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David Shaw continues to make Stanford one of the top football powerhouses in the country, winning the Pac-12 in three of the last four years to go with two Rose Bowls in that time period. Even with plenty of turnover this year, including the loss of quarterback Kevin Hogan, the Cardinal are expected to be one of the best in the nation yet again. But just how good remains to be seen.
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The battle at quarterback is between Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns, and not many are too worried about what's going to happen. Both looked able in the spring and should have no problem keeping this offense moving along. Of course, that's made easier by the return of Heisman-contending running back Christian McCaffrey, who was an absolute monster last season with 2,019 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. He also paved the way in the receiving game with 45 receptions, 645 yards and five touchdowns. Reaching the same production will be tough, but not impossible. Bryce Love is also no slouch as McCaffrey's backup.
The offensive line does have to replace three starters, so that was another thing to work out in the spring. But as with previous teams, Stanford doesn't really have a problem with replacing talent along the line and should be just fine. The Cardinal loser their top tight end, but are otherwise fine, as RBs are featured plenty in this offense. Still, top wide out Michael Rector (559 yards, 7 TDs) returns and Trenton Irwin looks set to fill the other receiver spot.
Defensively, Stanford is usually one of the best, but had some slip ups last year, although those were against the better offenses on the schedule. Getting production at end is the main area the Cardinal need to find new talent at with their top sack masters gone from a year ago. The good news is that every other position is about set. Peter Kalambayi and Kevin Palma return at linebacker, among others, while the secondary will look to build on last season's late success. Zach Hoffpauir returns at safety after playing baseball for a year, while others like Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks lead a unit that could end up being the strong suit of the defense.
But to reach the College Football Playoff, Stanford has a fairly rough schedule that could stop that from happening. Nothing is easy for them in the early going as the Cardinal probably have one of the hardest Septembers of any team in the country and playing with a new quarterback won't help matters. If they can get through that stretch without losing, Stanford will be a scary team. But the schedule doesn't end there as they still have to travel to Notre Dame, Arizona, Oregon and California. Yes, the Cardinal are the favorite to win the North and the Pac-12, but their over/under was sitting around 8 or 9 wins for a reason. This is a tough schedule and it wouldn't be surprising if they lost a couple games or more along the way.
2016 Stanford Cardinal Football Schedule
Sept. 2 vs. Kansas State
Sept. 17 vs. USC
Sept. 24 at UCLA
Sept. 30 at Washington
Oct. 8 vs. Washington State
Oct. 15 at Notre Dame
Oct. 22 vs. Colorado
Oct. 29 at Arizona
Nov. 5 vs. Oregon State
Nov. 12 at Oregon
Nov. 19 at California
Nov. 26 vs. Rice
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