David Shaw is now a two-time defending Pac-12 champion.
Stanford has established itself as one of the premier programs west of the Mississippi after an unprecedented run of success over the last half decade. But Shaw is facing something he hasn't really had to face during his brief time leading the ship in Palo Alto. He is facing stability issues for the first time.
He must replace a host of elite starters on defense while also breaking in a new defensive coordinator. And he must do so in what could be the best conference in the nation.
The Cardinal will face one of the toughest schedules in the nation this fall and should they land in the playoff or win a third straight league crown, they will have earned it.
2014 Stanford Schedule Analysis
Right out of the gate
The Cardinal face both UC Davis and Army in the first month, but in the first four weeks of the season, Stanford also will play two of the five most important games of the year. The first will feature USC at home in just Week 2 and the other will come on the road against a divisional foe who beat them the last time it visited. Stanford lost to Washington in Seattle two years ago on a Thursday night and the Huskies have only gotten better since then. A win over Stanford would be the first marquee victory for new UW coach Chris Petersen. The good news for David Shaw is the off weekend prior to the game, giving the staff two weeks to prepare for Washington.
Sweep of October?
Stanford will play four opponents in the month of October that it played and beat last year five times. Stanford smoked Arizona State (twice) and Washington State last year but snuck past both Oregon State (20-12) and Notre Dame (27-20). The two easier games will come at home, but a return to the Pac-12 title game location in Tempe could prove to be a major hurdle to repeating as Pac-12 champs. The road trip to Notre Dame is a huge game of national importance and could carry playoff implications, but means nothing to the Cardinal’s Pac-12 title hopes. The focus should be on the Sun Devils in October.
On the road in November
Three of the final four games for Stanford will come on the road and two of those feature the two teams Athlon Sports is predicting to play in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford won the last time it visited Oregon and will start a nasty final month of the season with arguably the biggest game of the year in Eugene. A third straight win over the Ducks all but gives Stanford the North Division. A road trip to UCLA — should the Cardinal top Oregon — could hold a College Football Playoff berth in the balance before what could be a rematch the following week in Levi’s Stadium. In between are two easy games with Utah at home and Cal on the road — even if The Big Game is an important rivalry tilt. Stanford has beaten Cal four years in a row and has won the last two by a combined score of 84-16.
Related: 2014 Stanford Cardinal Team Preview
The Cardinal have their goals set on repeating as Pac-12 champs and securing a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. Should Stanford make it through the Pac-12 slate unscathed or with just one loss, this team will have earned the right to play for the national title. According to Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25 rankings, David Shaw’s bunch will play the Nos. 6, 7, 13, 14, 16 and 24 teams in the regular season alone, with a likely rematch against one of its South Division foes in the Pac-12 title game. A 10-2 record would be extremely respectable but likely won’t win the league or score a playoff berth.