The team had a very solid rebound in week two; the defense, in particular, looked nice. If the biggest question mark entering the season was the defensive backs and in particular the safeties, this game displayed the upside of the group—the safeties had three picks and the corners made basically every tackle on those annoying, continual extended handoff/throws that Duke brought.
The offense is, as expected, a work in progress, but it’s hard not to be pleased with an effort that sees the team average seven yards per play. Yet there’s still that laundry list of things to improve: run blocking; red zone touchdowns; Nunes’ experience: placement, accuracy, dealing with all-out blitzes, and so on.
That laundry lists adds up to a team that should be much better in the second half of the season than the first; it’s really too bad USC arrives next week rather than later. With that:
Week One: Win vs. SJSU
Week Two: Win vs. Duke
Week Three: vs. USC, 25 percent (+10 percent). USC lost its top two centers this week versus Syracuse, which is bad against a Stanford defense that will surely bring its emotional A-game. The number of flights USC will have to deal with—back from Syracuse, then up to the Bay Area—is probably also not exactly preferable for them. Those things augur well, as well as does USC’s mediocre play on defense. I suspect if Stanford plays its perfect game, it can beat USC, but I’m not sure it’s ready to play that game yet. (NOTE: Opening lines for the game are -6.5 and -8.5. I would guess this means bookies are considerably more optimistic about the game than I.)
Week Four: @ UW 70 percent (+10 percent). It’s not so much getting clubbed by LSU that lowers the raise in rating. It’s that LSU clubbed them in the running game, which will surely be good for a Stanford team with two more weeks of jelling. It’s also that UW lost yet another offensive lineman, with Erik Kohler fracturing his kneecap and being out for two to four weeks. UW’s biggest question before the season was whether its offensive line would allow its skill position players to shine. It appears the answer is no. And having a weak offensive line is exactly the wrong weakness to present to a relentless Stanford front seven.
Week Five: vs. Arizona 75 percent (-15 percent): Arizona’s upset of Oklahoma State may show I underestimated the immediate effects of Rich Rodriguez with. The defense still looks a bit weak, and perhaps vulnerable to a power rushing attack rather than OK State’s spread attack, but it doesn’t appear to be an easy out. Of course, it may be that OK State was overrated all along. I suspect this rating is quite volatile.
Week Six: @ Notre Dame: 60 percent (+20 percent): This week, Notre Dame posted weak effort versus Purdue. That might be excusable, but Brian Kelly is the kind of coach who never gets things just wrong—he gets it insanely wrong. I am, of course, referring to his substitution of Tommy Rees for Everett Golson when the latter was playing darn well. Even if Golson is good, I have confidence Kelly will screw it up. The substitute worked, sure. But process is more important than a single result. Given what we know about Rees, it’s insane to put Rees in at quarterback, unless some sort of depraved anti-quarterback serial killer has gotten everyone else. Notre Dame’s offensive line looks very weak, not much stronger than it was last year—and last year’s edition looked like throwing early Christians to the lions…except without the martyrdom aspect. The Domers’ secondary also looks weak, and I think Nunes is strong enough now to exploit it. If he gets better throughout the season, it could get ugly aerially for the Irish. Counterbalancing this is the possibility that jetlag was involved.
Week Seven: @ Cal 75 percent (+5 percent): apparently Cal was often less than convincing against Southern Utah, which doesn’t affect the change here much. The change here mostly reflects Stanford’s week-to-week improvement.
Week Eight: vs. Washington State 82 percent (+2 percent): Yeah, this is a bit arbitrary a number. Wazzou struggled a bit with Eastern Washington, a FCS team, only beating them 24-20. And yet, I feel Leach will have the team at a high level of performance by the time the two teams tangle, so I didn’t want to go all the way to raising Stanford’s chances for victory a full 5 percent.
Week Nine: @ Colorado: 95 percent (+5 percent): Lost to Sacramento State. I don’t need to elaborate.
Week Ten: vs Oregon State: 55 percent (-10 percent): Beating Wisconsin was a very good effort; their defense was really good and impressive. Mike Riley is a really good coach and the rap against him was that his teams started slow. Well, not so here.
Week Eleven: @ Oregon: 10 percent (+5 percent): again, mostly due to improved Stanford performance this week.
Week Twelve: @ UCLA: 55 percent (-10 percent): they’re the real deal on offense, and will be so as long as Brett Hundley deigns to stay in college. The defense has looked incredibly weak in the first half of games, and has asphyxiated offenses in the second half. Against Rice, this would seem to be because they knocked out Rice’s QB at the end of the first half. No such reasoning applies to Nebraska. While Nebraska’s offense isn’t elite, it’s serviceable. So this is a bit of a mystery. We’ll see how things evolve over the course of the season. UCLA’s special teams look like a huge liability.
Expected wins: 8.02 wins (delta: +.35 wins)