A new college football season is like New Year’s Day: it represents a new beginning, a rebirth, a chance at a do-over. The past is put to bed, if only temporarily, and all we see is the bright shiny future in front of us. It’s full of hope, promise, and opportunity for redemption. In the New Year, we resolve to eliminate bad habits, to perform better, to take risks, or simply to do things more efficiently. Whatever the resolution, the goal is to be better than we were last year.
As individuals, we resolve to do things like get in shape, save money, go skydiving, and spend more time with friends and family. But football teams? They have a single goal for the “New Year”: to make it to the College Football Playoff (CFP) and win it all.
Stanford Football’s New Year’s Resolution
Last year, Stanford’s goal of a CFP appearance (and nearly everything else) was dashed on “New Year’s Day” when they lost to Northwestern in the first game of the season. In other words, they committed to losing weight but ate sixteen cupcakes on January 1. The Cardinal didn’t let the setback derail their season, however. Understanding they were fighting an uphill battle, they got back on their “diet” and worked out even harder.
For over two months.
But just like losing that last five pounds, the final stretch was difficult and Stanford had yet another setback. With three weeks to go and the end in sight, Oregon beat Stanford at home, ending the already-slim chance of a CFP berth. The Cardinal ultimately finished the regular season with a 10-2 record, having lost two games by a total of twelve points. They went on to win the PAC-12 Championship and Rose Bowl, but missed the CFP. Damn cupcakes.
This year, the “New Year’s Resolution” remains the same, and it will take a season of near perfection for Stanford to get there. Let’s examine what lies ahead for Stanford and where they have some wiggle room.
Friday, September 2: Kansas State
Stanford starts with a solid non-conference opponent right out of the gate. I expect this to be a nail-biter early on as new Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns shakes off the jitters in his first college start. The Cardinal will rely on junior running back Christian McCaffrey, however the coaching staff must be wary of becoming one dimensional against a tough Kansas State defense. I predict that Stanford will win, but by no more than 10 points.
Saturday, September 17: University of Southern California
Stanford beating USC would be an early opportunity to win the hearts and minds of voters, even more so this year since USC plays Alabama in Week 1.
If USC can upset Alabama, and then Stanford can beat USC, it would be a really nice data point for the selection committee. Conversely, if USC gets blown out in AT&T Stadium, and then beats Stanford at home, it won’t be easy for the Cardinal to recover. Regardless of the outcome of USC vs. Alabama, Stanford’s date with USC is a must-win game. I am picking Stanford primarily because of home field advantage, but there will be more drama than on The Bachelor.
Saturday, September 24: at University of California, Los Angeles
UCLA starts the season ranked 16th in the AP Pre-Season Top 25. Unfortunately, what typically happens is, UCLA starts the year with high expectations but quickly peters out. UCLA’s quarterback Josh Rosen has been compared to Andrew Luck, but also Stanford hasn’t lost to UCLA since George W. Bush was in office. This is a difficult pick, seeing how history says that Stanford will win, but this is also Ryan Burns’ first road start. Is there an upset Bruin or Mora the same? I say Stanford takes this one, but it won’t be easy.
Friday, September 30: at University of Washington
Washington is starting the year ranked 14th, which makes sense because it’s only a matter of time before head coach Chris Petersen builds a powerhouse in the Pacific Northwest.
For the past few years, Stanford has experienced at least one unfortunate loss: Northwestern in 2015 and Utah in 2014 and 2013, to name a few. This UDub game feels like it might be one of those occasions. I predict a frustrating low-scoring affair in Seattle, which ends in a Stanford loss.
Saturday, October 8: Washington State University
Under coach Mike Leach, Washington State is getting better every year, and let’s just put it out there, Cardinal home games against the Cougars are prone to get a little weird. Luke Falk will aim for over 500 yards of passing, as is the norm, and Stanford’s secondary will be put to the test given that Washington State runs the ball about as often as there is a full moon.
Given how often they pass, Washington State is an aerial threat, and one that will harden the Stanford defensive backs. “Iron sharpens iron.”
In my opinion, Stanford wins this game because of defense.
Saturday, October 15: at Notre Dame
Since this game involves Notre Dame, and all the thoughts and feelings people have about them, I suspect that this is Stanford’s only freebie. What I mean by that is that Stanford can lose this game mid-season with relatively little drop, because people generally regard Notre Dame as a successful, high-performing program.
Let’s be honest. This game is in South Bend, and Stanford doesn’t have a prayer. If Notre Dame is StanU’s only loss, they could still make it to the CFP.
Saturday, October 22: University of Colorado
If Stanford loses to Colorado, they might actually be relegated to the FCS. There isn’t any wiggle room here. If Stanford doesn’t win by 20 points, it will be considered a failure and there is absolutely no chance at the CFP.
Saturday, October 29: at University of Arizona
Arizona is going to have another ho hum season, and Rich Rodriguez will fail to deliver on his promise to the Bear Down Faithful yet again. Stanford will take a close one on the road against this serially under-performing squad.
Saturday, November 5: Oregon State University
Likewise to a loss to Colorado, if Stanford loses to Oregon State, the FCS may be their new home. If Stanford doesn’t win this game, they can kiss their chance at the CFP goodbye.
Saturday, November 12: at Oregon
Oregon garnered enough respect in the BCS era to widely establish their brand and identity. This means that Stanford could potentially lose this game on the road and still be eligible for the playoff game, IF (and I stress the IF) Stanford wins all other games and Oregon has an awesome two-loss season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stanford lost by two touchdowns or more in Eugene, which could ruin everything.
Saturday, November 19: at University of California
The Big Game hasn’t been exciting since 2009. It’s frustrating!
Can these two teams be good at the same time, please? I mean, Stanford is developing rivalries with USC, UCLA, and Oregon out of sheer boredom. At the end of the day, the Cal offense giveth and the Cal defense taketh. This year will be no different than the past six, and Stanford will win in Berkeley.
Saturday, November 26: Rice
Rice is amazing with Thai food, Indian food, and Mexican food. I like white rice and the more healthy option, brown rice. Oh, and I really like Chipotle’s cilantro rice.
But, why is Stanford playing Rice in November? This is not a good match-up, and it reeks of SEC teams scheduling cupcakes in the late season. Stanford will win this game by a landslide in enough time to pad Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman stats.
In the End
The bottom line is, Stanford has zero room for error in any given season. Despite five PAC-12 teams being ranked in the AP Top-25, the PAC is still looked down on by the likes of the SEC, B1G, and BIG 12. Until Stanford comes up with a perfect, or near perfect season, they will find themselves on the outskirts of the CFP. Let’s see what this New Year holds.