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Stanford Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018

Stanford Cardinal LB Bobby Okereke

Stanford Cardinal LB Bobby Okereke

Plenty of programs around college football can only dream of boasting the resume Stanford's put together in just the past nine seasons: Three conference and four divisional championships; five Bowl Championship Series/New Year's Six bowl appearances with three wins; 38 NFL draft picks, and four players finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting on five separate occasions.

Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love

Certainly in his tenure as offensive coordinator from 2007-10, and head coach since '11, David Shaw's established Stanford as a national powerhouse. Precedent suggests the Cardinal will again contend for the Pac-12 championship -- and bringing back the most recent of those Heisman runners-up is a good starting point.

Running back Bryce Love, coming off a season with 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns, is the cornerstone of what could be the best all-around Cardinal offense since 2011, when Andrew Luck paced a 43.2-point per game scorer to the Fiesta Bowl. A veteran offensive line, talented pass catchers like JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin, and a promising quarterback in K.J. Costello gives this Stanford offense balance.

Maximizing the potential on offense, and finding a replacement for standout defensive lineman Harrison Phillips, are both critical for Stanford to achieve the one milestone not yet reached in Shaw's era: compete for a national championship.

Stanford plays its typical challenging schedule, not the least of which is a late-season showdown with near-unanimous Pac-12 title favorite, Washington. The matchup with the Huskies and a Week 2 rematch of the 2017 Pac-12 Championship Game against USC stand out as the potentially season-defining dates on the Cardinal's calendar.

Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Stanford in 2018.

Stanford Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018

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Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Stanford can lean on a strong offensive line and running back Bryce Love to make another run at the Pac-12 North title in 2018. But in order for coach David Shaw’s team to hold off Washington for the No. 1 spot in the division, the Cardinal have to restock a defense that has slipped in recent years and get more consistent production out of the passing game. Quarterback K.J. Costello has a good supporting cast on the outside, so the potential is there for a breakout season. However, bigger concerns rest on Shaw’s defense, especially with the departure of lineman Harrison Phillips, safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks. The schedule features five Pac-12 road games and a trip to South Bend in late September. Picking Stanford to lose to UCLA might be too much, but with the question marks on defense, I think this team slips to 8-4 or 9-3 overall this year.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

The first half of the Cardinal's schedule is very difficult with the home game vs. FCS foe UC Davis the only sure win. Stanford lost to both San Diego State and USC last September, but those two teams come to Palo Alto in 2018. The key to contending in the Pac-12 North could be splitting the first two league games, USC at home and at Oregon. It's tough to see this team winning the division if it starts 0–2.

Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)

Everybody focuses on Bryce Love (and he is indeed fantastic) but this Cardinal offense has a chance to be one of the best since the Andrew Luck days thanks to how balanced it is. K.J. Costello seems like the guy under center and this is one of the best groups of pass catchers west of the Mississippi between jump-ball machine JJ Arcega-Whiteside to TE Kaden Smith. I'm a little concerned about the back end of the defense but if Stanford is solid there, this is another Pac-12 North contender under David Shaw.

Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)

For all its success over the course of basically a decade, Stanford rarely heads into a season anointed the Pac-12 favorite. The only time recently it's happened, 2016, a rash of injuries doomed the Cardinal to a third-place finish in the North.

Thus, Washington garnering almost every vote in the preseason media poll would seemingly work in Stanford's favor. But of much greater importance, the Cardinal embark on 2018 with a loaded offense, paced by arguably the most exciting player in college football, Bryce Love. Though defenses keyed in on Love, the late-season emergence of K.J. Costello in 2017 and a veteran-heavy offensive line put the pieces around Love necessary for Stanford to keep opponents off-balance.

The most prominent question marks linger over the defense, not typical of most Cardinal teams. Harrison Phillips, Quenton Meeks and Justin Reid are difficult talents to replace. Stanford's season hinges on the development of returners like Frank Buncom and Dylan Jackson, and the emergence of some new faces on the defensive side of the ball.