The dates for the beginning of a new era of Stanford Football have been finalized! First-year head coach Troy Taylor has an exciting and challenging slate to contend with in 2023. Here are my three biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s schedule release, along with my thoughts on where things stand with the program.
Stanford had an exodus of experienced guys either declare for the NFL Draft or leave the program via the transfer portal this offseason. The far-younger roster that remains will have every opportunity to pick up a couple of wins early on and gain some confidence in what is expected to be a rebuilding year. The first four games for the Cardinal are at Hawaii, at USC, vs. Sacramento State and vs. Arizona. While the Cardinal will be major underdogs against Lincoln Riley and 2022 Heisman Trophy Winner Caleb Williams down in Los Angeles, those other three games are very winnable.
Stanford should be expected to beat Hawaii, who was one of the worst teams at the FBS level last season (No. 127 out of 131 according to FEI). Stanford also needs to beat Sacramento State, one of the best programs at the FCS level last season, which was coached by none other than now-Stanford head coach Troy Taylor. Arizona is on an upward trajectory under coach Jedd Fisch, but this Cardinal roster still has the talent to compete despite major question marks at key positions. I lean towards Arizona in that matchup at the moment, but this is a winnable game in which we will learn a lot about the 2023 Cardinal. Students will be back on campus for this one, so throw in that along with some momentum of (hopefully) having a 2-1 record and the Cardinal might just be able to pull it off.
Bye week placement
The absurdity of last season’s Week 3 bye set a pretty low bar for my contentment with the placement of Stanford’s bye in this year’s slate. The Cardinal will have Week 6 off in 2023, so they will have played the four games discussed above as well as have hosted Oregon. There is more good news on this front, as the bye week is followed by a Friday night game in Boulder against Coach Prime and the Buffaloes. Unlike Colorado who will have played at Arizona State the week before, the Cardinal will not have to endure a short week in preparation for that Friday matchup. This Friday night matchup also gives the Cardinal an extra day of rest ahead of a clash with UCLA during homecoming weekend.
Quarterback murderer’s row
Stanford has had very difficult schedules for a few years now, and 2023 is no different. What stands out this year is the strength of the Pac-12, which could very well have the best lineup of quarterbacks in the country. Stanford thankfully does not have to face Utah’s Cam Rising in 2023, but the lineup that remains is incredibly daunting. Reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams is the headliner, as he leads the way for USC and is the current favorite to be picked first in the 2024 NFL Draft. Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr., Cam Ward and Jayden de Laura are back at their respective schools — Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Arizona. Oregon State brought in Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei. UCLA flipped top recruit Dante Moore from Oregon. Deion Sanders brought along his son, Shedeur, to star at quarterback for Colorado. And don’t forget about the matchup with Notre Dame, who grabbed former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman in the transfer portal. The Stanford defense will face a daunting offense every time they step on the field.
Unlike last year, this schedule leaves little to complain about from a Stanford perspective. 2023 is expected to be a rebuilding year for the Cardinal, but this team does have highly-rated talent at some position groups. The running back room looks strong with E.J. Smith and Casey Filkins returning. The defensive line is young and talented and should make a jump next year. Tight end Benjamin Yurosek is back to lead a promising tight end group.
But the roster experienced significant attrition elsewhere. Quarterback Tanner McKee is off to the Draft, and unlike most recent quarterback transitions at Stanford, there is no elite recruit waiting in the wings to take over. Both starting offensive tackles and center transferred out of the program. Stanford’s two starting corners are gone, as well as key contributors from the safeties. The linebacking group, which had already struggled in recent years, lost almost all of its production.
This is a significant rebuilding job for Troy Taylor and his staff. There are many young and promising guys that remain on the roster, but the talent and experience that was supposed to make the 2022 side experience substantial on-field success have now moved on. Stanford has been only able to get one transfer into the program so far, and the extent to which that number increases will have a large impact on how competitive the Cardinal are in 2023.
But despite the gloomy reality of heading into a rebuilding year, I cannot wait for September to roll around. There is a new energy around the program, and the hope of many Stanford fans has been restored. I am excited to see Troy Taylor run the offense and am quite impressed with the staff he was able to put together on both sides of the ball. A strong 2024 recruiting class along with signs that the administration is being more permissive of transfer portal usage are two key things I will be watching in the months ahead. As for the 2023 season, right now I would put the Cardinal at 3.5 wins, and would be quite happy with the season if the Cardinal could grab four.