TV Schedule: Saturday, September 5, 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
Line: Stanford (-12)
The Stanford Cardinal and Northwestern Wildcats kick off their 2015 college football seasons on Saturday in a Big 10 vs. Pac 12 interconference showdown. The 21st-ranked Cardinal look to bounce back in 2015 after a disappointing 8-5 season last year, while the Wildcats also look to get 2015 off to a quick start after a second-straight 5-7 season.
Stanford head coach David Shaw will once again lean on senior quarterback Kevin Hogan to lead his team. 2015 marks Hogan’s fourth year as a starter and he figures to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The Cardinal lost their top playmaker from last season when Ty Montgomery entered the NFL Draft, but sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey has a great chance to emerge as one of the most dynamic players in the country and is a dark horse Heisman candidate.
The Cardinal have boasted one of the elite defenses in all of college football over the past few years, but surprisingly, that’s the side of the ball with the most question marks heading into this season. The entire starting defensive line and secondary are gone from last year’s defense that limited opponents to just 16.4 points per game, which ranked second in the FBS. Sophomores Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips are set to start on the defensive line after packing on about 30-pounds of weight in the offseason. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez will lead the charge for the young defense as one of the best tacklers in the country.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald announced he was going with redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson over senior Zack Oliver at quarterback. Thorson has not yet attempted a pass at the college level, but he was a highly-regarded recruit in the class of 2014 and is one of the main reasons for optimism about the future of the program.
With an inexperienced quarterback, Northwestern will likely rely on running back Justin Jackson to carry the offense in 2015. As a freshman in 2014, Jackson was impressive and rushed for 1,17 yards and 10 touchdowns.
When it comes down to it, Stanford is simply just the more talented team and will be able to win individual matchups across the field. McCaffrey and senior wide receiver Devon Cajuste will be matchup nightmares for the Wildcats. Expect Hogan and the Stanford offense to have a big day and lead the Cardinal to the victory.
Prediction: Stanford 31, Northwestern 23