Stanford comes off of a 2015 campaign that saw the Cardinal win the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl after falling just short of playoff aspirations as result of losses to Northwestern and Oregon. Although a conference championship and a major bowl win are highlights by themselves, the biggest highlight of the Cardinal season may have been the play of Christian McCaffrey, who broke the NCAA record of all-purpose yards in a season in 2015. Stanford comes into 2016 seeking to make the playoff after last season’s narrow miss and with hopes of a McCaffrey Heisman after a narrow loss to Derrick Henry in 2015.
The Cardinal lose their winningest quarterback of all-time Kevin Hogan to graduation and the NFL Draft (who was drafted by the Chiefs). During the offseason, Kellen Chryst and Ryan Burns will battle for the quarterback spot, with Chryst holding a slight edge. KJ Costello is a three-star pro-style quarterback recruit that could be a wild card in the race to replace Hogan. Heisman trophy candidate McCaffrey is also a passing threat, as he threw for 39 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Any discussion of the Cardinal run game will start with McCaffrey, who ran for 2019 yards last year, second in the FBS. McCaffrey also averaged six yards a run and scored eight touchdowns on the ground on his way to finishing second in the 2015 Heisman trophy voting. McCaffrey will be accompanied in the backfield with Bryce Love and Pat McFadden.
McCaffrey led the Cardinal in receiving yards last year (645), being the only player to lead an FBS team in rushing and receiving yards. Fellow running back Love is also a receiving threat as he had 250 receiving yards last year. When it comes to actual receivers, Stanford has a talented trio in Michael Rector, Francis Owusu, and Trenton Irwin. Four-star recruit Simi Fehoko will look to make an impact in the receiving corps. The Cardinal have two tight end threats in Dalton Schultz and Greg Taboada, and will bring in four-star recruit Kaden Smith at the position. Fullback Daniel Marx is even a target in the passing game.
Stanford will face the challenge of replacing three offensive linemen next year. Versatile lineman David Bright looks to make an impact, as well as four-star offensive tackle recruits Clark Yarbrough and Devery Hamilton. Johnny Caspers brings starting experience on the line. How the Stanford offensive line fits together could determine whether or not Stanford makes the playoffs or an average bowl game.
Stanford’s leading returning tackler is Dallas Lloyd, who recorded 55 tackles last year. Lloyd will play alongside safety Justin Reid, who logged 23 tackles in 2015. Ben Edwards and Brandon Simmons look to make an impact at safety, and Zach Hoffpauir returns to Stanford after playing in the Diamondbacks farm system last year. The Cardinal have a solid returning linebacking corps in Peter Kalambayi, Kevin Palma, Joey Alfieri, Jordan Perez, Mustafa Branch, Mike Tyler, Craig Jones, Noor Davis, and Bobby Okereke, all of who logged at least seven tackles last year. The Cardinal also bring in Curtis Robinson, a four-star recruit, to the position. A strong linebacker corps will be supported by some strong returning corners in Alameen Murphy, Alijah Holder, Quenton Meeks, and Terrence Alexander. Four-star recruit Treyjohn Butler could also make an impact at corner. Although Stanford looks strong at many defensive positions, the Cardinal only return one defensive lineman that recorded over seven tackles last year (Solomon Thomas).
Stanford returns one of the nation’s greatest threats as a returner in McCaffrey. McCaffrey will again handle kick returns (1070 yards and one touchdown in 2015) and punt returns (130 yards and one touchdown in 2015). At kicker, the Cardinal return Conrad Ukropina, who was 18-20 last year. The punting job should be handled by Alex Robinson, who averaged 42.4 yards per punt and got 15 punts inside the 20.