After a season opening loss to the Northwestern Wildcats, people quickly jumped at the opportunity to write off the Stanford Cardinal. A team that had plenty of talent and was among the favorites in the PAC 12 coming into the season, Stanford appeared to be loaded with issues after that game. They only scored 6 points, which was the most concerning thing, and even though their defense looked pretty stout, having that anemic of an offense just simply won’t get you that far. People thought that abysmal performance against the Wildcats was an indication of how good this Cardinal team was going to be in 2015. Clearly, that thought was completely wrong.
Since that loss, Stanford has been rolling in earning six straight wins. In the process, their offense has looked brilliant, scoring no fewer than 31 points in any of their previous six outings. It hasn’t been like the Cardinal have just been steamrolling inferior competition either. Wins over the then No. 6 team in the nation in USC on the road and over the then No. 18 team in the nation in UCLA have highlighted Stanford’s streak. After all that, the Cardinal now find themselves ranked No. 8 and are comfortably in the driver’s seat in the PAC 12.
Can Stanford continue their dominant ways and roll toward the College Football Playoff and even a national championship? Let’s explore.
In Stanford’s remaining five games in the regular season, the matchups look mostly favorable, but there are plenty of opportunities for the team to be seriously tested. In their next contest this upcoming weekend, it would appear that the Cardinal should roll over Washington State, but the Cougars are actually a team somewhat on the rise. They’ve compiled victories over the likes of Oregon and Arizona, proving that they can play with some of the better teams in the conference. Stanford has to be careful against this team because they can flat out score, as QB Luke Falk has nearly 3,000 passing yards and 26 touchdowns in just seven games. This could easily turn out to be a trap game for the Cardinal.
After that challenging road contest against the Cougars, Stanford will get PAC 12 doormat Colorado in a game that shouldn’t give them any trouble. Then three weeks of opponents who would love nothing more than to derail Stanford’s season will be in between them and a potential 11-1 campaign.
Oregon has had a terrible season, especially by the standards. They are just 4-3 and have been mediocre at best for a majority of the year. However, when they play their conference rival in a couple of weeks, the Ducks will definitely be pumped up and motivated to win.
Post Oregon, the Cardinal will welcome in a talented Cal team that has one of the better quarterbacks in the nation in Jared Goff. The Golden Bears have fallen off in recent weeks after back-to-back losses, so it might seem like their season has lost all meaning. That gives them all the more reason to rise up and derail their in-state rival’s season.
To end the season, things won’t get any easier for Stanford. In fact, their last game of the year might be their most difficult challenge of all. The Cardinal will take to the road to play the current No. 9 team in the country in Notre Dame in what could be a play-in game for the College Football Playoff. The Irish are a talented bunch that have plenty of ability to put up big offensive numbers. This might end up being one of the premiere games of the entire college football season with so much potentially on the line.
Glancing over their schedule, things look decently difficult for the Cardinal. They will be tested week in and week out and will be dealing with the pressure that they have to win to keep their long term aspirations in tact. Despite all that, this team has the players on its roster to get the job done.
QB Kevin Hogan is playing an efficient brand of football with 14 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Christian McCaffrey is one of the best players in the nation, leading the team in both receiving and rushing while compiling over 1,200 all-purpose yards. Those two provide enough offense for the Cardinal and make the players around them better.
On defense, Stanford owns one of the better units in the nation. They are in the top 30 in total yards allowed and points allowed and have the ability to generate clutch turnovers when they really need it. They’ve been exposed at times, but when the offense is rolling, this defense has more than enough to keep teams from lighting it up.
So, with the talent, with how well the team has been playing, and despite the sneaky tough schedule, the Cardinal have everything it takes to make a deep run this season. Their bounce back after Week 1 has been a tribute to how well they are coached and the type of character that is present on that team. In a season with so many unbeaten teams remaining, this one loss club could end up ruling the college football world when all is said and done.