Over 9.5 wins: +105
Under 9.5 wins: -135
Stanford has gone a terrific 35-5 in that 3-year span. Former head coach Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL head coaching vacancy with the San Francisco 49ers after going 11-2 in 2010. All Harbaugh has done in his first 2 seasons as a NFL head coach is lead the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in 2012, and the Super Bowl in 2013. Replacing Harbaugh was his former assistant David Shaw and the transition has been seamless if not flawless. Stanford has gone a combined 23-4 the last 2 seasons with Shaw at the helm including a fabulous 12-2 campaign a year ago.
The Cardinal will be one of the favorites for our college football picks this year along with Oregon in a loaded PAC-12. Stanford is scheduled to play 5 opponents that are ranked in the Top 25 of the AP preseason poll. The good news is the 3 highest rated teams of that bunch #3 Oregon, #14 Notre Dame, and #21 UCLA will all be played at home. The road games are versus #24 USC on 11/16 and #25 Oregon St. on 10/26. Playing those 2 away tilts later in the season may prove to be a blessing in disguise.
The Stanford defense will be amongst the finest if not the best in the country. They return 9 starters from a unit that led the country in sacks a season ago. This unit held 10 of its 14 opponents last season to 17-points or less, and ranked #11 nationally in points per game allowed. In addition they were the #5 ranked rush defense in the land holding opponents to just 96.5 yards per game. The secondary will be led by preseason 1st team All-American safety Ed Reynolds who led the team with 6 interceptions a year ago.
The offense will not quite have the experience as their opposite number. However, their offensive line will be one of the nation’s best. The Cardinal returns 9 of their top 10 offensive linemen from a year ago. This group paved the way to 174.4 yards rushing per game last season. The starting quarterback will be redshirt sophomore Kevin Hogan. Hogan started the last 5 games a year ago when then starting quarterback Josh Nunes went down with a biceps injury. Since then Nunes was forced to retire due to the severity of the injury and the show is now Hogan’s to run. That’s certainly not a bad thing considering that Hogan was a perfect 5-0 as a starter, completed a highly efficient 71.7% of his passes, and threw 9 touchdown passes versus just 3 picks in 152 attempts. Hogan also added an extra dimension to the offense as he rushed for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns as well.
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Getting to the 10-win mark will be no easy task considering the strength of the PAC-12 for this upcoming season. Having said that, if any team is equipped to survive the rigors of an extremely difficult conference schedule its Stanford. The defense is experienced and proven. The offensive has quality depth, are battle tested, and will give the rest of the unit supreme confidence especially in the early part of the season. Although he’s not the flashiest quarterback in the country, Kevin Hogan is highly efficient, and has very deceptive athletic mobility for the position. Lastly head coach David Shaw is one of the most underrated and unheralded coaches in the country. Shaw was the offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh and his expertise in that area will be instrumental in his team’s success for the 2013 campaign.
This is a wager that I will be passing on. I just don’t see any in between for Stanford this year. They will either be in the thick of the race to get to the BCS Championship Game or can possibly be a major disappointment. Much of that will be how well Kevin Hogan and the offense perform because the defense will do more than their share of heavy lifting.