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TODAY at No. 35: STANFORD Coach: David Shaw (42-11, entering fifth season; 42-11 overall record) 2014 record: 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-12 Conference; second...

college football handicappingTODAY at No. 35: STANFORD

Coach: David Shaw (42-11, entering fifth season; 42-11 overall record)

2014 record: 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-12 Conference; second in the North Division

Look back: Expectations are so high for Stanford now that an eight-win season is disappointing for the program, but it shouldn’t be. Not when you consider all five of the Cardinal’s losses last season were to ranked teams — USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and Utah. Three of those losses were by three points.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 3

Defensive starters lost: 8

Key losses: WR Ty Montgomery, WR Jordan Pratt, OT Andrus Peat, DE Henry Anderson, DT David Parry, DE Blake Lueders, FS A.J. Tarpley, LB James Vaughters, CB Alex Carter, CB Wayne Lyons, SS Jordan Richards, PK Jordan Williamson, P Ben Rhyne

Top returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Remound Wright, WR Devon Cajuste, TE Austin Hooper, OL Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, OL Johnny Caspers, OL Kyle Murphy, LB Kevin Anderson, LB Blake Martinez, FS Zach Hoffpauir

Strengths: Kevin Hogan is one of the few quarterbacks returning in the Pac-12 with an extensive amount of starting experience. The senior is 24-8 overall since earning the job in 2012, but his inconsistency last season was one of the reasons Stanford struggled offensively. Hogan passed for 2,792 yards with 19 touchdowns while turning over the ball 13 times (8 interceptions, 5 fumbles). His QBR rating of 145.8 was tied for fifth among Pac-12 quarterbacks last season and the lowest of his career.

Four out of five starters return to bolster Stanford’s offensive line. Kyle Murphy moves from right to left tackle after the departure of All-American Andrus Peat. Murphy’s replacement, sophomore Casey Tucker, has no starting experience on the line and will need some help. He’ll be surrounded by four players who have 63 combined career starts. However, the group will need to improve after allowing 23 sacks.

Kevin Anderson and Blake Martinez are the top two returning tacklers for the Cardinal, and both anchor a key position in Lance Anderson’s 3-4 scheme. Martinez led the team with 102 tackles and three interceptions. Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi combined for 12 sacks from the outside spot in 2014.

Weaknesses: Stanford failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007, with the offense rumbling for a meager 159 yards per game. Remound Wright (601 yards, 11 TDs) was the top rusher, with Christian McCaffrey (300) and Barry Sanders (315) ranked in the top four. None of those players rushed for 100 yards in a game.

Ty Montgomery had 100 or more all-purpose yards during 13 games, and his departure means Devon Cajuste will take on a larger role.

Stanford led the Pac-12 in pass defense last season, thanks to a secondary that allowed 177.9 yards per game through the air and a 57 percent completion percentage. The group had 12 interceptions, and players who accounted for half of them are gone.

Outlook: While an eight-win season is no reason for a sky-is-falling mentality at Stanford, it is a concern. Since 2008, the program has been a perennial power in the Pac-12. The success also means the program has sent a tremendous amount of talent to the NFL. And this could be one of those years where it catches up to the program and it struggles to contend for a league championship.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 at Northwestern

Sept. 12 UCF

Sept. 19 at USC

Sept. 25 at Oregon State

Oct. 3 Arizona

Oct. 15 UCLA

Oct. 24 Washington

Oct. 31 at Washington State

Nov. 7 at Colorado

Nov. 14 Oregon

Nov. 21 California

Nov. 28 Notre Dame

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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