseball career to play a final season of Stanford football. New year, new wave of playmakers, though coordinator Lance Anderson would really like to see more picks and fumble recoveries from his kids.

Key To The Stanford Defense Revamping the front wall. Solomon Thomas is ready to blossom into an All-American, whether he lines up inside or outside. But the versatile Cardinal terror will need help this fall to keep teams from doubling him. Stanford lost a pair of productive ends, Brennan Scarlett and Aziz Shittu, to graduation. Fingers are crossed that two of last year’s casualties, Harrison Phillips and Luke Kaumatule, can return to form and bolster the D-line. While Phillips has a high ceiling, he tore his ACL in the opener and did not participate in the spring. Kaumatule is a towering 6-7, 294-pounder attempting to shake off the rust after redshirting in 2015.

Stanford Will Be Far Better If …

The defense generates more turnovers. Considering all of the talent on the 2015 Cardinal defense and all of the opponents that were forced to play catch-up, it’s hard to believe this team ranked 110th nationally with only 14 takeaways. Now more than ever, when the offensive line is being retooled and the quarterbacks lack experience, Stanford’s offense will benefit from a few more gifts and short-field opportunities courtesy of the defense.

Best Offensive Player

Junior running back Christian McCaffrey. The Cardinal figured 2015 was going to be a special season for McCaffrey, the country’s most versatile and explosive playmaker. But even the most optimistic Stanford supporter couldn’t have foreseen what happened last fall. McCaffrey piled up records, awards and highlight reel moments as he emerged into an unstoppable game-breaker as a runner, receiver and special team dynamo. This season he’ll be the ideal security blanket for an offense whose quarterback has exactly zero career starts.

Best Defensive Player

Junior defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Not many people outside of Pac-12 country know Thomas, who only earned honorable mention all-league in 2015. That all changes this season. More than just Stanford’s top defender, he’s about to become one of the premier defensive linemen in the country. While Thomas is uncommonly explosive and agile for a 275-pounder, he also plays with high energy and keen instincts, the total package in an emerging superstar on The Farm.

Key Players To A Successful Season

The new starting offensive linemen. Stanford’s identity over the past seven seasons has been deeply rooted in a blue-collar offensive line affectionately known as the Tunnel Workers Union. The Cardinal has earned a reputation for bullying opponents at the line of scrimmage. But the 2016 version will feature three new starters and a left side looking to replace stars Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy. While guard Johnny Caspers and tackle Casey Tucker are known entities, the line will ultimately be judged by how well tackles David Bright and A.T. Hall, guard Brandon Fanaika and centers Jesse Burkett and Brian Chaffin respond to expanded roles.

The Season Will Be A Success If …

The Cardinal defends its Pac-12 championship. Why not? Stanford has the formula down pat, winning the league title in three of the past four seasons. And in Christian McCaffrey and David Shaw, the program boasts one of the country’s premier player-coach tandems.

Yeah, there are a lot of holes that need to be filled on the two-deep. However, Shaw and his staff have been down this road before, like 2015, when the team recovered from an eyesore loss to Northwestern on opening day to reel off 12 wins over the final 13 games. The Cardinal, aided by a string of great recruiting classes, now has the muscle memory for capturing hardware.

Key Game

Nov. 12 at Oregon. There are plenty significant games on the 2016 schedule, especially since USC and UCLA are cross-divisional opponents in September. None, though, matter more than the annual battle with the Ducks. Win this matchup and recent history says you’re well on your way to a North Division title and a Pac-12 crown. There’ll be plenty riding on the outcome this November in Eugene … including revenge. Stanford’s two-point home loss to Oregon last fall cost the team a chance to earn a playoff berth.

Stanford Football Stats From 2015

– Scoring: Stanford 37.8 – Opponents 22.6
– Third-down conversions: Stanford 50% – Opponents 36%
– Sacks: Stanford 34 – Opponents 20

Stanford Football Prediction For 2016

What’s going to happen to Stanford football this season? Check out what the final record is going to be …