Stanford’s offense revolves around quarterback Kevin Hogan, who failed to live up to expectations in 2014. Hogan threw for 2,792 yards (65.9%; 19-8) and showed significant improvement in the last seven games wherein he completed 71.4% of his pass attempts.
The key to Hogan’s success throughout the final stanza of the 2014 campaign was a revamped playbook that allowed him to move outside of the pocket. Stanford’s offense welcomes back nine starters, including an outstanding offensive line that returns nine of its ten best players. Despite having only 26 career starts last season, Stanford head coach David Shaw called the offensive line one of his best.
The offensive line paved the way for over 200 rushing yards in each of Stanford’s final three games last season, while also yielding only one sack in that span. Losing left tackle Andrus Peat certainly hurts (NFL Draft), but the Cardinal return tackle Kyle Murphy and 65 career starts overall.
People will certainly point to Stanford’s schedule, which includes a game against Oregon on November 14. However, that contest is being played within the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium and the Cardinal have defeated Oregon in two of the last three meetings. Stanford also benefits from having five Pac-12 home games this season, together with three conference road tilts versus opponents who garnered a woeful 4-23 record in the Pac-12 last year.
On defense, Stanford possesses a very good secondary led by seniors Ronnie Harris, Kodi Whitfield and Zach Hoffpauir. The loss of both Jordan Richards and Alex Carter to the NFL Draft will make some question the strength of Stanford’s secondary (only 2 returning starters), but I believe defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has one of the best pass defenses in the conference.
Despite losing two starters, Stanford also possesses a very good linebacking corps. led by Blake Martinez, who was the team’s leading tackler in 2014. It’s easy to overlook Stanford in light of its pedestrian 5-4 record in the Pac-12 last season, but the Cardinal actually improved from +42.0 yards per game in 2013 to +88.9 in conference play last season.
I’m also bullish on Stanford because of the job special team’s coach Pete Alamar has done over the last couple of seasons. In fact, Alamar was named Special Team’s Coach of the Year in 2013, and he will once again have an elite unit on the field this season. I also admire coach Shaw and the job he has done with the program following the departure of Jim Harbaugh (three 11+ winning seasons).
Don’t look now but the Cardinal may find themselves in their third Pac-12 title game in the last four years in December.