This ongoing series examines Notre Dame’s 2014 opponents as they stand after the spring. We’re going down Notre Dame’s schedule, so next up: The Stanford Cardinal.
Date: 3:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Series history: Notre Dame leads, 18-10.
Last meeting: 2013 — Stanford won, 27-20.
2013 common opponents: Arizona State (Notre Dame won, 37-34; Stanford won, 42-28); USC (Notre Dame won, 14-10; Stanford lost, 20-17); Michigan State (Notre Dame won, 17-13; Stanford lost, 24-20).
2013 in a nutshell
Stanford is coming off its fourth straight 11-win season with victories over Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State (twice). The Cardinal stumbled in a 20-17 loss to USC at the Coliseum, but then punished Cal in a 50-point win the following week, beat Notre Dame the week after and finished the regular season with a 38-14 dusting of Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship. Stanford fell to one-loss Michigan State (and that one loss was Notre Dame) in the Rose Bowl, 24-20.
Previous pre-season previews:
Players/positions to watch
- Wide receivers: Quarterback Kevin Hogan returns for his third year as a starter with his top three deep threats from last season. Future first round pick Ty Montgomery returns as Hogan’s top target after a 61-catch, 958-yard and 10-touchdown junior season. As impressive as Montgomery’s 15.7 yards per catch average looks, it doesn’t hold a candle to Devon Cajuste (22.9 yards/catch) and the speedy Michael Rector (30.8 yards/catch). Rector and Cajuste only combined for 42 catches on Stanford’s run-heavy 2013 offense, but the receivers will cause headaches for the Notre Dame secondary.
- Cornerbacks: Stanford touts one of college football’s strongest cornerback duos in Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter, who combined for 5.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, 10 pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 2013. They’ll be coached by new defensive backs coach, Duane Akina, who Stanford swiped from Texas. Akina’s resumé includes two Thorpe winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs in his 13 years with the Longhorns. Throw safety Jordan Richards (Three interceptions, one forced fumble, four tackles for loss in 2013) into the mix, and this is not a secondary Notre Dame wants to throw on.
- Running back/offensive line: At first glance, Stanford’s run game situation looks dire with the loss of running back Tyler Gaffney (329 carries, 1,700 yards, 21 touchdowns in 2013) and an offensive line that featured unanimous All-American left guard David Yankey, center Khalil Wilkes, right guard Kevin Danser and right tackle Cameron Fleming. It will be interesting to see how running backs Remound Wright, Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders Jr. (son of the NFL legend) develop this season. The trio combined for less than 40 carries last season, but they each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
As for the offensive line, it’s time for Stanford’s highly-touted 2012 class to shine. That class included three of the top eight offensive line prospects in the country at the time — tackle Andrus Peat, tackle Kyle Murphy and guard Joshua Garnett. Despite the holes Gaffney and Yankey left behind, expect Stanford’s run game to be even stronger this season.
Notre Dame has the advantage in this series, but Stanford has won four of the last five meetings. It will be interesting to watch Stanford’s first few games play out. The Cardinal has shaped its identity around a run-heavy offense and a smash mouth defense. This season, wide receivers and defensive backs appear to be Stanford’s strength.
Stanford’s schedule is as brutal as Notre Dame’s — with road games against the Irish, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Oregon — and it will be a formidable test for the most David Shaw-influenced team Stanford has produced.
A more educated prediction will be shaped by how Notre Dame plays against Michigan and how Stanford fares against USC and Washington, but I think Stanford squeaks by and hands the Irish their first loss of the year.