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Stanford Football: Cardinal's 2019 Spring Preview

Stanford Football: Cardinal's 2019 Spring Preview

Stanford Football: Cardinal's 2019 Spring Preview

The San Francisco Giants flourished earlier this decade with some Even-Year Magic, winning the World Series in 2010, '12 and '14. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, Stanford football's represented the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game (and won the league) in the past three odd years running.

After a disappointing, albeit still relatively successful nine-win 2018, the Cardinal aim to conjure some Odd-Year Magic once more in 2019. The Trees have pieces in place to contend with defending Pac-12 champion Washington and likely preseason favorite Oregon in a loaded North. They take the first steps toward a title pursuit in spring practices.

5 Storylines to Watch During Stanford's Spring Practice

1. Revamped run game

Stanford's reversal of fortune in the run game from 2017 to '18 was staggering. The Cardinal went from having one of the most prolific attacks in the nation, behind the most prolific ball carrier in college football, Bryce Love. Love's nagging ankle injury kept the 2017 Heisman finalist sidelined much of the '18 campaign, and the Cardinal plummeted to No. 11 in the Pac-12 in rushing offense.

History suggests Stanford won't struggle on the ground for long; in 2014, the Cardinal failed to establish a consistent threat in the wake of Tyler Gaffney's departure, but a year later, Christian McCaffrey emerged. Stanford needs a perhaps unexpected player to emerge in almost similar fashion in 2019, beginning with spring ball.

2. Costello won't play the hits

Quarterback K.J. Costello has at times been "Beyond Belief" in his Stanford career. He has the potential to be the Cardinal's best snap-taker since Kevin Hogan — if not Andrew Luck — but it might be "Still Too Soon to Know." After Costello missed the entirety of 2018 spring practices due to injury, David Shaw doesn't want to take any chances.

In a contact sport like football, "Accidents Will Happen." Shaw announced contact this spring will be limited, in part to spare Costello from wear-and-tear. A healthy Costello could have defenses ready to "Wave A White Flag," and in the process, become the best Costello since Elvis. And considering all these songs reference draw allusions between the Stanford quarterback and famous rock-and-roller... "I Hope You're Happy Now."

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3. New looks at linebacker

Linebacker has typically been a position of strength at Stanford. The Cardinal's ability to reload at the position faces a test in 2019, with standouts Bobby Okereke and Joey Alfieri graduated, and Sean Barton retiring from the sport this winter.

Barton's surprise retirement means wholesale turnover in the linebacking corps, and a pressing need for production against the run. Okereke and Barton in particular were key, combining for 188 tackles a season ago. Jordan Fox returns as the veteran anchor for the unit, with Gabe Reid and Casey Toohill candidates to take on expanded roles. Stanford's recruited well at the position, so don't be surprised if a new name emerges during offseason workouts to help fill the voids.

4. Competition in the secondary

One of the unfortunate surprises of Stanford's early offseason was the retirement of safety Frank Buncom IV, a former blue-chip prospect coming into his own in the Cardinal secondary. With cornerback Alijah Holder bound for the NFL, Stanford will feature some new faces around 2018 breakout star corner Paulson Adebo.

Obi Eboh's one of the more experienced options returning in 2019 and will have a jump on earning a starting position despite some talented newcomers in the secondary that are a part of this year's recruiting class. Fellow veteran returner Malik Antoine, who came through with a huge sack in the win at UCLA, should see a more prominent role.

5. Offensive outlook

With Costello facing limited contact and changes in the run game, spring may not be a telling barometer of the 2019 Stanford offense. However, the time logged in spring is vital for continuing the progress of young offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard.

The former Cardinal quarterback was promoted to coordinator last year after Mike Bloomgren took the head-coaching job at Rice. Love's injuries and a bevy of missed time on the offensive line hindered Pritchard's options in his first year. In Year 2, he's adjusting to an offense without JJ Arcega-Whiteside present to offer a security blanket. Feeling out the renovated offense this spring could be as critical for the coordinator as it is for any of his players.

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