No. 9: Stanford

If the Heisman Trophy voting had been conducted after the bowl games, Christian McCaffrey might be chasing after his second straight Heisman this fall.

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I know I would have voted for him.

McCaffery piled up 368 all-purpose yards in Stanford’s 45-16 Rose Bowl rout of Iowa, finishing the season with 3,864 all-purpose yards, topping Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old NCAA record.

The 6-0, 202-pound junior returns to lead a Cardinal team that again ought to contend for the Pac-12 title. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

It’s no slam dunk, though. Washington is on the verge of a renaissance. USC and UCLA (not necessarily in that order) are poised to have excellent autumns. And the Pac-12 is loaded with other lurkers.

What I’m saying is, those of us who reside east of the Mississippi are going to have to stay up late on Saturdays to stay on top of college football this fall.

Another concern is that the Cardinal only return five starters on offense and seven on defense, depending on how you count.

And they open the season with a ridiculous September that starts with home games against Kansas State and USC, followed by trips to UCLA and Washington.

By Oct. 1, Stanford will either be in the College Football Playoff discussion, or trying to get the license number of that truck.

It’s really a measure of how far David Shaw has taken this program that expectations are this College Football Playoff-high in this year. What Jim Harbaugh did in his four years—turning a rudderless program into a 12-1 powerhouse—was remarkable. What Shaw has done to sustain that excellence in the five years since then—three Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl, 54-14 overall--is beyond remarkable.

Clearly, a successful 2016 would place a further stamp of excellence on the Cardinal program.

Despite a brutal schedule that also includes road trips to Notre Dame and Oregon, the lofty expectations are well-founded.

Beyond McCaffrey, who sure looks like the Heisman front runner after he finished second last year, the Cardinal has holes to plug on offense, notably on the line and at quarterback. Three new blockers will assume the position in front of either redshirt sophomore Keller Chryst or redshirt junior Ryan Burns.

But that’s what Stanford has been doing. When one stud moves onto the NFL, another one takes his place.

Some new faces will need to step up on the defensive line, but the Cardinal looks solid at linebacker and should have more difference-makers in the secondary, which managed only eight picks last year.

If you’re a fan of bloodlines, you probably already know that McCaffrey’s father, Ed, caught passes on three Super Bowl champions. Chryst’s father, Geep, is the 49ers offensive coordinator, and his uncle, Paul, is head coach at Wisconsin.

Stanford dug itself a hole last year with its season-opening loss at Northwestern. I’m guessing Shaw will remind his squad that there’s no room for September missteps this year.

Or better yet, he’ll let his veterans do the reminding.

Herb's Countdown so far: No. 16: Georgia, No. 15: USC, No. 14 Michigan State, No. 13 Iowa, No 12 TCU, No 11 Washington, No. 10 Notre Dame[/membership]