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2021 Stanford college football preview: Cardinal enter with identity crisis, limited expectations

Stanford football is undergoing a bit of an identity crisis of a program, and the Cardinal’s goal should be a bowl game in 2021.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford Cardinal played half of a normal college football regular season in 2020 and finished with a 4-2 record. Plenty of players across the country are taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility, but Stanford will replace a ton of talent at key positions especially on offense heading into 2021.

This program fell off to a four-win team in 2019, and it’s impossible to know what mattered in the 2020 version of the Pac-12. As we get closer to the first kickoff of the season, it’s not too clear what the identity is of the Stanford program. But for 2021 the Cardinal have very low expectations, and a .500 record with a bowl game would likely be considered a success for this group.

2020 Season Review

  • 4-2 (2nd in Pac-12 North)
  • Lost first two games, won the final four to end the season

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 41
ESPN Returning Production: 55% overall (111st): 45% offense (122nd), 65% defense (81st)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 12th in Pac-12
Returning starters: 6/11 offense, 8/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Jack West (Senior)

The quarterback battle between Jack West and Tanner McKee has not been settled prior to the start of fall camp. We’ll give the early edge to West, but neither options have a ton of college football experience. Over the last three years, West has 56 pass attempts, and McKee threw seven passes last season as a freshman. The Cardinal lost some very talented pass catchers, and we’ll see who can step up to help whoever lines up at quarterback.

Offense (non-QB): RB Austin Jones (Junior)

Austin Jones and the Stanford rushing attack should be a strength of this offense in 2021. In just six games last year, he rushed for 550 yards with nine touchdowns. He also made a difference as a pass catcher with 21 receptions for 156 yards. His backup Nathaniel Peat rushed for seven yards per carry, so the running game should be set up for success once again if the passing game can keep defenses honest.

Defense: DE Thomas Booker (Senior)

Stanford’s defense was an issue last season, especially at stopping the run. The Cardinal will bring back Thomas Booker, who was a second team all-conference selection last season. He finished with 21 tackles including three for loss with one sack with two passes defended and a fumble recovery in six games. Stanford probably isn’t going to be very good on defense, but Booker will not be the issue.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 60th overall: 31st offense, 93rd defense, 53rd special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 68th overall: 46th offense, 87th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +75000
To win Pac-12: +3000
Win total: 4 (Over -113, Under -113)

2020 Against The Spread: 3-2-1
2020 Point Total: Over 3-2-1

2021 Stanford Schedule

2021 Stanford Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Kansas State at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX 12:00pm/FS1 SU +2/52.5
Saturday, Sep. 11 at USC 10:30pm/Fox SU +14.5
Saturday, Sep. 18 at Vanderbilt 8:00pm/ESPNU N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 UCLA TBA SU +6.5
Saturday, Oct. 2 Oregon TBA N/A
Friday, Oct. 8 at Arizona State 10:30pm/ESPN N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Washington State TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 Washington TBA N/A
Friday, Nov. 5 Utah 10:30pm/FS1 N/A
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Oregon State TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 California TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 27 Notre Dame TBA SU +10