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Stanford Cardinal vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction


Mounting injuries have been an all-too recurring theme in the Pac-12 this season, and no two teams better exemplify that than Arizona and Stanford.

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The two roving MASH units meet late Saturday in Tucson with the usual lineup changes that have been customary for both all season long.

For Stanford, the most significant change head coach David Shaw is introducing isn't the result of injury. Keller Chryst is making his first career start at quarterback in hopes of jump-starting the sputtering Cardinal offense.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has options at quarterback, with both Brandon Dawkins and Anu Solomon available after both were sidelined for varying lengths of time with injury.

Stanford at Arizona

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 11 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Stanford -5.5 

Three Things to Watch

1. Keller Chryst Taking Over

Shaw's decision to start Chryst for the first time against Arizona may or may not be a bit of gamesmanship. If so, it's a brilliant strategy. If not, it's an interesting coincidence.

Chryst got the majority of his work in the 2015 season playing much of the second half in a blowout against Arizona, and Kevin Hogan's back-up looked like a future Heisman contender against the overmatched Wildcats. He went 4-for-4 with a touchdown that night 13 months ago.

Chryst's place as the new starter could provide a spark to the Stanford offense in much the same way Hogan replacing Josh Nunes in 2012 reignited that Cardinal team. Stanford certainly needs it, as running back Christian McCaffrey -- dealing with his own injury issues -- has been bottled up due to the lack of production around him.

Against a young and still retooling Arizona defense, the Cardinal need to establish Chryst as a threat to open things up for McCaffrey.

2. Rich Rod's Quarterback Quandary 

Both Brandon Dawkins and Anu Solomon returning to the lineup the same week presents a question for Arizona football not only in Week 9, but for the Wildcats' immediate future.

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Solomon was crucial to the Wildcats' Pac-12 South championship in 2014, playing with a poise well beyond his freshman status. But as injuries piled up in 2015, Solomon opened this season in his only appearance thus far looking hesitant. The Arizona offense struggled in a game it could have won against BYU, had Solomon being more effective leading the unit in the first half.

Conversely, Dawkins brought energy and excitement with his dual-threat, playmaking ability. Since Dawkins played through and missed time because of injuries since Week 5 at UCLA, the Arizona offense stagnated.

Rodriguez leaning on the younger Dawkins Saturday might point toward the longer-term direction of the program, but Solomon has a season of eligibility remaining.

3. Something Has to Give

Coordinator Marcel Yates introduced wholesale changes that were badly needed to the Arizona defense, but the Wildcats' inexperience and lack of depth has shown this season. That's proven especially true in the second half of games, when Arizona has yielded the bulk of its 33 points per game.

The revamped Arizona defense is indeed suffering through growing pains, and Stanford's recent style would suggest a mismatch. The Cardinal's physicality up front in years past would badly exploit the undersized Wildcat front line, but Stanford has struggled to impose its will on defenses this season.

At just 17 points per game, Stanford ranks dead last in the Pac-12 for scoring offense, and No. 126 in the FBS.

Either Arizona gets a real defensive breakthrough this week, or Stanford breaks out of its offensive doldrums.

Final Analysis

It's like neither Arizona nor Stanford would have the record it does were the teams healthy all season. To that end, the healthier lineup Saturday probably leaves with a win.

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Arizona getting its top two quarterbacks helps, but wide receiver Samajie Grant moving to running back underscores just how badly wounded the Wildcats are in that position. Establishing a running game at full strength against a Stanford defense still performing quite well is challenge enough; doing so with a converted slot receiver is highly unlikely.

Then the question becomes how effective can an injury-plagued Stanford offense be, even against Arizona. Missing bodies on both the line and in the receiving corps limit the options around Christian McCaffrey.

This won't be your typical, high-scoring #Pac12AfterDark affair. While Arizona has a prime opportunity to pull off a major upset, the Wildcats don't match up particularly well with the Cardinal -- even if they're not at full strength.

Prediction: Stanford 24, Arizona 20

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.