Stanford was 9-5 last season but things could have been much, much better for David Shaw's team. Four of those five losses were by three points or fewer: 20-17 at San Diego State; 24-21 at Washington State, 31-28 vs. USC in the Pac-12 championship game, and 39-37 to TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
To improve on that record and again win the Pac-12 North, the Cardinal basically needs to do three things:
[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
1--Keep Bryce Love healthy: Love did all of us in college football a favor by coming back to school for his senior season. In 2017 he rushed for 2,118 yards, the second-highest total in Pac-12 history. And here's another stat that will blow your mind: Love had 13 runs of 50 yards or more.
But in order to keep Love healthy.....
2--Quarterback K.J. Costello has to get a little bit better. Don't get me wrong. Costello's not bad. He doesn't put up huge numbers--no QB would with Love in the backfield. But he needs to be enough of a threat to keep defenses honest. He was good enough to beat out Keller Chryst (11-2 as a starter), who eventually transferred to Tennessee. Again, Costello doesn't have to be great. He just needs to be consistently good.
3--The defense needs to exceed expectations: Last season's Stanford defense gave up 22.7 points per game, which was second in the conference. With five starters gone we don't expect this group to be as good. They don't have to be as good because the offense may be the best the Cardinal have had since the Andrew Luck days. Just get the stops when they are needed. There are some major holes to fill, especially on the defensive line.
Stanford will not be able to ease into the season with with San Diego State, USC, Oregon (on the road) and Notre Dame (on the road), all in September.
The Cardinal will go to Washington on Nov. 3 where the winner could be in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 North.
Just keep an eye on Love. If he goes North of 2,000 again, you're looking at the Heisman Trophy winner.