STANFORD CARDINAL (0-0)
vs. RICE OWLS (0-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET
Line: Stanford -31.0, Total: 51.0
For the second consecutive year, Australia will play host to an opening night game as Pac-12 powerhouse #14 Stanford takes on Rice.
Ten wins isn’t a down year on most campuses, but considering head coach David Shaw’s 64 wins (including two Rose Bowl titles) in six years leading Stanford, more was expected in 2016. Early-season blowout losses to Washington and Washington State knocked Stanford out of championship contention by mid-season. Top-ten NFL draft picks DL Solomon Thomas and RB Christian McCaffrey leave huge shoes to fill, but the Cardinal have the talent and system to improve their win total despite those departures. Offensively, Keller Chryst might be Stanford’s best QB since Andrew Luck, and BR Bryce Love should be able to replace most of McCaffrey’s production behind a stellar O-line. Defensively, eight starters return to a group that performed solidly down the stretch last year. Under head coach David Bailiff, Rice peaked with a ten-win season in 2013, but has been on a steady decline since, winning eight games in 2014, five in 2015 and three last year. There’s room for optimism on offense, but the defense was putrid last season and doesn’t have the manpower to deal with Stanford’s power running game and oversized receivers. The only recent meeting between these teams was last year’s regular-season finale. Stanford failed to cover a 34-point spread in a rainy home game, winning 41-17 on the strength of 373 rushing yards. Under Shaw, Stanford is 16-0 SU & 11-5 ATS as a favorite of 20 points or more. As an underdog in season-openers, Rice is 0-7 SU & 2-5 ATS during Bailiff’s tenure.
The task of replacing superstar RB Christian McCaffrey falls on the shoulders of RB Bryce Love, who’s looked plenty capable with his career 7.2 yards per carry. The offensive line returns four starters to a group that has been one of the nation’s best year in and year out, and the Cardinal will be a run-first team once again. All reports point to QB Keller Chryst being ready to play after tearing an ACL in last year’s bowl game. He produced nine passing TD and two rushing TD with only one INT in his five regular-season starts. Last season’s top two receivers are back—large-bodied WRs Trenton Irwin (37 receptions for 442 yards) and JJ Arcega-Whiteside (24 receptions, 379 yards, 5 TD and two 100-yard games with Chryst starting). The loss of dynamic DL Solomon Thomas creates a void up front for a Stanford defense that held opponents to 20.4 points per game (18th in FBS) last season. DT Harrison Phillips (6.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL) will pick up some of the slack, and LB Joey Alfieri (5 sacks, 10.5 TFL) is also primed for a big season. Despite the loss of playmaking S Dallas Lloyd, the secondary is deep and experienced. CB Alijah Holder was playing at an all-conference level before a shoulder injury cost him nine games. He and Quenton Meeks form arguably the Pac-12’s best CB tandem, while S Justin Reid (4 TFL, 7 pass breakups) is a strong tackler and capable in coverage.
Rice QB Jackson Tyner is the frontrunner in a lingering position battle. He led the Owls to a victory in their penultimate game in his first meaningful action, but went 10-for-37 for 68 yards in the season finale at Stanford. WR Kylen Granson had been slated to redshirt in his first year on campus, but ended up playing seven games and producing 33 catches for 381 yards. He has the potential to be an excellent No. 1 option. RB Samuel Stewart, likely to be the focal point of the offense this season, battled injuries in 2016, tallying 540 total yards and six TD in the five games he played in full. RB Austin Walker scored six times on 80 touches last season, and Rice will use the versatile athlete all over the formation. Injuries kept the offensive line from being intact for half of the Owls’ game last season, and all five starters are back for 2017. Rice’s defense was atrocious last season, allowing 505 yards and 37.3 points per game (114th and 123rd in the nation, respectively). The good news is that starters DT Zach Abercrumbia and CB Justin Bickham are back from injuries after the former missed eight games and the latter missed the entire season. New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, whose resume includes coordinator jobs with Maryland, Houston and the Dallas Cowboys, is installing a new multiple-fronts scheme. He’ll build around First Team All-Conference LB Emmanuel Ellerbee (118 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 8 TFL), DE Brian Padgett (2 sacks, 5.5 TFL) and DT Preston Gordon (3.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL). Safeties J.T. Ibe and Destri White had their moments last year, but Rice only forced 11 turnovers while getting bludgeoned in both the pass and run games.