- Previewing SI's No. 25 team heading into the 2019 college football season: the K.J. Costello-led Stanford Cardinal.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from No. 1 Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which will be collected here. First up, it's No. 25 Stanford.
THE BIG STORY
Under nine-year head coach David Shaw, Stanford has relied on a punishing ground game and a relentless, bruising defense, and it's a formula that's served them well. In 2018, though, the combination of star running back Bryce Love’s injuries and a regression on the defensive side forced the Cardinal to turn to a more vertical passing attack. The result? Senior K.J. Costello led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and put up the second most passing yards in school history (3,540). With dark horse Heisman candidate Costello back under center, the Cardinal will continue to air it out this season.
There was one big bright spot in the Cardinal defense last year: Junior Paulson Adebo emerged as one of the top corners in the nation, breaking up 20 passes (second in FBS) with four interceptions. In the inexperienced Stanford D, the secondary, anchored by the NFL-ready Adebo, should be a strength.
Can Costello perform at a similar level this season after losing Love, his three top pass catchers and four starting offensive linemen? The line is the biggest concern: Aside from All–Pac-12 left tackle Walker Little, the Cardinal starters have appeared in a combined total of 13 games.
Inside linebacker is crucial in Stanford’s 3–4; coach David Shaw’s defenses have been at their best with lockdown LBs manning the middle. The two inside LBs were the team’s two top tacklers last season—they lost one to the NFL (Bobby Okereke), the other to graduation (Sean Barton). While one starting ILB spot is still open, Ricky Miezan played in Stanford’s final four games last season, and the sophomore—a top lacrosse recruit before choosing football—stood out. The Cardinal have experience across the rest of the front seven, but finding the answer at inside linebacker will be key for getting this defense going, and it could start with Miezan.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 7.5 wins. There are few walkovers on the schedule—Northwestern and UCF are tough nonconference matchups—though Stanford does get Washington, Oregon and Notre Dame at home and avoids the top team in the Pac-12 South, Utah.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Stanford has been one of the country’s most consistent programs, with eight to 12 wins every year for the last decade. There’s uncertainty this year, but quarterback K.J. Costello will prevent a major regression.