Stanford Cardinal Has Big Holes To Fill As They Prepare For Season

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Bryce Love /

The Stanford Cardinal, having lost leaders on both sides of the ball will need their  players to step up if they want to reclaim the Pac-12 title.

A Sun Bowl victory over North Carolina last season capped what was overall, an underachieving performance for the Stanford Cardinal.

Dynamic, was the best word to describe the Cardinal offense with former running back Christian McCaffrey before the start of the 2016 season. The team was coming off a Pac-12 Championship and resounding victory over Iowa in the Rose Bowl.

Their priority heading into the season, was a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Instead, underwhelming performances by then starting quarterback, Ryan Burns, to begin the season became a concern. Their Playoff aspirations then  fell by the wayside after a lopsided loss at Washington — which was followed by defeats to Washington State and Colorado.

Keller Chryst became the starter and offered a glimpse into next season.

Stanford Cardinal Football
Stanford Cardinal Football /

Stanford Cardinal Football

The status of Chryst is up in the air after leaving the Sun Bowl game early against North Carolina with a knee injury. He is participating in drills at practice, though starting the opener may not happen.

Current quarterbacks Burns and K.J. Costello may likely get the starting nod against Rice. After losing the starting job, Burns initially planned to transfer but instead, chose to return.

Stanford may boast the best secondary in the Pac-12 this season with returning cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder.

Both spent time on the sidelines last season after injuries that proved costly for Stanford last season in the loss to the Huskies.

Health will certainly be a factor for both players should the Cardinal want to compete late in games.

Alongside Meeks and Holder, is safety Justin Reid who certainly improved in each game for Stanford last season. Expect the junior to be an impact player on the Cardinal defense.

While the secondary may be strong, the defensive line is where questions begin. A new leader must emerge after Solomon Thomas departed early for the NFL where he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. Injuries took a toll on the defensive line though Thomas rallied the players and made stops when needed.

Harrison Phillips will likely fill the leadership role alongside upper-classmen Kevin Palma and Mustafa Branch. Pressure on the quarterback will be critical as last season saw opponents have the time to make plays.

The defense improved towards the end of the season, but the tone needs to start at the beginning and be carried throughout the year.

Head Coach David Shaw is likely focused on how to make his play calling on offense a little less vanilla. With McCaffrey gone, Coach Shaw must open the playbook and provide a healthy dose of unpredictable plays on the ground and through the air.

Bryce Love is the presumed starter at running back and has shown he can make plays while filling in when McCaffrey was injured. Cameron Scarlett is likely to start behind Love and come in for third downs. And sophomore Dorian Maddox could also see some action in place of Love.

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For the ground game to find success, the offensive line needs to set the edge and create holes. Last season saw a make-shift offensive line struggle, thanks to injuries, and did not allow McCaffrey to be explosive.

Nate Herbig provided some much needed relief after getting healthy halfway through the season. His size and power created the necessary holes for the running backs to generate big gains down field.

In the air, Stanford’s receivers were nearly non-existent last season, limiting the Cardinal offense.

Stanford has plenty of talent returning who can come up in critical moments. JJ Arcega-Whiteside is one example of a player whose heroics gave the Cardinal a win at UCLA late with a game-winning touchdown.

Trenton Irwin and Dalton Schultz need to be more of presence on the field as receivers though. The staple of Stanford Football is a “smash-mouth” brand, though getting both attacks working can create havoc for opponents.

Should Burns get the start in the opener, expect a run-heavy attack — unless he figured out how to not throw footballs into the ground.

Picked to finish second behind Washington in the Pac-12 North, Stanford begins the season August 26 against Rice — in Australia. Stanford will then have two weeks off before heading down to Los Angeles to face USC in the Pac-12 opener.

Games against Oregon, Washington, and Notre Dame highlight the home schedule with the Big Game also taking place at Stanford.

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College Football is just around the corner with teams preparing before their respected openers. The Pac-12 will have plenty of drama and ultimately, a team who can contend in the College Football Playoff.

Expectations may be low for Stanford this season which suits the team fine, because they anticipate being able to surprise the nation.