Stanford is honored with the task of covering one of the largest spreads in Week 1 and is ready to show in its season opener vs Rice what it has to offer potential bettors.
Stanford is honored with the task of covering one of the largest spreads in Week 1 and is ready to show in its season opener vs Rice what it has to offer potential bettors.Stanford vs Rice
6,191. That’s the number of all-purpose yards that former Stanford running back and returner Christian McCaffrey accumulated in the past two seasons combined—easily a college football record. Stanford went 10-3 last season, winning its last 6, in large part due to its star athlete, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers. The key to betting this game will be to understand how Stanford looks without its former best player. Rice will be Stanford’s first test. The Owls from Houston, Texas are looking to build off of a 3-9 season, which ended with a 41-17 defeat at Stanford. The Week 1 opener between these two teams will mark the second consecutive season opener in which a Pac-12 team plays in Sydney, Australia. Stanford opened as 33.5 point favorites at most sports books.
Stanford is ranked 18th in the preseason poll. When Stanford was at its worst last season, it was in those games when McCaffrey was not a threat. For example, they lost at home to unranked Washington State 42-16 when McCaffrey was banged up and produced only 40 yards on offense. But this is not to say that Stanford could not succeed without McCaffrey. They beat Notre Dame 17-10 and North Carolina in the Sun Bowl 25-23 thanks in large part to the rushing prowess of Bryce Love. Stanford brings back experienced starters on the offensive line to help out Love, who will hopefully be pushed by competition from other running backs, especially the four-star Junior Cameron Scarlett.
The bigger question surrounds Stanford’s passing game. but not because of their receiving corps. Stanford’s quarterback will have top-ranked tight ends in Dalton Schultz, Kaden Smith and eventually true freshman Colby Parkinson to rely on. He will also have a talented wide receiving corps at his disposal, featuring the very tall and athletic J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Trent Irwin, who is known for never dropping a ball, and the track star Isaiah Brandt-Sims who has incredible speed. Keller Chryst, who replaced Ryan Burns at quarterback midseason, will look to recuperate from the injury which he suffered in the Sun Bowl and build off of his success late last season. But if Chryst is unable to play vs Rice, Ryan Burns will perceive an excellent chance to impress his coaches. Stanford’s defense was 38th in average yards per game allowed last season. Contrary to their offense, the defense did not lean so much on a single player. The problem was staying healthy and developing consistency. In two games at Washington and then vs Washington State, they gave up 86 points. But they played a meaningful role in their blowout wins vs USC and at Oregon. The defensive line did lose Solomon Thomas to the NFL, but the depth of talent in the linebacking corps and especially the secondary will help a hopefully healthy Stanford team generate much better defensive statistics.
Rice does not possess the tools to remain competitive with Stanford. Their defense ranked 123rd in yards per game allowed—that’s sixth to last. Their ranking was so poor despite having played only two name-worthy opponents—Stanford and Baylor. They could not stop the run, stop the pass, or generate many turnovers in order to get themselves off the field. In order to help their defense, Rice hired a new defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart. Stewart has prior experience as a defensive coach at the likes of the Dallas Cowboys, the University of Houston and most recently the University of Nebraska. In 2011, as defensive coordinator at the University of Houston, he helped the Cougars finish 13-1, ranking in the top 15th in several defensive categories.
Rice does bring back just about all of their defensive starters, but they will almost certainly need time to understand and implement Stewart’s new defensive concepts. Rice could help their defense by establishing a longer time of possession with a more efficient offense. Their offensive line returns its starters and will look to avoid the injury bug that riddled them last season and remain consistent. Rice’s best aspect of its offense is its running game. With uncertainty as to who, if anyone, will be the starting quarterback for Rice throughout 2017, Rice will rely especially on its talent and depth at the running back position. Sam Stewart, like his offensive line, struggled with injuries, but was effective in both running and catching the ball when he was healthy. He averaged 6.3 yards per rush, like McCaffrey, but with almost 200 fewer rush attempts and generally against much weaker opponents. Rice will also have Emmanuel Esukpa, a 220-pounder who can be effective in short-yardage situations, and the versatile sophomore Austin Walter, who can also be productive from the slot because of his speed and good hands, at their disposal. But when Stanford loads the box in order to take away Rice’s strength, Rice will still need to be able to rely on a quarterback. Jackson Tyner started last season’s finale against Stanford. He went 10/37 for 68 yards. Unless Rice can answer its questions surrounding the quarterback position, the Owls’ running game will be overburdened and unable to exploit the departure of Solomon Thomas.
The question is not whether Stanford will beat up Rice, but how badly. The talent is there for Stanford to cover the spread. Even without McCaffrey, Love at running back, and their receiving corps, can bring enough explosive firepower. Most importantly, I think that the motivation is there, too. Stanford will face a lot of questions in its week 1 opener: who will play at quarterback, how will they replace McCaffrey, how will the defensive line look without Thomas. The level of competition between potential starters should produce enough motivation for the team to start the season on a strong note. They surely would rather figure out those major questions when they play Rice on August 26th than when they play at USC on September 9th. Rice has questions too, particularly concerning the quarterback position and their defense. But while they do have the motivation, they don’t have the talent, plus their defense will face a much too rigorous first test in implementing their new coordinator’s concepts. I am backing Stanford to cover the large spread on our college football picks.
Best Line Offered: Heritage