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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#24 Stanford Cardinal

NATIONAL FORECAST

#24

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: David Shaw, 42-14 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bloomgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lance Anderson

For the first time under coach David Shaw, Stanford completed a season with fewer than 11 victories. The Cardinal finished 8-5 and second in the Pac-12 North but lost three games by three points. While the defense must be revamped, Stanford appears to be the biggest challenger to Oregon in the North. And the Cardinal could push for double-digit victories once again if the offense takes a step forward in quarterback Kevin Hogan’s final year.

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Previewing Stanford’s Offense for 2015:
 

Stanford’s success offensively will likely hinge on the progression of quarterback Kevin Hogan — a veteran in his third year as a starter who had an up-and-down 2014. The Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007, and that put a great deal of strain on Hogan. But as the coaching staff tweaked the offense down the stretch, he closed out the year completing 76 percent of his throws in the final three games — wins over Cal, UCLA and Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Look for sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey to make a major impact this season. He came on strong at the end of last year and provided a big lift on the ground and in the return game. Remound Wright and Barry Sanders will also see plenty of time in the rotation, but McCaffrey should get the bulk of the carries in 2015. That’ll open up all sorts of possibilities in the passing game, where Devon Cajuste returns as the primary pass catcher. Look for the Cardinal, who are known to get creative with offensive formations, to run multiple tight end sets with a trio of big-bodies — Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada.

And while Stanford does have to replace All-America tackle Andrus Peat, four of five starters from the offensive line are back.

Previewing Stanford’s Defense for 2015:

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Stanford had its issues on offense last season — which contributed to the disappointing 8–5 record — but the defense was dominant as usual. The Cardinal not only led the Pac-12 in total defense (282.4 ypg), they also allowed more than 100 fewer yards per game than the league’s No. 2 defense (Utah, 393.5 ypg).

The linebacking corps should be the strength of the unit, led by explosive pass-rushing outside backers Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi. Last year the two combined for 12 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. The Cardinal are solid up the middle with Blake Martinez (team-leading 102 tackles last year) and Kevin Palma rounding out the corps.

Up front, the Cardinal have limited experience and depth issues. Aziz Shittu and Harrison Phillips should make up two-thirds of the line, with Cal transfer — yes, a transfer from Stanford’s Bay Area rival — Brennan Scarlett expected to offer some relief at the other defensive end spot.

There are some veterans in the defensive backfield, but not a ton of overall experience with the graduation of safety Jordan Richards, cornerback Alex Carter declaring for the draft and the transfer of Wayne Lyons to Michigan. Safety Zach Hoffpauir was expected to be one of this group's top performers, but he was selected in the MLB Draft and won't return to the team. Former quarterback Dallas Lloyd and former receiver Kodi Whitfield — who switched positions prior to 2014 — have another year of experience in the secondary.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Previewing Stanford’s Specialists for 2015:
 

The Cardinal have to replace their kicker and punter. Conrad Ukropina looks like the choice at kicker, and the hope is that incoming freshman Jake Bailey can take over the punting responsibilities. If he doesn’t win the job, it will likely fall to either Alex Robinson or Ukropina. Look for Sanders and McCaffrey to contribute in the return game.

Final Analysis 
 

Stanford closed last season as one of the hottest teams in the country. The offense, which played its best down the stretch, should be better this year, but there are depth issues on defense for the first time in a while. If they can plug those gaps and find solid replacements in the kicking game, the Cardinal should threaten Oregon for supremacy in the Pac-12 North. 

The Debate

Is David Shaw the Pac-12's Best Coach?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#23 UCLA Bruins

NATIONAL FORECAST

#23

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Jim Mora, 29-11 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Noel Mazzone | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Bradley

UCLA enters its fourth season under Jim Mora with a roster that’s capable of winning the Pac-12 title. However, there’s a glaring question mark at quarterback, and true freshman Josh Rosen is expected to emerge as the team’s starter. The Bruins are in good shape on defense, and new coordinator Tom Bradley should help this unit take a step forward in 2015. The talent is in place. Can UCLA win 10 games for the third consecutive season?

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Previewing UCLA’s Offense for 2015
 

After leading UCLA’s offense for three years and breaking a number of records in the process, quarterback Brett Hundley is now off to the NFL, leaving an otherwise well-established offense with a gaping hole at its most important position. But never fear — the Bruins have a pretty good contingency plan. They’ll almost certainly replace Hundley with the nation’s top quarterback recruit, Josh Rosen, who conveniently operated an offense similar to UCLA’s while in high school. Rosen still needs to win the job over backups Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard, but while coaches may not admit he’s already a shoe-in for the spot, his talent is light years ahead of the competition.

Rosen may take some time to get acclimated, but he’ll have an experienced offensive line that returns all five starters to protect him and a running back (Paul Perkins) who led the Pac-12 in rushing yards last season to lean on. Building on last year’s breakout, Perkins should be the centerpiece of UCLA’s offense that returns nine of 11 starters. As lead wideout Jordan Payton says, Rosen will get the keys to “a Ferrari.” The question is what he does with them.

Previewing UCLA’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The defense’s leadership, at all three levels, is off to the NFL, and UCLA may have some trouble adjusting early to life without linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive end Owa Odighizuwa and cornerback Anthony Jefferson. But talent-wise, the Bruins will be as strong as ever on defense.

Linebacker Myles Jack returns for what could be his final season at UCLA, and he’ll shift inside in order to maximize his impact. The Bruins will have two up-and-coming pass-rushing threats to mold this fall, as outside linebacker Deon Hollins and defensive end Takkarist McKinley try to build on their strong finishes to last season. Hollins, who had six sacks in UCLA’s last four games in 2014 to finish with nine on the season, is the unit’s most likely breakout candidate, if he’s able to harness his devastatingly quick first step.

The secondary is the biggest question mark, but tough-yet-undersized sophomore safety Jaleel Wadood looks like a star in the making. If UCLA can establish a pass rush early in the season and leadership emerges, the defense could be a force.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing UCLA’s Specialists for 2015 
 

Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has taken his fair share of criticism in the past few seasons, but after finishing last season on a high note — making 13 of his last 14 field goals — he should be a more consistent option from long range as a senior. Consistency was also a problem for punter Matt Mengel, who was forced into action after little experience with the position. Another year of experience should do him good. The Bruins have looked very good at times in the return game, but returner Ishmael Adams faded a bit down the stretch in his first full season in the role. With a new special teams coordinator in promoted assistant Scott White, we’ll have to wait and see if UCLA’s kickoff and return units can return to their dominance from 2013.

Final Analysis
 

Few teams nationally can say they return 17 of 22 starters from a year ago, and none of those teams had as good of a season in 2014 as UCLA did. And while those absences are sure to loom large — especially in the case of Hundley and Kendricks — experience is finally on the Bruins’ side. The defense should be fine, and if Perkins can build on his impressive sophomore season, then the offense should be able to take some pressure off Rosen.

But ultimately, UCLA’s fate will likely rest on its freshman quarterback’s shoulders, and few teams historically have had wild success with that approach.

The Debate

Is UCLA's Paul Perkins the Pac-12's Best Running Back?

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