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Stanford Cardinal vs. Rice Owls Preview and Prediction


Both Stanford head coach David Shaw and running back Bryce Love said a top priority of theirs while visiting Australia for the 2017 season opener was to see a kangaroo in the wild.

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Taking in Australia's remarkable wildlife is ultimately secondary to the main goal of starting the campaign 1-0, though.

For the second consecutive season, a Pac-12 team opens with a unique date in Sydney. Cal beat Hawaii Down Under to kick off 2016. Coincidentally, Stanford closed its 2016 regular season against this same Rice team, blasting the Owls down on The Farm, 41-17.

Both teams feature some new faces in the rematch nearly 10 months later.

Stanford vs. Rice (Sydney, Australia)

Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 26 at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Stanford -31

Three Things to Watch

1. Easing Keller Chryst Into the Flow

Stanford's season underwent a transformation when, after weeks of Ryan Burns starting in Kevin Hogan's long-held spot, Keller Chryst became the starting quarterback.

Chryst's dual-threat skill set injected much-needed life into a previously struggling Cardinal offense, evident in Stanford's uptick to nearly 40 points per game over the final five of the regular season. He sustained an ACL tear in the Sun Bowl, and there was doubt over whether he would be healthy in time for the opener.

Chryst made a full recovery in time for fall camp, and can ease back into the job he was seemingly picking up quickly last year. Stanford should have a significant advantage over the Rice defense (No. 113 in the nation last year), so David Shaw can call a vanilla game without asking Chryst to do too much.

2. Cardinal Playing Close to the Vest

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Beyond Chryst's workload, don't expect to see Stanford unveil too much against Rice. The Cardinal's physical and talent advantages afford Shaw and his staff the luxury of employing a basic strategy, which is invaluable given the next date on the Stanford slate.

The Cardinal return stateside with a bye in Week 1, then head to Los Angeles for the latest installment in the budding rivalry with USC. This matchup may well be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game; at the very least, it sets up the winner nicely on the road to Silicon Valley.

Stanford need not give USC too much game film against an opponent the Cardinal should have no issues handling.

3. Start Strong, Leave No Doubt

Remember in Stanford's 2015 season the frequent discussion of a Week 1 date at Northwestern going awry? The odd kickoff time became a sticking point as the Cardinal were on the outside looking into the College Football Playoff.

Strange things can happen with unfamiliar circumstances. It doesn't get any more unfamiliar than traveling around the globe for an opener, a full week before most of the nation kicks off.

Though Rice struggled a season ago, head coach David Bailiff has done a remarkable job. Some changes in staffing and the lineup could have the Owls poised to surprise in Conference USA. Stanford needs to avoid being the first shocker Rice pulls off in 2017.

Look for Stanford to impose its will early, particularly with its trademark, stifling defense. A few turnovers generated early could be just what the Cardinal need to build an insurmountable lead by halftime, and give Shaw the opportunity to play reserves throughout the second half.

Final Analysis

Expect a final score very much comparable to the one these two teams played in November, though reached differently. Last season, Stanford used a 21-point third quarter to slam the door.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

This time around, a quick start behooves the Cardinal. Getting Bryce Love going early to establish the identity of an offense now sans Christian McCaffrey will put Stanford on course for the season to come.

Prediction: Stanford 42, Rice 14

— 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.