Park: Predicting the second half of Stanford football’s season

Oct. 13, 2014, 10:33 p.m.

Here we stand at the halfway point of Stanford football’s 2014 campaign, and somehow, it feels like we know a lot less about the team and the volatile Pac-12 Conference than we did at the start of the season before any games had been played.

Coming into the season, we thought the offense behind a third-year Kevin Hogan and a bevy of tremendous receivers would be a sure thing, while a defense losing key pieces like Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro and Ed Reynolds (not to mention Derek Mason) would surely regress.

In making those assumptions, we took for granted that the retooled offensive line would live up to its potential and continue to set the stellar foundation for the offense that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. That clearly hasn’t happened, and the penalties have killed drives, the running lanes haven’t been there, and there have been miscues galore over the last several weeks.

Meanwhile, the defense that we were all so quick to write off has been nothing short of ridiculous. The Cardinal defense is the only unit in the country that has yet to give up more than 20 points in a game, and it’s not like it’s only been tested by the weaker offenses of the league. Army, Washington State, USC and Notre Dame are among the best teams in the country at running the various schemes that they run, and Stanford has made all of their offenses look mediocre at best.

College football mocks our silly assumptions and will continue to go about making us look like idiots every Saturday. I know that these predictions are probably going to be completely off. But there lies the fun, after all. Looking stupid in print is a columnist’s right.

So with those surprises, shortcomings, successes (and two losses) in mind, where does Stanford football stand heading into its unforgiving second half? Here are my predictions for the next seven weeks of Stanford football.

The offense isn’t going to find consistency…

I hate to say it, (and I’m certainly not giving up on the season) but this offense hasn’t done anything to convince me that it’s a unit that’s going to magically gel down the stretch of the season and pull a historic about-face to push the team to the Playoff.

For one, the offensive line doesn’t seem like it’s going to refine its mistakes anytime soon, and I think we’re just going to have to live with false starts and holding penalties becoming the norm on the Farm for this year, at least. Apart from some stupid personal fouls, it’s not like you’re actively aware that you’re going to be penalized for what you’re doing amongst all the chaos on the field; it’s just instinct — not jumping the gun on a snap count, knowing when to release on a block — that needs to be learned with time at this level. And while that’s still a factor, drives will continue to frustratingly stall and the running game will continue to struggle. I’m just not sold on Kevin Hogan as a traditional passer enough to buy into the Stanford offense down the stretch.

It doesn’t help that I don’t think Jordan Williamson will get his mojo back before the end of the year, either. He’s currently 6-of-11 on his field goal tries, and after being all but automatic from inside 40 last season, he’s just been inconsistent and shaky on not only field goals, but kickoffs as well. This has been a part of Stanford’s red-zone struggles as well; most teams can expect points at the very least when getting inside the opponent’s 30, but the lack of special teams acuity has made even getting three not even close to a sure thing.

…but the defense will beat Oregon

For what that’s worth, anyway. The luster of beating Oregon, in my mind, is no longer where it was last year or where it was two seasons ago. Oregon has shown itself to be a beatable team with notable weaknesses, and I can’t be the only one that thinks even with Jake Fisher back at left tackle for the Ducks, this Stanford defense is going to eat the Oregon offense alive.

The Ducks’ defense has also left much to be desired (see: Washington State, Arizona) and even though Stanford won’t be able to run the ball down Oregon’s throats and possess the ball for more than 40 minutes like last season, Oregon’s defense is not even close to the best unit Stanford’s offense will face this season, and I’m confident that Stanford will claim a third straight against the Ducks.

Christian McCaffrey will be freed

George Chen wrote a fantastic column last night that laid out what many of us at The Daily have been saying since the start of the season: Get Christian McCaffrey the ball. The dude is electric. He can be a playmaker. I don’t care if he can’t pass block, put him in the slot. Just get him out there and let him get open and make people miss and show off his blinding speed.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Shaw told me after Friday’s game that McCaffrey had broken into the running back rotation. He even had a twinkle in his eye as he said that McCaffrey would even be used as a “decoy.”

When you’re talking about a true freshman that you can use as a “decoy” for opposing defenses because of his potential, you know that you’ve got sot something special. It’s something extra to prepare for, and while Shaw has given McCaffrey the ball on pretty much every snap the freshman has played, I’m expecting that to change as he plays more and more all over the field and opposing defenses have to adjust to meet his potential. I’m excited. I’m hoping Christian McCaffrey sees at least 20 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, but that’s almost definitely just wishful thinking. But wouldn’t that be cool?

But Stanford won’t win out and win the Pac-12

There are just way too many traps on this schedule. Apart from the daunting trips to Oregon and UCLA, Stanford also needs to face a Utah squad that has looked really, really impressive this year, along with Oregon State (which always plays Stanford close) and Cal, which has looked vastly improved.

Stanford just seems to have a habit of losing one inexplicable game a season (2012 Washington, 2013 Utah) and we haven’t really seen that yet — USC and Notre Dame are games that many around the nation expected Stanford could definitely lose. I don’t know which game it’ll be, but I just have a bad feeling it’s coming.


With all of those points having been made, let’s just take a step back and look at this season from a broader perspective for a second. In my mind, Stanford is probably looking at an 8-4 or 9-3 season with a decent bowl berth. And while that certainly seems like a disappointment given the team’s recent track record, our memory has gotten pretty short over the last few seasons.

If you go back to even 2006 or 2007, I’m sure Stanford fans would have given anything for an 8-4 or 9-3 season. But now that we’ve tasted success and felt the sweetness of victory, it’s hard to stomach simply dropping one tick below the echelons of the elite.

Let’s just call this a rebuilding season — it might as well be, given how the offensive line is rebuilding, since that forms the basis for the Stanford offense we know and love — and a long overdue one, at that. We can’t be disappointed, because even the best teams must rebuild at one time or another.

Just think about next year — a sophomore Keller Chryst will be battling for the quarterback spot, with McCaffrey in the backfield and a bevy of talented receivers to throw to. Not to mention the defense.

I’m not saying that we should look ahead to next year — not at all, given how unpredictable college football is — but I’m saying that even if Stanford does drop another game, it’s not a sign that Shaw needs to be fired or that Ryan Burns needs to start at quarterback. It’s just a downswing.

And if 8-4 is your downswing, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.

Do-Hyoung Park gets a warm and fuzzy feeling inside when we let him make predictions. Counteract that by telling him what you think of them at dpark027 ‘at’

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.

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