Story Poster
Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
Cal Football

A (Slightly) Too Early Opponent Preview: Stanford Cardinal

August 2, 2019

When Jim Harbaugh took over at Stanford in 2007, it was after years of a historical low for the program. From 2002 to 2006, the Cardinal had a combined record of 16-40, gone through two coaches, and bottomed out with a 1-11 record in 2006. It took Harbaugh three short years to flip the program to a bowl appearance in 2009 and a 12-1 record and 40-12 blowout of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in 2010 before leaving for the NFL.

Since then, David Shaw has taken the Cardinal to a bowl game every single year he has been at the helm. But if it still feels like the Cardinal aren’t what they were at the beginning of Shaw’s tenure, that’s because they aren’t. After going 64-14 from 2010 to 2015, which included one-loss seasons in 2010, 2011, and 2012, the Cardinal has been trending slightly downward. In 2015, the Cardinal had a 12-2 season capped by a Pac-12 Conference Championship game beat down of USC and then a Rose Bowl beat down of Iowa. But then in 2016, Stanford slipped to 10-3, then 9-5 in 2017, and 9-4 last season.

It puts Stanford in a weird spot. It’s not doing bad by any means — especially compared to where it was pre-Harbaugh. But compared to those years in the early 2010s, things have to be a bit frustrating for the Cardinal.

The downward slide could certainly continue into this season. And if it does, it’s likely to start with a regression on the offensive side of the ball where there are a lot of unknowns. The open spots start with the offensive line, where only one returning starter — Walker Little — returns. Of course, if you’re starting with one building piece on the line, you could do much, much worse than an All-Everything left tackle. And while starting QB, KJ Costello also returns, top running back, Bryce Love is gone, as are JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and Kaden Smith, Stanford’s top three pass catchers from last season.

Last season, with a hobbled offensive line — no one on the O-line started all 13 games — and Love, who was injured from the first snap of the season, the offense quickly morphed into one reliant on the pass. The Cardinal ended up averaging just 108 rushing yards per game, which was only last in the league to Wazzu’s 77 rush yards per game and passing for 273 — higher than all other Pac-12 teams besides Wazzu. Still, Costello and his cast of receivers more than carried the offensive load, finishing 26th in the final S&P+ offensive efficiency rankings.

Filling in last season’s holes begins with tight end Colby Parkinson, caught seven TDs last season — more than all other receivers besides Arcega-Whiteside. Along with Parkinson — who was a top-40 recruit out of Oaks Christian High School in Thousand Oaks —  is a slew of young talent, including a half dozen four-star receivers that are sophomores or younger.

On defense, Stanford loses top tackler from 2018, Bobby Okereke, who recorded 96 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Despite having another year of eligibility, Sean Barton, who recorded 92 sacks as an inside linebacker last season will also not be returning. While those are two significant missing pieces, Stanford will be returning one of the best DB corps in the conference, led by redshirt sophomore Paulson Adebo, who was third on the team with 64 tackles. Adebo is joined by Kendall Williamson and Obi Eboh at the corner position. 

The D-line also returns quite a few including ends Thomas Booker and Jovan Swann, who combined for seven sacks last season. Junior Michael Williams is another name to watch, who recorded 42 tackles last season. And while the Cardinal seem to be fine at outside offensive linebacker, led by leading returning sack producer Gabe Reid, their inside LB core is a bit of a question mark. Despite returning 63% of their defensive production from last season, the Cardinal defense gets hit with the most turnover at the safety and inside linebacker position.

Projection: Stanford Cardinal 21, Cal Golden Bears 10

This will be a tough game to win on the road for the Bears. And while the Cardinal likely won’t be as good as they were last season, they still have enough proven returners and incoming talent to make this a difficult road out for Cal.

Discussion from...

A (Slightly) Too Early Opponent Preview: Stanford Cardinal

2,546 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 3 yr ago by chazzed
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Never too early to contemplate kicking their butt. I recommend twice daily after flossing.
How long do you want to ignore this user?
A road game in Palo Alto isn't really a road game. We broke the longest streak against us last year, and we'll do the same this year.
Page 1 of 1
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.