For most of its existence, the Stanford football program has been primarily a mediocre one for College Football odds fans. However, for the past several years, it has moved into more of a power role in the Pac-12. This transition became official when Andrew Luck led the Cardinal to an upset of then-#8 Oregon by throwing for 251 yards and two scores in a 51-42 win.
Our Expert NCAA Football Odds Report: Stanford Looks to Return to Running the Football
— Stanford Athletics (@GoStanford) August 25, 2015
As impressive as Luck was that day, though, it was Toby Gerhart who was the real story. He set a Stanford record that day by running for 223 yards. As terrific as Luck would turn out to be, Gerhart’s day established the Cardinal’s offense as one that is predicated on the run. Stanford would beat #9 USC the next week, and Stanford would rush for 325 yards as a team. While the team would fall the next week, the definition of Stanford football was now clear.
The last time Stanford knocked off Oregon came in 2013, when Tyler Gaffney led the Cardinal to a combined rushing day of 274 yards. The ability of Stanford to keep the ball on the ground kept the Oregon offense off the field, keeping them from mounting a fourth quarter comeback. At the time, Stanford was in national championship contention after beating the Ducks, although their loss to USC the next week meant they would only have a Pac-12 championship to celebrate that year.
There Was A Time Where Stanford Was Running Great, Then Not Anymore
In between 2009 and 2013, Stanford football was at its best ever: four straight finishes in the AP poll top 15 at the end of the season, and consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl. The engine: A running game that was almost always at or near the top of the conference in terms of yards per game. In 2014, though, Stanford stopped focusing on the run as much, averaging just 158.8 yards per game. This was the lowest rushing performance by the team since Jim Harbaugh’s first year on campus (2007). Remound Wright was the featured back, but he lacked the ability to break off explosive runs, keeping him from frightening opposing defenses. Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young, the other Cardinal backs, weren’t any better. Having no real tailback caused the Cardinal offense to flicker a bit. Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan no longer had a legitimate play-action threat to freeze defenses.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB Savior?
Enter Christian McCaffrey, a true freshman who would average 7.1 yards per carry in limited action last season. The son of NFL great Ed McCaffrey and former Stanford soccer player Lisa McCaffrey, this sophomore has an elusive running style that will help him excel in the kick return game as well as the backfield. While Stanford is also exploring using McCaffrey as a Wildcat quarterback, he also can be the catalyst of a revitalized Stanford running game. If the Cardinal can build a running dimension, their passing game will improve as well because defenses won’t be able to pin their ears back and focus on nailing the quarterback.
Rumor out of Stanford is that McCaffrey is stronger, bigger and more effective in pass protection as well. This means that Stanford should represent more of a threat in the Pac-12 than they did last season.