Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas have moved onto the next level, but No. 14 Stanford is hardly rebuilding. The Cardinal appear to have all the pieces in place to make another run at the Pac-12 title as they face non-conference foe Rice on Saturday in the season opener for both teams at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia.
Stanford beat Rice 41-17 in its regular-season finale last season as McCaffrey gained 271 all-purpose yards and reserve running back Bryce Love contributed 111 yards on seven carries. With McCaffrey off to the Carolina Panthers, the 5-10, 196-pound Love is primed for a breakout junior season alongside senior quarterback Keller Chryst, who injured his knee during Stanford’s win over North Carolina in the Sun Bowl but was pain-free during fall camp. Picked to finish second in the Pac-12 North in the preseason media poll, the Cardinal boast a veteran offensive line and a secondary that could rank among the best in the country. The defensive line needs to replace Thomas but has a favorable matchup in the opener against a Rice team that won three games last season and will be starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in Sam Glaesmann.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Stanford -30.5
ABOUT STANFORD (2016: 10-3): While Chryst has a solid group of receivers in JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin and tight end Dalton Schultz, Love is expected to receive the bulk of the workload after averaging 7.05 yards per carry last season. “Every time Bryce has touched the ball for last two years there is a collective pause that happens on our sideline and the other sideline, and there is a gasp that you can actually hear that anticipation because he is so explosive,” coach David Shaw told reporters. The stellar secondary is led by cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder and safety Justin Reid, while defensive tackle Harrison Phillips is looking to build on a strong junior season (6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss).
ABOUT RICE (2016: 3-9): The Owls allowed 37.3 points per game last season and were picked to finish fifth in Conference USA’s West Division but have a veteran offensive line that returns four three-year starters. Glaesmann is surrounded by a group of inexperienced receivers and figures to rely heavily on junior running back Sam Stewart, who had six touchdowns last season despite missing nearly seven games due to a knee injury. The defense struggled mightily last season but returns senior linebacker Emanuel Ellerbee, the C-USA preseason defensive player of the year who led the Owls with 10.7 tackles per game as a junior.
1. Stanford is 5-1 in season openers under Shaw, with the lone loss coming at Northwestern in 2015.
2. Rice starting sophomore CB D’Angelo Ellis is expected to miss the season with a broken wrist.
3. The Cardinal did not commit a turnover in the last four games in 2016, matching the program’s longest streak set in 2005.
PREDICTION: Stanford 41, Rice 16