No program has been as consistent in Pac-12 football over the past decade than Stanford. Starting with Jim Harbaugh's tenure and progression under David Shaw, the Cardinal factor into the Pac-12 championship race each and every season. Last year, Stanford played in the conference title game for the fourth time since 2012, and running back Bryce Love became the fourth Cardinal player to earn an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony since '09.
Love's back and will operate behind a veteran offensive line, while quarterback K.J. Costello aims to return from offseason surgey and build off the positive momentum of his finish to 2017. Costello will pass to one of the most underrated talents in the country, wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Stanford also faces uncertainty. It replaces offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, and the departure of some defensive stars from a unit that underachieved by lofty Cardinal standards casts doubt on the program's bread-and-butter. If Stanford competes for another Pac-12 championship, it will take addressing those issues, as well as navigating a schedule that includes several high-profile road dates.
Stanford Cardinal 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 7
Week 1 – Aug. 31 vs. San Diego State (Stanford, Calif.)
A lengthy hiatus caused by a blackout in the former Qualcomm Stadium set the scene for a heartbreaking Stanford loss last year against San Diego State. The Cardinal get a rematch to kick off 2018, and will be facing an Aztecs bunch without superb running back Rashaad Penny. San Diego State's defense should still be stingy, and its offensive line is experienced, suggesting another low-scoring affair is imminent.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 vs. USC (Stanford, Calif.)
The annual Stanford-USC showdown has become a highlight of the early part on the college football calendar. This year marks a rematch of last season's Pac-12 Championship Game, a thriller USC won on the strength of a fourth-quarter, goal-line stop.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. UC Davis (Stanford, Calif.)
In 2005, a UC Davis program very new to Div. I stunned Stanford, 20-17. In 2014, Cardinal players who were no older than middle-school age for that shocking upset routed the Big Sky Conference member Aggies. The UC Davis visiting The Farm in 2018 is much different even from the 2014 version, with Dan Hawkins now the Aggies head coach.
Week 4 – Sept. 22 vs. Oregon (Eugene, Ore.)
Stanford did not play a home game until Week 4 in 2017. In stark contrast, Week 4 of 2018 marks the Cardinal's first trip away from home -- and it's a big one. Oregon and Stanford developed an exciting rivalry from 2009-15, in which one or the other claimed every conference championship. This matchup also had direct bearing on the national championship landscape in 2010-12, and again in '15 when the Ducks last beat the Cardinal.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 at Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Cross-country rivals Notre Dame and Stanford have paired for a series of nail-biting finishes and memorable meetings in recent years. Toby Gerhart launched his Heisman Trophy candidacy against the Fighting Irish in 2009; Notre Dame's overtime win in '12 preserved its BCS title hopes (and dashed Stanford's), but the Cardinal gave receipts with wins in '15 and '17 that denied the Irish College Football Playoff berths.
The physical style both programs employ makes for competitive contests, and 2018 should bring more of the same.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 vs. Utah (Stanford, Calif.)
In 2013, Stanford would have had its strongest case for a BCS Championship Game berth were it not for a stunning, narrow loss in October at Utah. Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham rolls with a style similar to that of David Shaw at Stanford, laying the foundation through aggressive defense and complemeting it with a power-run game.
Last year, however, Bryce Love imposed his will on the Utes. Doing so against will be a challenge -- Utah has the experience and talent necessary to compete for its first Pac-12 title.
Week 8 – Oct. 18 at Arizona State (Tempe, Ariz.)
Like Shaw, first-year Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards has an NFL background. How that translates in Tempe, we should have a better idea by mid-October. The Sun Devils' defense cannot fair much worse against Stanford this time around than it did last, at least, surrendering more than 300 yards to Bryce Love.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 vs. Washington State (Stanford, Calif.)
Washington State won each of the last two in the Pac-12 North series over Stanford, including a blowout win over the Cardinal in the Cougars' last visit to The Farm in 2016. Mike Leach's program faces a considerable rebuild in 2018, but the Cougars should have their identity forged come Halloween week when they visit the Bay Area.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 at Washington (Seattle)
Husky Stadium is one of the more imposing venues for visiting teams in the Pac-12, but it's been especially harsh on Stanford. A loss at Washington was Stanford's only blemish in conference in 2012, and in '16, the Cardinal were bludgeoned in their visit on a Friday night.
Last season's Stanford win denied Washington a repeat Pac-12 title bid -- and rest assured, the talented Huskies have not forgotten this.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 vs. Oregon State (Stanford, Calif.)
Stanford's 15-14 win over one-win Oregon State last season was U-G-L-Y, but at least the Cardinal had an alibi. Bryce Love did not play, and quarterback K.J. Costello had not settled in as the man behind center. The Beavers again look like the weakest team in the Pac-12 ahead of the 2018 campaign, but last season's meeting at Reser Stadium shows nothing can be taken for granted.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 at Cal (Berkeley, Calif.)
Cal took Stanford to the wire in 2017, a clear indication of the strides the Golden Bears made in Justin Wilcox's first season as head coach. Cal should be even better when hosting this year's edition of The Big Game; if it will be enough to claim The Axe for the first time 2009 is another matter.
Week 13 – Nov. 24 at UCLA (Pasadena, Calif.)
Stanford hasn't dominated any Pac-12 series as thoroughly as its annual, in-state meeting with UCLA. After rallying in the fourth quarter to steal a win at the Rose Bowl in 2016, the '17 matchup saw Stanford run roughshod over the Bruins. UCLA will have motivation as a team to snap a losing skid that dates back to 2008. First-year Bruins head coach Chip Kelly will have the added, personal motivation of avenging the sole loss of his last season at Oregon, which came against the Cardinal.