While USC Trojans football season may still be 54 days away (who’s counting, right?), it’s never too early to start previewing conference games. We begin with an intense week two matchup, where the USC Trojans host the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinals triumphed over the Trojans 27-10 last year, and went on to finish 10-3 (6-3) on the season. Similar to USC, Stanford ended the season on a tear winning six straight including big victories over the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks.
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Nick Dempsey: Manager of both Rule of Tree (Stanford SBNation) and Conquest Chronicles
Brendan Kearney: Editor at Conquest Chronicles
Brendan: As we know the Cardinal offense relied heavily on Christian McCaffrey (and for good reason). How does Stanford plan to replace his production?
Nick: It is almost impossible for one guy to replace everything that McCaffrey did in the running game, passing game, and special teams. However, the Cardinals have a pretty deep backfield with plenty of talented running backs so would expect a committee rushing the ball this fall. The primary back will likely be Bryce Love who filled in for McCaffrey when he was injured last season. Love is actually faster than McCaffrey but not nearly as elusive. As far as replacing his passing game production I would expect Stanford to return to using tight ends for passes underneath or across the middle. Stanford also has a handful of talented receivers expected to emerge this season as well. For kick returning that is still up in the air.
Brendan: After Keller Chryst’s initial struggles at quarterback (after replacing Ryan Burns), we saw him catch fire towards end the year. Which Chryst should we expect to see in the 2017 campaign?
Nick: Trying to predict the quarterback situation at Stanford is incredibly difficult. David Shaw does not provide any insights or clues into what he is thinking about the position. For starters I’m not even sure it is a lock that Chryst will be the starter in 2017 (though he is the front runner). He did lead the offense to better production than Ryan Burns but it is important to keep in mind that Burns faced the more difficult part of the Stanford schedule and the offensive line did not really get their act together until the second half of the season. Statistically Chryst did not really clearly outperform Burns (even though the offense was more productive under Chryst). Chryst also missed about 6 months because of an injury he sustained during the Bowl Game. While he is expected to be back in time for fall camp it is tough to say that he will just automatically be inserted into the lineup as the starter.
The Stanford offensive line should be much better this season, so I would expect to see improvement at quarterback for Stanford.
Brendan: Stanford lost key production and leadership on defense to the NFL in DE Solomon Thomas, FS Zach Hoffpauir, and SS Dallas Lloyd, what emerging names look to fill their roles? How will they fare?
Nick: Stanford is loaded at linebacker and while they were young last year they did not get a lot of production. This year keep an eye on Joey Alfieri, Kevin Palma, Peter Kalambayi this could really prove to be a special group for Stanford. In the secondary while Hoffpauir and Lloyd were certainly leaders in the locker room, the defense has another special group in the secondary. Look for guys like Frank Buncom and Quenton Meeks to make an impact this season. The defensive line is probably the thinnest unit on the roster and right now there is no clear replacement for someone like Solomon Thomas. I would expect the linebackers to help bolster the D-line.
Brendan: What are the expectations for Stanford Cardinal fans headed into this season?
Nick: I think Stanford fans at this point probably expect a 10-win season. That seems to be the benchmark for the Cardinals under Shaw. Ideal scenario is that Stanford competes for a Pac-12 Championship or more, and under ten wins will probably be a bit of a disappointment.
Brendan: What under the radar player(s) should Trojan fans look for come week two in September?
Nick: Running Back Bryce Love could have a great breakout season, offensive lineman Nate Herbig is a massive stud at guard and could really turn some heads this season. Wide Receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside could also really step up this season and become a real threat on the outside.
Only time will tell (61 days) if the Trojans will come out on top against the Cardinals. Tune in Saturday, September 9 for 8:30pm ET start.