2015 Record: 12-2 (8-1)
Head Coach: David Shaw (54-14; sixth year)
Returning Starters: 5 Offense/6 Defense
Key Returners: RB Christian McCaffrey; WR Michael Rector; S Dallas Lloyd; S Zach Hoffpauir; G Johnny Caspers; DT Solomon Thomas
2015 Offense: 436 ypg (224 rush/212 pass); 37.8 ppg
2015 Defense: 368 ypg (140 rush/228 pass); 22.6 ppg
Offense: With Kevin Hogan gone, Keller Chryst appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the job. No matter who winds up under center, Christian McCaffrey will be the focal point of the offense. There isn't a more versatile and dynamic player in the country and he'll hurt you in a number of ways -- running, receiving, returning -- so you had better game-plan for him. Along the offensive line, losing Josh Garnett and Kyle Murphy hurts, but center Graham Shuler's ability to lead was underrated and his loss could be felt more. Michael Rector returns for his senior season, but there isn't a lot of experience after him at receiver. While Stanford has been known to grind things out and punish teams, this year could be the year they open things up a little bit more. McCaffrey can be used in a number of ways and the inexperience along the offensive line may lead to more spread out formations than we're used to.
Defense: Stanford's defense has always been able to dictate things to opposing offenses. They typically are one of the most physical defenses in the conference if not the nation, but they've lost so much along the front seven the past couple of years, it'll be interesting to watch how the stop unit develops. The combination of Dallas Lloyd and Zach Hoffpauir at safety is huge for the secondary and you could see their yards allowed in the passing game drop significantly, however, even though defensive tackle Solomon Thomas is an All-Pac 12 type with the ability to do pretty much anything he wants up front. The problem? There isn't much experience up front to help him.
The Bottom Line: Shaw is widely considered one of the best coaches in the nation. He's an animal on the recruiting trail and he's got the Stanford program humming along well. Things could get interesting this year if Chryst doesn't live up to expectations and with some questionable depth along the defensive line, they could wind up second or third in the Pac 12 North if things start to snowball. That being said, until they get knocked off the mountaintop, we wouldn't bet against them.