Bryce Love returns to power perennial Pac-12 contender Stanford
No Pac-12 program has been as consistent for the past decade as Stanford. In every season since 2009, the Cardinal have finished above .500; only USC can make a similar claim. Stanford's also the only team to go bowling every season since 2009.
The Cardinal boast three conference championships, tied with Oregon for most in the league; have appeared in the Pac-12 Championship Game a conference-best four times; and have had four players named Heisman Trophy finalists a combined five times. That's more than double the output for the rest of the Pac-12 combined.
With such sustained success under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, each new season brings new reason for optimism down on The Farm.
1. Bryce Love
The 2017 Heisman runner-up defied expectations with his decision not to pursue the NFL next season. He will return to Stanford for one more season, immediately becoming the man to catch for the 2018 Heisman, while also setting the pace for Stanford's offense.
Love was electric last season, rushing for 2,118 yards at an 8.1-yard per carry clip. He scored 19 touchdowns, and did it all while playing through injury for the latter portion of the campaign. With an offseason to heal, and plenty of improving difference-makers returning around him on offense, Love could be primed for even more in 2018.
2. K.J. Costello's Continued Development
Stanford opened the 2017 season with uncertainty at quarterback, and the Cardinal offense sputtered as a result. But by the midway point, Costello (above, right) emerged as the clear No. 1 over Ryan Burns. Costello's improved play down the stretch proved vital in elevating Stanford to the Pac-12 North title and a fourth conference championship game appearance since 2012.
Costello heads into spring practices as the clear leader of the Cardinal offense. He has an opportunity to progress into the kind of difference-making quarterback that Kevin Hogan became over his tenure at Stanford. Playing behind a veteran offensive line, and returning big-play threat J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at receiver, expect Costello to continue his considerable strides into next season.
3. Underdogs Once More
David Shaw's teams have a knack for exceeding expectations. In 2017, the Cardinal were projected to finish behind Washington in the North. The 2015 team was picked a distant second to Oregon in the preseason media poll, just as the '12 and '13 squads had been.
Whatever the reason, Stanford overachieves when overlooked. In 2018, the Washington Huskies figure to be heavy favorites not just in the North division, but the entire Pac-12. Stanford's veteran offense will garner mentions, but an exodus of starting defensive players leaves enough question marks for experts to doubt the Cardinal. That's when this program has been at its best through the most consistent decade in the conference.