Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello (center) huddles his team before the Sun Bowl win over Pittsburgh last December. Stanford is 4-1 in its last five bowl games. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/USA Today)

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: Defense needs to lead the way early for No. 25 Stanford

The Cardinal boast a talented quarterback and one of the best offensive tackles in the country, but lost a lot of offensive firepower from 2018.

Posted July 3rd, 2019

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We’re 57 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We kick off our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked 1st, 2nd, 8th and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 25 team: Stanford

The Cardinal’s best-case scenario: Offensive lineman Walker Little will be a big get in the 2020 NFL draft and K.J. Costello has started 20 games. The rest of the offense, however, doesn’t boast that experience. The defense must hold down the fort while the offense grows up quickly. That will be easier said than done — USC is the worst team that Stanford will play over the first four games.

And their worst-case scenario: Stanford hasn’t had a leading rusher not named Christian McCaffrey or Bryce Love since the 2014 season. If the offense can’t come close to replicating the production of the 2015 and 2017 Heisman Trophy runners-up — senior Cameron Scarlett has yet to record a 100-yard rushing performance — then the offense may be stuck in neutral.

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Last year, Stanford ranked 14th in our preseason poll. The Cardinal finished the year unranked for the first time since 2014.

Inside the Cardinal

Coach: David Shaw (9th year, 82-26 — all at Stanford)

2018: 9-4, 6-3 in the Pac-12 (beat Pitt 14-13 in the Sun Bowl). Finished with four straight wins.

Returning starters: 4 offense, 6 defense

Shoes to fill: RB Bryce Love (2017 Heisman runner-up); WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2nd round, Eagles); TE Kaden Smith (6th round, 49ers); ILBs Bobby Okereke, Sean Barton (top two tacklers); OL Nate Herbig (2nd team all-conference); P Jake Bailey (2nd team all-conference)

Spring cleaning: Two of Stanford’s five draft picks — Arcega-Whiteside and Smith — left school early. … Four-star wide receiver Elijah Higgins, who starred at Austin’s Bowie High and chose Stanford over Texas, was the prized prospect in a recruiting class that ranked 21st nationally. … The coaching staff remained intact over the offseason. … Junior cornerback Paulson Adebo’s 24 passes defended led the country last season. … Senior Jet Toner holds school records for career field goal percentage (.854) and extra-point percentage (1.000).

For the first time since 2014, neither Bryce Love (20) nor Christian McCaffrey will be handling rushing duties for Stanford. The two former Heisman Trophy runners-up are now in the NFL. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: K.J. Costello (led team), 269-413-3,540 yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs

RUSHING: Cameron Scarlett (2nd), 79-330-8; Trevor Speights (3rd), 59-221-1

RECEIVING: TE Colby Parkinson (4th), 29-485-7

TACKLES: CB Paulson Adebo (3rd), 64; OLB Jordan Fox (4th), 61

SACKS: OLB Gabe Reid (1st), 5.5; OLB Jordan Fox (T-2nd), 4.5; DE Jovan Swann (T-2nd), 4.5

INTERCEPTIONS: CB Paulson Adebo (1st), 4

Returning All-Pac 12 players (6)

Offense: OT Walker Little (1st team), QB K.J. Costello (2nd), TE Colby Parkinson (hon. mention)

Defense: CB Paulson Adebo (1st), DE Jovan Swann (hon. mention)

Special teams: K Jet Toner (2nd)

FYI

Captain Costello: The 3,540 passing yards compiled last season by Costello, a team captain, ranked second in Stanford’s record books and the Pac-12. Could he become Stanford’s all-time leading passer one day? Maybe. He trails Steve Stenstrom by 5,798 yards. Costello is listed on Stanford’s roster as a senior but is technically a redshirt junior since he didn’t play during his first year of college in 2016.

From lacrosse to linebacker: Stanford has a hole at inside linebacker after Okereke was drafted by Indianapolis and Barton retired from football with a year of eligibility left. Sophomore Ricky Miezan is a candidate for playing time, which is an impressive feat since he didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. A Virginia native, Miezan was actually once the nation’s top-rated recruit in lacrosse.

Um, where are the cupcakes?: You can’t say that Stanford is ducking anyone this fall. Stanford’s three non-conference games will be against Notre Dame, UCF and Northwestern, which combined for 33 wins last season and placed fifth, 11th and 21st in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. In total, Stanford’s 12 opponents went 90-63 in 2018.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 72nd (28.4 ppg)

Total offense: 85th (381.0 ypg)

Passing: 25th (273.1 ypg)

Rushing: 122nd (107.9 ypg)

Red zone offense: 22nd

Time of possession: 60th (30:04)

Scoring defense: T-37th (22.9 ppg)

Total defense: 78th (410.1 ypg)

Pass defense: 114th (264.0 ypg)

Rush defense: 45th (146.1 ypg)

Red zone defense: 35th

Turnover margin: T-46th

Cameron Scarlett is Stanford’s leading rusher, but though he’s a senior, he has yet to produce a 100-yard game. That may change soon enough; he’s expected to be the Cardinal’s top back this season. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31Northwestern
Sept. 7at USC*W, 17-3
Sept. 14at Central Florida
Sept. 21Oregon*W, 31-31 (OT)
Sept. 28at Oregon State*W, 48-17
Oct. 5Washington*L, 27-23
Oct. 17UCLA*W, 49-42
Oct. 26Arizona*
Nov. 9at Colorado*
Nov. 16at Washington StateL, 41-38
Nov. 23California*W, 23-13
Nov. 30Notre DameL, 38-17
* Pac-12 game

The key game? Nov. 16, at Washington State. Stanford benefits from hosting Oregon and Washington this season, but this trip to Pullman will be the team’s toughest road test. Three of the last four games in this series have been decided by three points or less, but expect Stanford to be more concerned with its three-game losing streak against Mike Leach’s crew.

The last 5 years

Stanford: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
20148-5 / 5-411th / —Foster Farms Bowl, W
201512-2 / 8-121st / 3rdRose Bowl, W
201610-3 / 6-38th / 12thSun Bowl, W
20179-5 / 7-214th / 20thAlamo Bowl, L
20189-4 / 6-3— / —Sun Bowl, W
Total48-19 / 33-235 bowl games (4-1)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford

Our Top 25, by conferences

1 school:

Pac-12 — No. 25 Stanford

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 24 team

Want a hint?

Here are two: This school and Texas used to be conference mates, and it claims five national championships but none since the 1990s.

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