STEER CLEAR OF STANFORD...AT LEAST FOR NOW
Stanford has won the Pac-12 three of the last four years. Twice, they've won the Rose Bowl. They have one the nation's best players in Heisman-contending running Christian McCaffrey. And in spite of all that, there are good reasons to stay away from the Cardinal at their current 3-1 odds to win another conference championship.
McCaffrey is truly great, but the offensive line has to be rebuilt with three new starters. The defensive front is in similar re-tool mode, replacing two of three starters. Stanford has thrived in recent years because it's controlled the trenches in a throwback style of football. There's every reason to expect that identity to take a little time to develop.
And time is something head coach David Shaw has. The conference schedule is tough right out of the gate. Between September 17-30, the Cardinal will host USC and then visit UCLA and Washington. The only game Stanford will have under its belt before them is a tough home date with Kansas State on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. That's just not a lot of time to get an offensive front that plays a lot of pro sets to be up and firing.
On the surface, you could look at the ten projected senior starters in the Stanford lineup and feel good about any rebuilding. But if we go back four years and look at the recruiting rankings, we find that this year's senior class is the worst of Shaw's tenure in Palo Alto. In fact, it's not even close. All of his other classes rank in the Top 20 and occasionally in the Top 10. This year's senior group didn't even register in the Top 50. Shaw has to choose between experience and talent this season.
A veteran quarterback could cover a lot of mistakes, especially early, but there's a new face here as well. Four-year starter Kevin Hogan is gone and sophomore Keller Chryst steps in. All of this is going to put even more pressure on McCaffrey and it's much harder for a running back to dominate a game than it is a quarterback.
None of these problems are insurmountable to the Cardinal having a good season. The combination of new players getting experience and the schedule getting more manageable in late October will make a late-season surge a real possibility. If no one can step up and take hold of the Pac-12 race, Stanford could hang in there.
The issue is wagering them at favorite's prices right now. There's just too many missing pieces and this is not a "just reload" program like Alabama or Ohio State. If Stanford were to steal one win of the September Trio (USC-UCLA-Washington) and the price ripened to something more favorable, we could see investing in them at that point. But the Cardinal is not ready to bear the burden of being the favorite, at least not this time around.
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