Bovada currently lists Stanford’s Over/Under Win Total at 8.5 games. That number sounds about right.
The Cardinal should be a very good team this year but they faces a brutal schedule. Trips to Oregon, Notre Dame, and (GASP) Washington highlight a punishing road tilt. Of Stanford’s traditional marquee matchups, only USC is at home. And the Pac-12 is chock-full of dangerous underdogs this year that could pull off a disastrous upset. All of this screams disappointment or at least underachievement for Stanford in 2018. I’m here to tell you that won’t happen.
It’s time to buy hard on the OVER 8.5 games.
Just forget about the schedule for a second and think about what Stanford has done under David Shaw. Since Shaw took over as head coach in 2011, Stanford has won fewer than nine regular season games once. ONCE. That was in 2014. In his seven years as head coach, Shaw has won five Pac-12 North titles and three Pac-12 Championships. Last year, Stanford won nine regular season games with a roster that is considerably less experienced than this year’s squad. History alone tells you that the under 8.5 games seems incredibly unlikely. That history doesn’t even factor in the fact that Stanford is very talented this year and returns the majority of its key contributors from last season’s Pac-12 North championship team.
The 2018 Cardinal can and should have David Shaw’s best offense ever.
Bryce Love is back. I’ll repeat that for emphasis. Bryce Love is back! Just last year, Love: a) broke the single-season school rushing record with 2,118 yards, b) broke the FBS record for rushes of over 50 yards with 13 such runs, c) broke the FBS record for yards per attempt with 8.05 (for players with at least 215 carries), and d) finished as the Heisman runner-up (Editor’s note: in true Stanford fashion). If Love can avoid the injury bug which plagued him last year, he could be even more productive this year.
He will also be surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast on offense. Nine starters return, including four all-conference linemen, last year’s top four receivers, and a quarterback in KJ Costello that is probably the most talented Stanford starter since Andrew Luck. All signs point to Stanford having its most explosive offense since at least 2015 and maybe ever.
Defense is another story, but the Cardinal still bring back six starters and get a number of key contributors back from injury. The linebacking corps should be just fine, led by potential Pac-12 Defensive POY Bobby Okereke. The secondary should be solid as well, especially with Alijah Holder back from injury to anchor one corner spot. And if the defensive line can be just okay, then coordinator Lance Anderson should be able to make Stanford’s defense at least serviceable. (Note: More in-depth previews of offense and defense coming soon).
Ignoring the schedule, Stanford’s talent is clearly Top-10 caliber. Top-10 teams win more than 8.5 games. But if you’re still unconvinced, I’m gonna go through the schedule game by game to tell you why Stanford should be able to reach at least 9 wins in 2018.
8/31-San Diego State: Last year, San Diego State orchestrated a soul-crushing upset of the Cardinal early in the season. Obviously, that makes them a terrifying season-opener. But three things were true in last year’s meeting that won’t be true this time around: 1) Keller Chryst was starting at QB. He had one of his worst games ever against the Aztecs, going 9-20 for 72 yards with two interceptions. 2) Stanford was licking its wounds from a 45-24 loss to USC the week prior. And 3) The Aztecs still had Rashaad Penny at running back. He was the only FBS running back with more yards than Love (2,248), and he tore up the Cardinal for 175 yards.
On top of all that, the game will be played in Stanford Stadium, where the Cardinal were 6-0 last year. And they certainly won’t be overlooking the Aztecs after their last meeting. Though SDSU is no cakewalk opener, Stanford should get to 1-0 without too much trouble.
9/8-USC: Speaking of early season road defeats, USC delivered Stanford a solid drubbing in Week 2 last year. Then the Trojans beat the Card again in the Pac-12 Championship, albeit in a much closer game. But as with SDSU, things should look very different this year. The big points:
- Sam Darnold is now playing QB for the New York Jets and so USC will likely be trotting out 18 year-old true freshman JT Daniels under center or, failing that, redshirt freshman Jack Sears.
- KJ Costello is playing QB and Bryce Love should be fully healthy. Stanford only had one of those in each of their two meetings with the Trojans last year.
Also, the game will be at Stanford, where the Cardinal have won three of their past four meetings with the Trojans and are currently on an eight game winning streak. Going 2-0 looks very reasonable.
9/15-UC Davis: Pretty self explanatory. Stanford could probably win this game with its walk-ons. 3-0.
9/22- at Oregon: Here’s where the Card must finally leave the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium and head into one of the toughest places to play in the conference: Autzen Stadium. Last year, Stanford blasted the Ducks 49-7 but QB Justin Herbert didn’t play in that game. Oregon was really good with him and really bad without him. If he can stay healthy the entire year, Herbert will probably be the best QB in the conference. That being said, I don’t think Herbert and Autzen Stadium are worth 42 points, especially with Mario Cristobal taking over in his first year as head coach. Stanford is still a cut above an Oregon program that has had three head coaches in the last three years. I like the Cardinal’s chances to get to 4-0.
9/29- at Notre Dame: This is one I have marked down as a loss for Stanford. Going on the road to face a potential Top 10 team (the Irish are ranked 11th in the preseason Coaches Poll) is always scary, particularly a week after another difficult road game. Notre Dame could have one of the best defenses in the country this year and, although Stanford shredded that D in the fourth quarter last year en route to a 38-20 win, I think the Irish are well positioned to slow down the Cardinal offense enough to win a fairly low-scoring game. But once again, Stanford could very well win this game. Notre Dame loses a number of key pieces from an offense that was shaky at times last year. Though I’m predicting 4-1, it would not surprise me if Stanford is still undefeated by the end of September.
10/6-Utah: After that tough road stretch, Stanford returns home to face a Utah team that gave them all they could handle in Salt Lake City last year. The Utes should be improved again this year, as they will be a more experienced version of a team that was solid if unspectacular. But playing on the road at Stanford, particularly with their weaker-than-usual run defense, is too much to ask. Though this game will probably be closer than Stanford fans would like, the Cardinal should pull out a win. By my count, that puts them at 5-1 headed into the bye.
10/18-at Arizona State: A Thursday night game in Tempe is scary, especially with the debacle at Oregon State that occurred in Stanford’s last Thursday night appearance. But coming off a bye to face an Arizona State team that will likely struggle to reach bowl eligibility isn’t an incredibly tough ask, especially since the Sun Devils have problems running the football and stopping the run (Love hung 300 yards on them last year). Looks like 6-1 to me.
10/27-Washington State: The Cougars beat Stanford in the Pullman snow last year, but this Washington State team in not nearly as dangerous. They lose the legendary QB Luke Falk and defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa, not to mention fantastic defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Plus, the offseason was full of turmoil, with projected QB starter Tyler Hilinski’s suicide and Mike Leach’s near jump to Tennessee. These Cougars have a lot less bite than the last couple years, and Stanford should win handily (though playing against Leach’s Air Raid is sure to keep DC Lance Anderson up at night). I put Stanford at 7-1 here, which would make the next week’s game at Washington a Top 10 battle that might even attract College Gameday to Seattle.
11/3- at Washington: If Stanford is where I predict them to be after eight games, this road trip to Washington would be the biggest November game for the Card in years. The thing is, the Huskies are really, really good this year. They have national championship potential, with a defense that should be the Pac-12’s best and an offense that somehow still has QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin around. If the Huskies can get by Auburn in Week 1, they could very well be undefeated headed into this game. Plus, playing at Husky Stadium in November could be brutally cold and is guaranteed to be brutally loud. This is the only game on Stanford’s schedule where I would be surprised by a win. So with that, I put them at 7-2.
11/10-Oregon State: The Beavers are by far the worst FBS team on Stanford’s schedule. After it took a last second comeback to beat Oregon State on the road last season, Stanford will not be taking them lightly again. If Stanford can just avoid a massive post-UW letdown, they should dominate this game and be able to give their starters a little second half rest. 8-2 here.
11/17-at Cal: Justin Wilcox seems to be building something at Cal, plus they return the vast majority of their production from a team that was plucky and a few injuries away from bowl eligibility last year. Last year’s 17-14 Cardinal win in Stanford Stadium showed that Cal is inching closer to breaking their eight-game Big Game losing streak. But this is still not the year. The talent gap between the two Bay Area schools is still considerable and, in the best case scenario, the Bears are fighting for bowl eligibility at this point in the season. Stanford should get to 9-2.
11/24-at UCLA: This will give Stanford its first shot at Chip Kelly since 2012 at Oregon. By this point, the Bruins will have digested Kelly’s system and will probably be much improved from the beginning of the season. But the problem is they still don’t have the talent to match his system. Kelly will have to engineer a total rebuild offensively without QB Josh Rosen and, though the defense should be better, that’s saying almost nothing. Stanford’s offense should have a field day in the Rose Bowl to reach double digit regular season wins for the first time since 2015. 10-2.
Admittedly, 10-2 is on the optimistic side of Stanford 2018 projections. There are a lot of questions for this team, particularly on defense. But given Shaw’s history of sustained success with only one season under nine regular season wins, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Stanford hits the over 8.5 games this year. A 10-2 season looks much more likely than 8-4, and so that means there’s some good value betting on the Cardinal this year. I believe Washington will win the Pac-12 and return to the College Football Playoff this year. If that were the case, the Rose Bowl would get the next-highest ranked Pac-12 team. At 10-2, that would almost certainly be Stanford.
A 10-2 season and a trip to the Rose Bowl? I know it seems idealistic, but it’s really not that far-fetched for Stanford in 2018. Regardless, the over looks like a great play. I might just have to go drop some cash on the Cardinal myself.