Under third-year head coach David Shaw, the Stanford Cardinal has solidified its position as one of the elite football teams in the Pac-12 Conference — if not the entire nation. Shaw is now 23-4 after replacing Jim Harbaugh, and he met (or exceeded) fans’ expectations by delivering a Rose Bowl championship last season.
The Cardinal will provide a formidable opponent for the Arizona State Sun Devils when the two teams clash on Saturday, Sept. 21, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. The Sporting News ranked the Cardinal as no. 2 in their annual preseason poll behind only defending national champion Alabama.
Stanford could have one of the best defenses in the nation in 2013, but there are some question marks on offense. Running back Stepfan Taylor is gone, and so are tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. In fact, Stanford is losing over 80 percent of its receiving production to graduation, and there isn’t a single player on the 2013 roster who caught a touchdown in 2012.
Stanford’s favorable schedule does offers an opportunity for a strong start to the season; however, November will provide a litmus test for coach Shaw’s squad, even with three of the Cardinal’s final four games at home.
Stanford faces arguably the toughest Pac-12 South draw in this division. A benefit is only playing three true road games in conference play (as the Washington State road game will be played in Seattle). It will no doubt be favored in the first eight games of the season. Coming from an off-week in early November, the Cardinal will have a tough stretch to finish the year. The run begins with a Thursday night matchup against Oregon, followed by a challenging road game at USC. Stanford will likely find itself in the national title chase if it defeats the Ducks and Trojans; one or more losses could harm the Cardinal’s prospects for a Pac-12 title defense.
Stanford’s final game of 2013 will feature a visit by Notre Dame. While it’s unlikely that the Fighting Irish will be undefeated again at this juncture of the season, a BCS bowl bid could be at stake for the victor.