The Daily’s Football Season Predictions

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Can Davis Mills match up to Cal’s defense? Is defending champion Oregon ripe for an upset? Will Stanford even play seven games? The Stanford Daily’s staffers weigh in on Stanford’s abbreviated 2020 football season.

The Cardinal dodged a bullet with the abbreviated schedule. As an Angeleno, I was of course disappointed that Stanford wouldn’t face USC or UCLA — but the new schedule works in the Cardinal’s favor. First pro: There’s no Notre Dame. Second: With Colorado at home, Stanford not only avoided potential blowouts versus USC or Arizona State (the likely contenders for the South title), but also avoided the inclement weather that a November or December away game at Colorado or at Utah (another school in the South title conversation) would bring. 

Realistically speaking, it’s hard to make a concrete prediction when so many variables are unknown. We know quarterback Davis Mills can put up 500+ yards, and we know he has a stacked receiving corps. Although the offensive line (and likely the run game) is more experienced than 2019’s, we need to be realistic: it’s not the Christian McCaffery era. The defense too is untested, especially with cornerback Paulson Adebo’s opt-out. Kicker Jet Toner is solid and experienced in his fifth year and could be a decisive factor in the Cardinal’s favor in close games (of which there probably will be a few).

Oregon is certainly not the same team without quarterback Justin Herbert and a raucous Autzen Stadium, but it’s still Oregon with a solid defense and young talent — so a road win in the season opener seems unlikely. Colorado and Washington State are both winnable — but, unlike Michael, I say we win one, narrowly lose one. That being said, who knows what a non-Mike Leach Wazzu will offer. It’s hard to see a road win against Cal or Washington (I’m predicting heavy rain Dec. 12, maybe even snow). But we’d better win versus Oregon State to close the home schedule. 

So that leaves Stanford at No. 4 in the North…with a seventh game against UCLA? By then, I think we’ll get our act together and end the season strong. As Michael mentioned, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cancellation or COVID-19-related line-up shake up. Football’s theme for the year is “Whatever it Takes,” and it’ll certainly take a lot to have a season better than last year’s four wins. 

I’m going to break from my pessimistic colleagues and predict a respectable winning season for the Card. Yes, we’ve lost our two best players to the draft and many more to the transfer portal, and yes, our defense is young and unproven. But Stanford is facing a slate of teams that is collectively breaking in three new head coaches and five new starting quarterbacks. It’s pretty hard to start as a new quarterback in a new coach’s system — just ask KJ Costello. And COVID-19 has interrupted everyone’s spring ball, sent teams shuttling to and from campuses over the summer and shortened training camp before games begin. We’ve seen from the other conferences that this will be a sloppy season where preseason rankings mean nothing and upsets abound.

Into this soup of chaos, Stanford returns a proven quarterback, a loaded receiving corps and an offensive line that should be vastly improved after being thrown into the fire last year. That continuity is going to be a difference-maker. We also get the Ducks, our toughest opponent, first — hopefully before Tyler Shough gets too comfortable leading the Oregon offense. I’ll allow myself to dream of the upset there. Colorado, Oregon State and Wazzu — each missing either (or both!) a head coach or a quarterback who was around last year — should be comfortable wins. Cal and Washington, with their elite defenses, are scarier prospects. Both are beatable, but between them and a wildcard matchup against a top-half Pac-12 South team, I’ll budget two losses so this looks more sensible. That gets us a decent record and hopefully enough credibility to fix our recruiting backslide, so we don’t get completely demolished by the Oregon juggernaut over the next few years.

This, of course, all presumes a healthy Stanford roster that isn’t drastically upended by COVID-19 — I’m worried about our depth at quarterback, cornerback and linebacker if we start losing players to quarantine. But I’m ready to believe. Davis Mills is the real deal, our opponents are new and inexperienced, and after the medical horror show of last season David Shaw and company will be raring to prove that the Cardinal is capable of a lot more.

The 2018 season started amazingly. Stanford won a thriller against Oregon in Week 4 and rose to No 7. on the AP poll. Since then, however, Stanford football has been quite the disappointment — so I’m keeping my expectations low as they travel back to Autzen Stadium. While it’s quite likely that the Ducks’ rank (which currently stands at No. 12) is inflated, they still outclass the Cardinal.

From there we have back-to-back home games against Colorado and Washington State, both of which I think will end in wins. The Stanford offense struggled to find its footing against the Buffaloes last year (aside from one long touchdown pass) — but now that the offensive line is more seasoned, we should expect a better result. Washington State has a new coach and is starting true freshman Jayden de Laura at quarterback, so we should expect to finish our first half of the season with a 2-1 record. 

Next on the schedule is the 124th Big Game, which is probably the most exciting match-up for most Stanford fans, but not for me. While I think The Big Game is a toss-up, I’m more excited to see how our offensive line is going to match-up against a very experienced Washington defense. I don’t expect a win from either of these games, but we’ll likely end our season on a high note with a win against Oregon State because, well, it’s Oregon State. 

While we don’t know the opponent for the Cardinal’s final game, I predict that the team only plays six games because COVID-19 restrictions will cancel a game at some point this season. Athletes make up a disproportionate number of cases on campus and there’s a chance other teams have outbreaks, or state and local governments impose new restrictions that make hosting a football game impossible. It’s important to remember that this is not a normal season, so we shouldn’t expect a normal result from David Shaw and the rest of the football team.

I’m bullish on the Cardinal this season. Not quite sure why, especially given last year, but I just am. Davis Mills had stretches of brilliance last season even though he was thrust into the starting role. Now, a full offseason of working with the other starters will only help him and the rest of the offense. It just comes down to the play calling — creativity is key. On defense, the team will feel the loss of Paulson Adebo, but improvements from the younger players, now with another year of experience under their belts, will help counteract the loss. 

No. 12 Oregon is a tough first matchup, and I believe it’ll be a litmus test for the season. An upset or even a close, hard-fought loss bodes well moving forward. And I’m predicting an upset: Shaw will be looking to move past his debacle in 2019 and the team will come out motivated and hungry. Moving forward, I think the team will split Colorado and Washington State, but more importantly, take back the Axe on Nov. 27 across the bay at Cal. Washington’s stout defense will be another tough test for the Cardinal, and will result in the team’s second loss of the season. But, with a victory over Oregon State, the team will close the regular season on a positive note and a bounce-back victory at the Farm. 

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Cybele Zhang '22 is a Senior Staff Writer majoring in English Literature with a minor in German Studies. The Los Angeles-native previously served as Sports Editor (Vol. 255, 257 and 258). Her recent work focuses on women in sports and the intended cut of men's volleyball. Contact her at czhang 'at' stanforddaily.com.
Michael Espinosa '22 is majoring in international relations. He's the head of The Daily's social media team, and editor for the University beat and also occasionally writes for sports, arts, and The Grind. He's the biggest Taylor Swift fan at Stanford and the proudest New Yorker you will ever meet. Contact him at mespinosa 'at' stanforddaily.com.
Daniel Wu '21 is a Desk Editor for News, and also contributes to Sports, Arts & Life and The Daily's Graphics team. Contact him at dwu21 'at' stanford.edu.
Jeremy Rubin is a managing editor in the sports section. He is a sophomore from New York City studying Human Biology and is an avid Yankees, Knicks and Jets fan who enjoys long walks and good podcasts. He's also a member of Stanford's club baseball team. Contact him at jrubin 'at' stanforddaily.com.