Stanford Cardinal Odds to Win the 2015 College Football National Championship
by Alan Matthews - 8/15/2014
I don't mean this to sound like Stanford has a bunch of one-star recruits, but considering how tough the academic standards are at the school (ask Northwestern what that's like), has any coach in college football accomplished as much with in more challenging circumstances the past three seasons than David Shaw? And I include his ability to recruit.
Most expected the Cardinal to slide into mediocrity when Jim Harbaugh left following the 2010 season for the San Francisco 49ers. All Shaw has done is lead the Cardinal to three straight BCS Bowls and back-to-back Pac-12 titles. In fact, Stanford concluded the BCS era as the lone school to appear in BCS bowls the final four years (last one under Harbaugh). Shaw is highly coveted by NFL teams, and he's probably going to leave sooner or later, so Stanford fans should enjoy this success while they can. The best way to describe Stanford under Shaw is a white-collar program with a blue-collar attitude. Probably no school relies more on power football defeating speed more than Stanford. Just ask Oregon about that. The irony was that the Cardinal got a taste of their own medicine in last season's Rose Bowl by Michigan State, which plays much the same way.
Stanford Cardinal Odds to Win the 2015 National Championship Story Lines
Shaw has some significant holes to replace. Four offensive line starters -- and that may have been the best group in college football -- have moved on. The one guy back, left tackle Andrus Peat, probably is a first-rounder next year. Also moving on was running back Tyler Gaffney, he of the whopping 330 carries for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns a season ago. There won't be any one guy coming close to that total amount of touches this season as Shaw will go more by a committee, which will include Barry Sanders Jr., the son of a certain Hall of Famer. The Pac-12 is very deep in returning quarterbacks, and Kevin Hogan is back for Stanford. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. Hogan did struggle in losses to USC and Michigan State. He returns along with his top three receivers from last year in Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, and Michael Rector. Montgomery is one of the best all-purpose players in college football because he's a great kick returner on top of being Stanford's best receiver.
The defense brings back seven starters, but the four losses were arguably that group's four best players: defensive end Ben Gardner, All-America linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, and safety Ed Reynolds. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason also left, taking the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. Strong safety Jordan Richards and inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley will be the leaders of the 2014 defense. Lance Anderson was promoted from linebackers coach to replace Mason.
Stanford gets essentially a scrimmage to open the season Aug. 30 against UC Davis but then has a big one at home the next week against Southern Cal. That could be payback time for the Cardinal after last season's crushing 20-17 loss in Los Angeles that ended any national title hopes. Stanford already has been posted as a four-point favorite. Week 3 is another cakewalk against Army, a team Stanford beat 34-20 last year at West Point.
The good news is then Stanford gets a bye week before a tough two-game back-to-back at Washington and Notre Dame. The Cardinal beat the Huskies 31-28 in 2013 despite being outgained 489-284. Meanwhile, Stanford opened at -3.5 at the Irish, who lost in northern California last year 27-20 in the regular-season finale for both. Stanford gets a bit of a breather after that against Washington State before a really tough three-game stretch: at Arizona State, vs. Oregon State and at Oregon. Cardinal-Ducks has pretty much decided the Pac-12 North for the past handful of years, and that's unlikely to change this year. The last time Stanford visited Eugene, it upset No. 1 Oregon 17-14 in overtime in 2012. And of course last year the Cardinal upset the Ducks again on the Farm. Oregon has opened as an 11-point favorite.
Finally, the schedule concludes at home against Utah, the Big Game at Cal and then at UCLA, the Pac-12 South favorite and an opening five-point favorite. So Stanford gets the short end of the stick here because it plays the likely three top Pac-12 South teams in USC, ASU and UCLA. Oregon only plays UCLA among that group.
Stanford Cardinal 2015 National Championship Odds and Trends
Odds courtesy of 5Dimes . Stanford is +4500 to win the national title, +725 to win the Pac-12 Championship Game and +425 to take the Pac-12 North. To make the College Football Playoff, Stanford is +600, and -1050 to not be selected. Stanford has "over/under" wins total of 9.5 (under -300 favorite), 9 (under -165 favorite), 8.5 (over -130 favorite), 8 (over -285 favorite) and 7.5 (over -410 favorite). The Cardinal don't have any Heisman Trophy candidates.
Stanford Cardinal Odds to Win the 2015 National Championship Predictions
Even though Gaffney is gone, this will still look like the same old Stanford. Plenty of running between the tackles in two tight-end sets. The line should be fine because it includes some of the top recruits in the nation from 2012. A tiger doesn't change his stripes. So offensively I don't look for much of a drop-off. Defense is another question with those two stellar linebackers gone. Will the Cardinal still be able to stop high-powered offenses such as Oregon and UCLA? I say no. The Cardinal will finish 9-3, losing at UW or Notre Dame (but not both), Oregon and UCLA. That will be good enough for second behind the Ducks in the North and a pretty good bowl game but not the national semifinals.
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