Has Coach David Shaw lost the magic at Stanford? The Cardinal were a pretty big disappointment last season in losing their most games since 2009. The good news: no NFL team was able to lure Shaw away. Let's examine the Cardinal's 2015 odds at 5Dimes.
Hiccup Or Downward Trend For Stanford?
I think it's fair to ask if Shaw has simply ridden Jim Harbaugh's coattails to success in Palo Alto. Harbaugh took over maybe the worst Power 5 Conference team in the nation as the Cardinal went 1-11 in 2006, Coach Walt Harris' final season. Just four years later, the Cardinal crushed Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl to finish 12-1, the best season in school history. Harbaugh would leave after that for the San Francisco 49ers.
Shaw, his former offensive coordinator, kept the success going. The Cardinals were 11-2 in 2011 and played in the Fiesta Bowl, losing a shootout to Oklahoma State. In 2012, Stanford won its first conference title since 1999 and finished 12-2, beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal repeated as Pac-12 champions in 2013 and finished 11-3, losing to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Most people expected Stanford to be Oregon's primary competition, as usual, in the Pac-12 North Division last year as Stanford was ranked No. 11 in both the Associated Press and USA Today preseason polls. But Stanford just couldn't beat the good teams. It lost 13-10 to then-No. 14 USC, 17-14 at No. 9 Notre Dame, 26-10 at No. 17 Arizona State, 45-16 at No. 5 Oregon, and 20-17 in double overtime at home to No. 23 Utah. The team did finish the season on a three-game winning streak, including an upset at No. 8 UCLA and 45-21 rout of Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl, to finish 8-5. Not a bad season but not up to par.
As usual, the defense was among the nation's best in 2014, ranking second overall in points allowed at 16.4 per game. But the running game, usually also among the better units in the nation, finished only 72nd in yards. The Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007. Most believe that sophomore Christian McCaffrey will be the team's next great back. Quarterback Kevin Hogan also was inconsistent, although he did come on at the end of the year. He is +20000 to win the Heisman.
The NFL still had eyes on Shaw, also a former assistant coach for the Raiders, Eagles and Ravens. But he said in late December that he was staying put and now those close to him think Shaw is at Stanford as long as the school will have him.
Stanford brings back 13 starters, including nine on offense. Hogan returns. Last season he started every game, passing for 2,792 yards and 19 touchdowns on 65.9 percent completions. He also rushed 91 rushes for 295 yards and five touchdowns. Hogan's line will be very good, as it usually is, with four starters back. The defense lost a lot but Stanford usually just reloads on that side of the ball. The strength will be in the middle with linebackers Kevin Anderson and Blake Martinez.
Breaking Down Schedule
The Cardinals open with what won't be an easy game at an improved Northwestern team (in what we could call the "Brain Bowl"). Stanford is a 12-point favorite. The Cardinal then have their home opener against a good Central Florida team. The Cardinal are -18.5.
The Pac-12 opener is a Saturday night ABC game against South Division favorite USC, which is a 5-point favorite. As noted above, the Trojans won by 3 last season on the Farm on a 53-yard field goal with 2:30 left. Stanford outgained USC 413-291 but had two turnovers, eight penalties and two missed field goals. The loss snapped Stanford's 17-game home winning streak, which was the longest active streak in the country.
Next up is a potential trap game at Oregon State (+16), which isn't likely to be very good this season. Stanford has two three-game homestands and the first kicks off in October against Arizona (+9), the defending South champion, UCLA (+4) and Washington (TBD). The Cardinal play their final two road games at Washington State and Colorado and those should be wins. No lines yet but Stanford will be favored.
The annual North Division game of the year is against Oregon this season on Nov. 14. The Cardinal won there in 2013 when the Ducks were No. 2 in the nation. Stanford opened as a 1-point home favorite. The season ends with home games vs. Cal (+13) and out-of-conference vs. Notre Dame (+4). That's a tough schedule. I suppose the good news is no Arizona State from the South but that's about it. Both USC and UCLA from there is rough.
NCAAF Free Picks: Stanford is +6100 to win the national title, +600 to win the Pac-12 and +200 second-favorite for the North Division. To make the four-team playoff, Stanford is +1150 and not to -2450. The Cardinal have a wins total of 8, with the 'over' a -160 favorite. I think Stanford again finishes second to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. Go 'over' the wins as the Cardinal should go 9-3.