College football is on its way back, so we continue with the Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. We’re trotting out a new team each day. We started at No. 25 and we’ll build each day until we reach No. 1.
No. 10: STANFORD CARDINAL
Last Season: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12 North, won 45-16 against Iowa in the Rose Bowl).
Last Five Seasons: 54-14 (three conference titles, five bowl games).
Coach: David Shaw (sixth year, 54-14).
Overview: Christian McCaffrey. There, we said it… but Stanford’s story will involve much more than McCaffrey’s highly entertaining pursuit of mega-yards. There’s a key quarterback to replace (Kevin Hogan), a retooling of the offensive and defensive lines, plus the challenge of winning the Pac-12 title for the fourth time in five seasons. Despite all of that, Stanford again is the team to watch in its conference. That’s a reflection of Shaw, who has built a rock-solid program.
Player To Watch: RB Christian McCaffrey. Quite obviously. McCaffrey is the Heisman Trophy favorite in some quarters after last season’s stunning performance — an NCAA record for all-purpose yards (3,864), the Associated Press Player of the Year and a Heisman runner-up. He’s an extraordinarily versatile player, superbly running, receiving and playing on special teams. Last season, he had six games with 300-plus all-purpose yards.
Top Newcomer: FS Zach Hoffpauir. We’ll put an asterisk by this one because Hoffpauir actually was a Pac-12 honorable mention selection in 2014, when he registered 44 tackles and had 11 starts. He’s back for his last go-round after spending last season playing minor league baseball with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
All-Conference Potential: RB Christian McCaffrey, DB Quenton Meeks, DL Solomon Thomas, OL Casey Tucker.
Key Question: Who’s the quarterback? It appears to be Keller Chryst, a 6-foot-5, 237-pounder who certainly looks the part. There’s also senior Ryan Burns and freshman K.J. Costello. Chryst, who attempted only nine passes last season, will get the first shot at replacing Kevin Hogan.
Best Unit: Running backs. Some might suggest that McCaffrey’s presence alone would clinch this designation, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but don’t overlook Bryce Love. The backup ball-carrier averaged 7.8 yards per carry and is bound to get more than his 29 rushing attempts from 2015.
Good Stat: Talk about QB stability: Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan had a combined 85 starts from 2009 through last season.
Bad Stat: The Cardinal defense was somewhat vulnerable against the pass last season, allowing an average of 228.4 yards per game, ranking 71st nationally.
Big Game: Sept. 17, USC — an early test in the Pac-12. For Stanford to realize its destiny, it must not stumble in the conference opener.
Shaw has built a remarkably consistent program, including four of the last five seasons with at least 11 victories, and three Rose Bowl appearances. The schedule is formidable with road games at UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame (all before mid-October), then a Nov. 12 date at Oregon. There are new faces in key places, prompting a little anxiety, but the Cardinal have proven they should never be overlooked.
Next: No. 9 Notre Dame.
ICYMI: No. 11 Michigan State; No. 12 Ole Miss; No. 13 Washington; No. 14 Baylor; No. 15 Houston; No. 16 Georgia; No. 17 San Diego State; No. 18 TCU; No. 19 Louisville; No. 20 USC; No. 21 Iowa; No. 22 North Carolina; No. 23 Oregon; No. 24 Oklahoma State; No. 25 Florida.