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Stanford Football: Cardinal's 2019 Schedule Analysis

Stanford Football: Cardinal's 2019 Schedule Analysis

Stanford Football: Cardinal's 2019 Schedule Analysis

Through injuries, a shocking downturn in rushing production, and defensive play that wasn't always up to Stanford standards, the 2018 Cardinal still managed a 9-4 finish. That's been pretty close to the floor for Stanford teams in the David Shaw era, with three Pac-12 championships and four divisional titles setting the bar. Of those North division crowns, three came in odd number years. How much bearing does that have on 2019? Well...

Stanford enters the upcoming campaign with some question marks on both sides of the ball. A defense that occasionally underperformed loses some of its marquee names, while the rushing attack must rebuild without Bryce Love. At the same time, the Cardinal navigate one of the most difficult schedules in all of college football. They face 11 Power 5 opponents. And Stanford's 12th game? It's a road trip to face the two-time Group of 5 representative in the New Year's Six, and 2017 national champion*, UCF.

But with high-profile Pac-12 games against Oregon and Washington at home, don't discount the possibility of another odd-year Pac-12 North title.

Stanford Cardinal 2019 Schedule

Byes: Week 7, Week 10

Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. Northwestern (Stanford, Calif.)

A season-opening loss at Northwestern in 2015 loomed large as Stanford made a push for the College Football Playoff. Revenge may not be a factor four years later — both teams are pretty much completely different — but the 2019 installment could again have significant stakes. Northwestern capped a surprising 2018 representing the Big Ten West in the conference title game, then rallied from down three scores to beat Utah in the Holiday Bowl.

Pat Fitzgerald again has a divisional contender in the Big Ten, employing a style similar to that of Stanford. Northwestern provides the Cardinal a tall measuring stick for Week 1.

Week 2 — Sept. 7 at USC (Los Angeles)

Two of the longest standing members of the Pac-12, through the conference's different incarnations, have taken their series to new heights in recent years — so much so that David Shaw said he believes USC-Stanford is a true rivalry. It's become a staple of the early-season calendar, setting the table for the Pac-12 race ensuing throughout autumn. This season's edition pits two programs undergoing some significant personnel changes.

Stanford's defense, heavy with new faces in the starting rotation, are up against the Graham Harrell-implemented air-raid offense. A receiving corps featuring Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns will be a handful for a rebuilt Stanford secondary.

Week 3 — Sept. 14 at UCF (Orlando, Fla.)

The glass ceiling between Group of 5 championship hopefuls and the College Football Playoff is reinforced with the Power 5's collective unwillingness to play home-and-home dates. UCF has been at the forefront of this conversation during its run through back-to-back, perfect regular seasons. Stanford is not one of those Power 5 schools that shies away from traveling to a Group of 5 opponent, however, last demonstrated when it faced San Diego State on Montezuma Mesa two seasons ago.

"We're looking for competitive games that are going to be good for our guys to experience," Shaw said of Stanford's scheduling philosophy before that matchup. A game against UCF definitely qualifies.

The Knights should again be the pace-setter both in the American Athletic Conference, and for the Group of 5's New Year's Six bid. Spectrum Stadium could be a hornet's nest for the Cardinal, with UCF buzzing to make a statement against a Power 5 opponent.

Week 4 — Sept. 21 vs. Oregon (Stanford, Calif.)

After a couple of lackluster matchups in 2016 and 2017, the 2018 Oregon-Stanford matchup felt just like (not-so) old times. College Gameday was in town for Stanford's visit to Eugene, and Autzen Stadium was electric for a prime-time showdown that lived up to the hype. The Cardinal scored an astounding victory in that one, which deviated from the high-profile games from 2009-15, when the two programs were atop the Pac-12.

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In those days, Oregon-Stanford was a philosophical clash that highlighted the 21st century's greatest college football debate. Can old-fashioned, physical football best the speed and versatility of modern, up-tempo offenses? With Mario Cristobal at Oregon, that element's gone. The former Alabama assistant oversees a brand of Ducks football comparable to Stanford's style. But that doesn't make this game any less intriguing, nor any less important in the Pac-12 North race.

Week 5 — Sept. 28 at Oregon State (Corvallis, Ore.)

Concluding a brutal first month with four road games and what's likely to be three pairings against preseason Top 25 teams at Oregon State might seem like a relief for Stanford. The Beavers have won just once in Pac-12 play the past two seasons, after all. But the last time the Cardinal visited Reser Stadium, they needed a touchdown in the waning moments to escape with the win.

What's more, the 2019 installment falls in the perfect trap location on the schedule, nestled one week between Stanford home games against both Oregon and Washington.

Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Washington (Stanford, Calif.)

Washington's 44-6 rout of Stanford at Husky Stadium in 2016 unofficially marked a changing of the guard in the Pac-12. After seven seasons of Oregon and Stanford splitting the conference title, the Huskies' romp paved the way for the first of two Pac-12 championships. Washington's pair of crowns bookend a USC championship.

With Washington now the new standard-bearer in the Pac-12, the Huskies' visit to The Farm carries particular weight for the Cardinal. Stanford successfully defended its home turf in 2017 en route to the North title, and the program has not lost to Washington at home since '07.

Week 8 — Oct. 17 vs. UCLA (Stanford, Calif.)

Chip Kelly and David Shaw reunited last November in Pasadena, and it felt like old times. Stanford escaped the Rose Bowl victorious but was forced to play UCLA's game in a 49-42 shootout. The Thanksgiving weekend showdown wasn't K.J. Costello's coming-out party, but the Stanford quarterback did post some of his most impressive numbers on the 2018 campaign: 344 passing yards with five touchdowns.

Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Arizona (Stanford, Calif.)

The Pac-12's uneven divisional schedule means Arizona and Stanford have not faced since 2016. Stanford had little trouble with the Wildcats in its visit to Tucson then. This year's matchup comes with some notable changes. Gone is Rich Rodriguez, with Kevin Sumlin taking over as head coach last season. Arizona endured some growing pains early into Sumlin's tenure, but Khalil Tate began to settle in as a productive passer down the stretch of 2018.

Week 11 — Nov. 9 at Colorado (Boulder, Colo.)

When Stanford last visited Colorado, Christian McCaffrey padded his 2015 Heisman Trophy resume with 147 rushing yards and an oft-repeated highlight-reel moment when he threw for a touchdown. Colorado's undergone significant changes since then, replacing head coach Mike MacIntyre with Mel Tucker. This will be a new-look Colorado team, albeit one showcasing the most dynamic wide receiver in the Pac-12, Laviska Shenault Jr.

Week 12 — Nov. 16 at Washington State (Pullman, Wash.)

Since Christian McCaffrey's tight-rope walk along the sideline contributed to a dramatic win on Halloween night 2015, Stanford has gone winless against Washington State. The Cougars extended their winning streak in the series to three games last year with a thrilling comeback, escaping The Farm with a 41-38 victory.

Mike Leach's resurrection of Washington State football is one of the Pac-12's more prominent storylines in recent years. It takes a new turn in 2019 with the Cougars again replacing a standout quarterback. Of course, it was the same question mark lingering last offseason before Gardner Minshew emerged as a surprise star after stepping into Luke Falk's shoes.

Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Cal (Stanford, Calif.)

Stanford can close out a perfect decade in the Big Game with a win in 2019. The Cardinal have won every matchup since 2010, with last season's 23-13 victory marking the eighth double-digit-point margin in that stretch.

The Cardinal's current dominance of the rivalry is unprecedented. Stanford's narrow, 17-14 escape in 2017 extended the streak to eight, surpassing the previous record of seven wins from 1995-2001.

Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame (Stanford, Calif.)

Stanford and Notre Dame were locked in a competitive back-and-forth when Bryce Love left last year's game in South Bend with an ankle injury. The Fighting Irish pulled away, adding an impressive notch in their perfect regular season. Each of the last two results in this recently important rivalry deviated from a trend that started in 2012, wherein every matchup — regardless of location — came down to a single score. Given the significance of Notre Dame-Stanford affairs this decade, don't be surprised if the stakes are incredibly high when the Fighting Irish make their annual end-of-season excursion to California.

— 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.