The Cardinal rank No. 18 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2018
Compared to recent seasons, Stanford may be ready to change things up a little this season. Instead of relying on their defense and a physical running game, the Cardinal may be one of the potent offenses in the Pac-12, if not the nation. While the pieces are in place on offense, there are some questions on the other side of the ball, especially up front. Either way, Stanford should remain at the forefront of the Pac-12 North race, which has become the expectation under David Shaw.
Previewing Stanford Football's Offense for 2018
This could become Stanford's best offense since Andrew Luck's reign in 2010 and 2011. The Cardinal welcome back their quarterback (K.J. Costello), top five rushers - led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love - top four receivers and placekicker. And four of five offensive linemen are back.
Costello took over for Keller Chryst and found his rhythm down the stretch in 2017, leading the Cardinal to wins over Washington and Notre Dame and a Pac-12 North championship. He wasn't prolific - his season-high passing yardage was 212 against TCU ' but the 6'5", 220-pounder flashed enough to convince Chryst to transfer to Tennessee.
Love is one of the Heisman Trophy favorites after becoming the fourth Cardinal Heisman runner-up since 2009. His 2,118 rushing yards in 2017 were the second-best total in Pac-12 history.
While the term "possession receiver" might sound like dubious praise, few hit that mark more admirably than JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who hauled in nine TDs last year, and Trenton Irwin, who caught 43 passes. Another intriguing youngster is Osiris St. Brown, a former touted recruit who redshirted due to injury. As for tight end, Stanford is again stacked - Colby Parkinson and Kaden Smith combined for nine TDs last year.
Stanford should have one of the better offensive lines in the Pac-12, if not the nation, this fall. Four starters and much of the 2017 depth chart return up front. Freshman All-American Walker Little is a budding superstar at tackle.
Previewing Stanford Football's Defense for 2018
For once, Stanford is hurting, or at least questionable, on its defensive line. End Jovan Swann accounted for just 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss last year, and he's the leading name on the depth chart. While true freshmen don't often break the defensive rotation on the Farm, Thomas Booker could do that at end if he offers up some pass-rushing potential.
The solution up front may be leaning on better talent and depth at linebacker and in the secondary. Stanford often played a 2-4-5 scheme last year, and that might be the best way to get the best players on the field.
Bobby Okereke, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick last season, is one of three fifth-year seniors at linebacker and looks like the leader of the unit. He'll pair inside with Sean Barton, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 last year against San Diego State.
The secondary took a couple of big hits with safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks off to the NFL, but it is better equipped to handle the departures than the D-line. A healthy return of veteran but oft-injured cornerback Alijah Holder is critical.
Previewing Stanford Football's Specialists for 2018
The Cardinal are set in the kicking game thanks to the return of placekicker Jet Toner, who connected on 21-of-26 field goals, and punter Jake Bailey, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection.
For years, Stanford has led with its defense, which it backed up with a rugged, run-first offensive attack. That could change this year The Stanford offense hasn't eclipsed 40 points per game since 2011, when Luck lined up behind center. It could in 2018. And it might need to, thanks to a defense in transition.
Stanford visits Pac-12 North favorite Washington on Nov. 3, but we'll get a good picture of the Cardinal before September is over, with games vs. USC, at Oregon and at Notre Dame.