Dr. Saturday's 2017 Top 25 Countdown: No. 13 Stanford

Dr. Saturday
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/257525/" data-ylk="slk:Bryce Love">Bryce Love</a> averaged over 7 yards a carry in 2016. (Getty)
Bryce Love averaged over 7 yards a carry in 2016. (Getty)

August is here and that means college football season is starting soon. The first games of the 2017 season kick off Aug. 26. And as it quickly approaches, we have 25 days to preview each of the 25 teams in our updated Dr. Saturday 2017 preseason poll. Check here every day to find out who we think the 25 best teams in the country will be. Fair warning, however. We’re probably going to be wrong.

Previous entries: No. 14, Louisville, No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 16 GeorgiaNo. 17 FloridaNo. 18 South Florida, No. 19 Kansas State, No. 20 TexasNo. 21 Miami, No. 22 Notre DameNo. 23 NorthwesternNo. 24 Washington StateNo. 25 North Carolina


2016 record: 10-3
Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense

Biggest non-conference game: Nov. 25 vs. Notre Dame
Biggest conference game: Nov. 10 vs. Washington

Key returning player: RB Bryce Love
Key departed player: RB Christian McCaffrey

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Three things to know about Stanford

• The Cardinal aren’t going to miss Christian McCaffrey as much as you think they will.

Yeah, McCaffrey is a pretty irreplaceable player. The star running back was the team’s leading rusher a year ago despite battling injuries and returned kicks and punts. Oh, and he added 37 receptions in the pass game. It’s a lot of production that Stanford has to find.

We’re confident that it will. Let’s start with the run game, where Bryce Love is set to be the next star Stanford running back. Love was one of the most productive backs in college football a year ago, averaging over seven yards a carry and tallying 783 rushing yards. But with three touchdowns and the shadow of McCaffrey looming large, it was easy to overlook Love.

It won’t be nearly as easy any longer. The Stanford offensive line returns four starters — at every position but center — and Love could challenge for 2,000 rushing yards. Seriously. He could be that good, and he could also replace McCaffrey in more aspects than just the run game.

“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,” Stanford coach David Shaw said during Pac-12 media days. “He averages seven yards a carry for his career. So many long touchdowns, so many explosive plays.

“He’ll have an opportunity in the return game as well. Catching the ball, running the ball outside, running the ball between the tackles. Because he’s not just a scatback, he’s a running back.”

Stanford plays Rice in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 26. With just five college football games that day, spend your evening getting yourself familiarized with Love and his talents.

• The Stanford offense got back to its previous heights when Keller Chryst replaced Ryan Burns at quarterback.

Burns began the season as the team’s starter and completed over 60 percent of his passes. But Chryst took over as a young offensive line continued its improvement throughout the season and threw 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Both quarterbacks return in 2017 and Chryst has spent his offseason rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered in the Sun Bowl. But he returned to practice at the beginning of August and will open the season as Stanford’s starter.

Burns could have a challenger for the No. 2 spot too. Former five-star recruit KJ Costello spent the 2016 season as a redshirt. Don’t be surprised if he gets a little playing time at some point this season.

Assuming a healthy quarterback and a very good offensive line, the receiving production will also go up amongst Stanford’s receiving corps. Leading receiver Trent Irwin (37 catches, 442 yards) is back and Shaw pegged him as a breakout candidate this summer.

“I think Trent’s going to have a breakout year,” Shaw said. “I think he’s ready. The combination of him, the receiver production is a function of the quarterback and the offensive line. If we stabilize those two positions. Trenton is one of the best route runners in the nation. I’ll put my stamp on that right now. I’m excited to see him have more opportunities to effect games this year.”

• Stanford’s defense needs to replace first-round pick defensive end Solomon Thomas, the team’s leading tackler (62) and sacker (8) a year ago. Gone also is safety Dallas Lloyd, who had 61 tackles.

After that, pretty much everyone else is back from a defense that gave up 20 points a game and 5.4 yards a play a year ago.

Lloyd is the only starter that needs to be replaced in the secondary and all four starting linebackers return. So does defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who had 6.5 sacks as the DT in a 3-4 alignment. Shaw said Phillips “has a chance to be one of the better players in our conference and around the nation.”

“Really good group of linebackers inside and outside with speed, athleticism, length and experience,” Shaw said.

“Defensive backfield, I’m excited about that position as any position we have on our team. We think these guys have a chance to be one of the better units in America.”

The defense is going to be tested early and often. Stanford has one of the toughest schedules in the country and it really gets going in game No. 2. After a bye week following the Rice game, Stanford travels to USC.

The Cardinal also draws UCLA and Utah out of the Pac-12 South. This was the year to get both Arizona schools, but Oregon and Oregon State draw that honor. The bright side is the toughest Pac-12 North road game is a trip to Washington State on Nov. 4. Both Oregon and Washington visit Palo Alto.

That latter game could be a de facto Pac-12 North title game and Stanford better hope it fares a hell of a lot better against the Huskies than it did a year ago.

For more Stanford news, visit CardinalSportsReport.com. 

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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