The Stanford Cardinal have become a powerhouse football team in recent years. A school once known more for its ivy league-type academics has added an elite football program to its midst. It began under Jim Harbaugh and has continued under David Shaw.
As the 2014 season fast approaches, the Cardinal are primed for a deep run, possibly into the college football playoff. If they are to meet this kind of expectation, they will need to navigate a fairly difficult schedule, with the most challenging games coming on the road. The talent is there, however, so let’s look at what Shaw and his Cardinal are working with in 2014.
Amidst all the talk of the great Pac-12 quarterbacks, Kevin Hogan may seem to be the forgotten man. But the quarterback put up 3,726 yards and 29 touchdowns a season ago, all while completing 61 percent of his passes. Those are great numbers and he’s back for his senior season. The Cardinal have a tremendous player and leader at the most important position on the field.
Hogan’s top two receivers return, including Ty Montgomery, who racked up over 1,500 yards with Hogan throwing to him. The Cardinal lost leading rusher Tyler Gaffney, leaving a gaping hole in the backfield, but there was talent behind him. Remound Wright averaged 8.5 YPC in limited action in 2013, and big-name Barry Sanders, Jr will have an increased role in the offense.
On the offensive line, Andrus Peat is a future first-round pick at left tackle, but he is the only one with extensive starting experience. If the new starters on the offensive line and at running back can live up to their potential, Stanford will have an offensive juggernaut that teams will have difficulty stopping.
The Cardinal must replace elite talents on defense in Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, who led the nation in sacks a season ago. The cupboard is far from bare, however, as Shaw’s Cardinal project to start an upperclassman at every single position, which is a rare sight in college football today.
Second-leading tackler A.J. Tarpley will be the anchor in the middle of the defense, and senior James Vaughters, who totaled four sacks last season, could fill Murphy’s shoes adequately. Also returning is interception leader Jordan Richards, who picked off three balls last season from the safety position and will be the commander of the secondary in 2014.
The combination of talent and experience makes the Cardinal’s defense dangerous opposing offenses. Points will be hard to come by for opposing offenses.
The Cardinal run a difficult gauntlet in 2014, and if there is anything that could be their undoing, it will be the difficulty of teams they must face. And unfortunately for the Cardinal, the most difficult games are all on the road.
The first test will be the USC Trojans at home in the second game. USC will most likely be much better with Steve Sarkisian taking the helm in Troy. Then comes a six-game stretch that includes going to Seattle to face the Washington Huskies, South Bend vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, ending in a trip to Eugene against the Oregon Ducks.
The season concludes in Los Angeles against the UCLA Bruins, and if by then the Cardinal are in the Pac-12 Championship Game, they will have definitely earned it. 2014 will be a challenge, but one that Stanford has the talent to meet.
In the end, the most important game will be the one against Marcus Mariota and the Ducks. The Cardinal should be able to handle the rest of their schedule, and if they knock of Oregon in Eugene, they can punch their ticket to the new playoff. It could be a special season for Cardinal fans in 2014.