SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #24 Stanford

As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today's focus is on #24 Stanford.

Team: Stanford

SQ Ranking: 24

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: David Shaw (5th year)

Key Arrivals: WR Trent Irwin, CB Frank Buncom IV, DE Brennan Scarlett

Key Departures: RB Kelsey Young, CB Wayne Lyons, OT Andrus Peat, SS Jordan Richards

Previewing the Stanford Offense: Going into 2015, Stanford's offense will have to see improvement from its running game if it's going to compete for a PAC-12 title. For the first time since 2007, the Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher, which seemed to put more weight on the shoulders of QB Kevin Hogan.

Hogan, who is entering his third season as the team's starter, took great strides in becoming a much more accurate passer towards the end of last season, completing 71 percent of his passes over his last six games. He'll need to continue that trend, especially if the Stanford running game under-performs as it did last year. 

Look for Stanford to use a committee of running backs this season with sophomore Christian McCaffrey and seniors Remound Wright and Barry Sanders all getting plenty of carries. McCaffrey is likely to get more touches after putting up a stellar freshman campaign, averaging 7.14 yards per carry on 42 attempts.

Previewing the Stanford Defense: The offense may be a work in progress, but Stanford's got the defense pretty much figured out after having one of the most dominant units last season. Nearly impenetrable, the Stanford defense allowed just 16.4 points per game (2nd nationally) last season, while giving up just 282.4 yards per contest (3rd nationally).

The Cardinal are largely inexperienced up front on the line with two-thirds of the presumed starters playing in a combined 11 games last season. However, the line will get a boost from Cal transfer Brennan Scarlett who should fill the remaining defensive end spot.  Defensive back will also be an area of inexperience for the Cardinal this season as well. After the departure of four key players in the position group, the team will rely on a pair of players who previously played other positions: former QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield.

There's no question that the linebackers will be the heart of the defense this season. An explosive pass-rushing duo of outside linebackers - Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi - will create pressure that will drive opposing QBs insane. Leading tackler Blake Martinez, who recorded 102 tackles in 2014, returns to fortify the middle, along with Kevin Palma.

Three Key Games: 

1. Stanford at USC, September 19th - A field goal in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game gave USC the 13-10 edge last season, a game that Stanford wishes it could have back after missing two field goals of its own. This early road test will make for a great game as the last two contests between these two teams have been decided by a combined six points, with USC emerging as the victors in both matches.

2. Stanford vs. Oregon, November 14th - If Stanford is going to get back to the PAC-12 Championship Game, it's going to have to find a way to beat Oregon. As over-matched as Stanford looked last season, the series has been pretty even over the past seven years, although Oregon holds a 4-3 advantage. Oregon was the only team to score more than 30 points against Stanford's defense last season, so you can bet the Cardinal will want revenge.

3. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, November 28th - One of the most entertaining rivalries to watch in college football will be on display once again this season as the Fighting Irish travel to take on the Cardinal. Last season, Notre Dame came away with a last-minute victory as then QB Everett Golson found TE Ben Koyack in the back of the endzone on fourth and 11. If that's not enough to get Stanford motivated, then I'm not sure what is.

Final Analysis: Things are looking up for Stanford this season. The offense played really well down the stretch last season and should improve this season now that the team has found some footing in the run game. Although the defense has been the backbone of this team for quite some time now, there are some questions on this side of the ball, but you can trust David Shaw to get those ironed out.

Overall, Stanford should have another solid season, even though it probably won't lead to a PAC-12 title. Be that as it may, the Cardinal will be able to muster out at least nine wins and finish in the top-15 or top-20. Stanford is still a ways off from competing for a national title, but don't be surprised if this team gets off to an impressive start. 

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