Winning the Pacific-12 Conference is nothing new for the Stanford football team. After all, the Cardinal has won three of the past four Pac-12 titles under David Shaw, entering his sixth season.
But getting the preseason nod as the favorite? That's a first for this regime.
Amid those expectations, No. 8 Stanford opens its season against Kansas State on Friday night at Stanford Stadium.
This is hardly a slam-dunk opening victory, but it does figure to be the easiest game of a brutal first half of the season for the Cardinal, which returns Heisman runner-up running back Christian McCaffrey but is breaking in only its third starting quarterback since 2009.
Redshirt junior Ryan Burns won the job in camp, following in the footsteps of Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan. But Burns, who has thrown one collegiate pass, isn't a lock to keep the job. Sophomore Keller Chryst competed well enough in camp to get a look, too.
"Keller Chryst will play as well," Shaw said. "We're going to play both guys and try to win a game. There hasn't been a huge separation between the two. Both guys have played extremely well. Ryan has been enough ahead to get the nod."
Kansas State, which was 6-7 last year in an injury-riddled campaign, welcomes back quarterback Jesse Ertz, who suffered a torn ACL on the team's first snap last season. Ertz, who should be active in the run game, beat out Joe Hubener and Alex Delton in fall camp to reclaim his starting job.
"One day you'd say this guy lit it up and the next day it was somebody else," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who has 193 wins with the Wildcats, the most of any FBS coach at his current school.
"It was very competitive, and Jesse pulled himself away probably in the last four days of being able to have greater consistency on the practice field."
The Friday night will be a good spotlight for McCaffrey in advance of a full holiday weekend of great college football matchups. McCaffrey had 20-plus touches in every game last season except the season-opening loss to Northwestern (17). He'll get all the work he can handle this week with speedy sophomore backup Bryce Love out with an undisclosed injury.
Love is likely to return after the bye week for Stanford's trip to Southern Cal.
With 3,864 all-purpose yards last season, McCaffrey shattered the 27-year-old NCAA single-season record of 3,250, set by Oklahoma State legend Barry Sanders. McCaffrey had 2,019 rushing yards, 645 receiving yards, and he picked up the rest of his yardage on kick and punt returns.
"He's the best player in the country and we'll continue to challenge him," Shaw said. "We know he can handle it."
Stanford's bread-and-butter is its power running game, but the offense has ample speed in McCaffrey and receivers Michael Rector, Trent Irwin and Francis Owusu.
Kansas State's defense allowed 452.2 yards and 31.5 points per game last season, when young players gained experience as injury fill-ins. A veteran coming back is senior safety Dante Barnett, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the 2015 opener.
This is the first meeting between Stanford and Kansas State.
After this, the Cardinal plays No. 20 USC, at No. 16 UCLA, at No. 14 Washington, Washington State and at No. 10 Notre Dame. It won't be easy for Stanford to replicate its 12-2 record of a season ago.
" We have a chance to be good," Shaw said. "How good, you never know."