What do you get one you have one of the best running backs in the Pac-12, a solid offensive line, a quarterback who is dependable but far from elite, and an accomplished veteran head coach? No, this isn’t the 2015 Utes, you’re looking at the 2018 Stanford Cardinal.
Few running backs around the nation have as much promise as Bryce Love. The Heisman runner-up is back for his senior year after foregoing the NFL draft off the heels of a monsterous junior year that included 2,118 rushing yards on 263 attempts, and 19 rushing touchdowns. Love almost single-handedly carried the Stanford offense on his back last season but looks to have a little more help coming into 2018.
That help starts with quarterback KJ Costello. The 6’5”, 215 lb junior showed plenty of promise last season, but was wildly inconsistent. Costello finished the season completing 58.8% of his passes, but often times completed fewer than 10 passes per game. The returning starter also struggled in the red zone, recording 14 touchdowns, however nine of those came in his final three games against Notre Dame, USC and TCU. With Love to rely on Costello doesn’t need to be stellar, but a slight improvement could elevate the offense to something special and take pressure off the star running back.
Costello and the Cardinals should benefit from returning senior receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Recording a mere 48 receptions last season, the deep threat still managed to compile a team leading 781 yards in 2017, good for an average of 16.3 yards per catch. After a year as Costello’s number one target and continuing to build chemistry throughout camp, Whiteside has every opportunity to emerge as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 this season.
Bringing everything together for the Stanford offense is one of the best lines in NCAA football. Last season, Stanford’s quarterbacks met the turf an average of 1.2 times per game, and that same line that kept their QB’s on their feet also helped guide Bryce Love through his dominating season. Unfortunately for the rest of the Pac-12, most of that stellar line from last season returns in 2018.
Walker Little, who at 6’7”, 317 lbs, is anything but little, will be starting full-time at left-tackle after proving to be a paramount piece to the line’s success last year, while Nate Herbig, the 6’4” 348 lb right guard returns to assist in Love’s Heisman campaign.
If the Cardinal offense is able to improve even marginally from last year, they could easily be one of the best units in college football by the time the 2018 season wraps up. Hopes are high in Palo Alto, but time will tell if that’s warranted.