As Friday’s season opener for San Diego State and Stanford approaches, there’s sure to be plenty of reminiscing about the bizarre events surrounding last year’s mid-September meeting between the teams. With the Aztecs trailing 17-13, and just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the lights went out at 50-year-old Jack Murphy Stadium, causing a 15-minute delay. Shortly after play resumed, SDSU drove the final 42 yards of a 75-yard drive and scored on the 11th play of the possession with less than a minute to play. The 20-17 victory was the Aztecs’ first win in 36 years over a ranked Power Five opponent.
The victory was also San Diego State’s third straight over a Pac-12 opponent since the start of the 2016 season and the Aztecs’ second win over a Pac-12 team in as many weeks—SDSU had won 30-20 as a three-point road underdog at Arizona State the week prior to beating Stanford as an eight-point home underdog. One of the keys to the win over Stanford was the Aztecs’ ability to control the ball, as SDSU racked up more than 41 minutes of possession time while holding the Cardinal to only 254 total yards and 10 first downs on 43 plays from scrimmage in fewer than 19 minutes of possession time. That dominance was due in large part to San Diego State avoiding turning the ball over while forcing three Stanford turnovers.
Expect Stanford to take far better care of the football this time around, primarily because it was quarterback Keller Chryst who committed all three of the turnovers—one fumble and two interceptions—in the loss last September. K.J. Costello, who made strides throughout last season as a redshirt freshman after taking over for Chryst, turned the ball over just twice—both interceptions—while attempting 153 passes over the eight regular season games in which he played after the loss to San Diego State. Only four FBS teams would end the 2017 regular season with fewer turnovers than the 10 the Cardinal committed.
The offensive star for the Aztecs in their win over Stanford last season was running back Rashaad Penny, who surpassed 200 yards from scrimmage on 32 carries and five receptions. While Penny ended up being selected in the first round in this past April’s NFL draft, Stanford returns its top player from a year ago, running back Bryce Love. The favorite to win the Heisman Trophy after having finished second in voting to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield last season, Love rushed for 184 yards and a pair of scores despite being limited to only 13 carries against San Diego State. While it’s hard to expect any player to average more than 14 yards per carry, it stands to reason that if Stanford takes care of the football the way it did when Costello was under center last season and gets the ball in the hands of its top playmaker between 25 and 30 times, San Diego State senior quarterback Christian Chapman will ultimately be forced to make plays in the passing game for a team that is not built to overcome a double-digit deficit—SDSU was one of only 13 FBS teams to average fewer than 150 passing yards per game in 2017.
If you’re looking for a betting system that applies to this one, consider that in the first month of a season, favorites of between 10.5 and 21 points that have an experienced quarterback returning and are coming off a season in which it averaged at least 5.25 yards per carry are 33-11 ATS since the start of the 2009 season, which includes an 11-4 ATS mark since the start of 2016. Stanford is 21-0 straight up and 15-6 ATS as a favorite of between 10.5 and 21 points since David Shaw took over as Cardinal head coach prior to the 2011 season. And while all six of the games Stanford has played as a favorite of between 10.5 and 21 points since the start of 2016 have gone under the total, 11 of the 12 games San Diego State has played over the first two weeks of the season since Rocky Long took over as the Aztecs head coach prior to the 2011 season have also gone under the total. There’s been a significant amount of sharp action on the under, which opened offshore as high as 53 in mid-August. It’s certainly not ideal to lay more than two scores to a team as capable defensively as San Diego State, but it’s a spread that a superior Stanford team should ultimately cover if it protects the ball and takes control of the game by getting out to an early lead.
Side Pick: Stanford -14.5
Confidence Level: Low (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)
Total Pick: Under 49.5
Confidence Level: High