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Stanford Football 2016 Team Preview: Down Year Now?

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This is it! This is the year that Stanford experiences a hard down turn. Well, maybe.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We've all been wondering when Stanford is going to regress to the mean and fall back to a mediocre Pac-12 program. It's been a long time since Harbaugh left town and David Shaw is still on the Farm giving us all that wry smile that tells us the Cardinal are here to stay.

2015 Record: 12-2

F/+ Rank: 6

S&P Rank: 10

FEI Rank: 3

Wins: UCF, USC (2x), Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Colorado, California, No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 9 Iowa

Losses: No. 23 Northwestern, No. 19 Oregon

*****

Coming off an 8-5 season and a poor start to 2015 many didn't think we'd be here today proclaiming David Shaw as an elite coach. It seemed like Stanford was finally destined to drop a couple notches in the national pecking order.

Nope. Instead the Cardinal simply won 12 games and a major bowl.

Since taking over in 2011 David Shaw is 54-14 overall. Only Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon, Florida State, and Alabama have been better over that time period. In addition to all the wins, Shaw has earned 3 Pac-12 titles in addition to 3 Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards. A couple Rose Bowl victories isn't too shabby, either.

Stanford's ability to hold serve on their home turf is impressive. Out of those 14 losses overall only 3 have come to unranked teams and they were all on the road: Washington 2012, Utah 2013, and Notre Dame 2014. Something to keep in mind this year, perhaps.

Low Moment

I was traveling in a car while last year's Stanford-Northwestern game was going on and couldn't believe what I was hearing over the radio as it came to a conclusion. It seemed as if the Cardinal offense was going to be inept and a complete mess last year.

Well, they definitely turned things around that's for sure! Plus, the Wildcats went on to have a very good season and finished ranked in the AP Poll. At the time this was a shocking loss but looking back it's a lot more forgivable.

High Moment

A lot of folks knew Iowa didn't belong near the Rose Bowl and Stanford plainly showed the world that those people were correct.

Stanford destroyed the Hawkeyes to put a cherry on top of their sundae of a tremendous season. What's more, Christian McCaffrey put on a show in prime time that more or less swayed the media that he probably should have been awarded the Heisman. Oops!

2016 Schedule

Home: Kansas State, USC, Washington State, Colorado, Oregon State, Rice

Away: UCLA, Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona, Oregon, California

Remember that home record I just talked about? Well, Stanford placed their bye week after their opener against Kansas State. My thought is that they desperately want to take care of those first two games (USC is the 2nd game) because if they do there's a strong possibility they can run the table in Palo Alto this season.

However, that road schedule is brutal and unforgiving. A conservative estimate figures Stanford will be facing 4 ranked teams on the road. It seems really tough to pull off anything better than 10-2 overall and that's with the assumption they have good odds to clean up at home.

S&P Projected Rank: 16

Tough but fair. This is a drop from their overall position last year which is to be expected. I don't know if anyone should be making the case for other teams in the Pac-12 ahead of Stanford so they should be considered one of the league favorites until we see some proof from other programs.

Predicted Kickoff Spread: Notre Dame (-2.5)

There are so many striking similarities between Michigan State and Stanford. Both programs feature just enough top-end talent to sustain themselves from year-to-year, both contain some of the best player development coaching in the country, and for 2016 both are working in new quarterbacks.

The Cardinal should be pretty good, especially if the Pac-12 kind of disappoints like it did last year when the SEC was practically giving away the title of best conference in America. However, should a few of the top Pac-12 programs (USC, UCLA, Oregon) find their grooves this could be a really tough season for Stanford, especially if the transition to a new quarterback does not go well.

Last year, Stanford won a lot of games with an okay defense and a great offense. At best, it seems both the offense and defense will be pretty good but there's a chance either side could be closer to average. I'm curious to see how that type of situation is handled by David Shaw because in recent years they've at least had one great unit that carried the team through some big games.