No doubt the scheduling quirk that led to playing Stanford on the road to open the 2016 season was well out of head coach Bill Snyder’s comfort zone. Regardless, Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats take the field Friday night on the West Coast, and figure to have their hands full against the defending PAC-12 champions.
Stanford had plenty reason to be considered CFB Playoff eligible last season, but it was their hiccup in week one to Northwestern that kept them out. Could the Cardinal fall to a purple clad Wildcat in week one for a second year in a row? Sure, lightning could strike twice, but looking at the forecast, it would seem highly unlikely.
Primary Threat – The entire country is probably aware of whom to look out for here. The 2015 Heisman trophy runner-up and son of former NFL Pro-Bowl WR, Christian McCaffrey has a few windows to shut further in his Junior campaign, to put both himself and his teammates on top of the college football world. McCaffrey’s talent is so evident that it propelled Barry Sanders Jr. to finish up credits early so he could transfer to Stillwater to get a chance at being an every down carrier. It was that or the fact that McCaffrey broke the NCAA single-season all-purpose yardage record previously held by Sanders-senior. Most of those yards came from his school record-setting year for rushing, in which 2019 yards led to eight touchdowns. He also caught a healthy 645 yards too, which led all players receiving. Though Monday netted the news that back-up running back Bryce Love (in addition to the departure of Sanders Jr.) is likely unavailable Friday to relieve McCaffrey now and then, expect Christian to get his yards.
Also keep an eye out for sophomore tight end Dalton Schultz to be that safety blanket target for the first time starting six-foot-five, 233-pound junior quarterback Ryan Burns. Despite senior wideout Michael Rector was second on the team in receptions behind McCaffrey last year, Burns is more likely to look for the size mismatch and replacement role for the first team all PAC-12 Austin Hooper. Head Coach David Shaw said Shultz had an undisclosed injury through fall camp, but expects to him play Friday.
Primary Threat – Depth at linebacker reasons to be on the way to greatness. Production dropped significantly in 2015 in terms of tackles for loss from this bunch, but the group was extremely young last year. Of the 9 linebackers returning with playing time from 2015, seven are sophomores or juniors. One of the two seniors at this position, Noor Davis was announced to be of starter material Monday though a rotation is expected.
Also keep an eye out for sophomore nickelback Quenton Meeks and his ball-hawking. As a freshman Meeks stole three passes from opposing quarterbacks and found a way to break up four more. For as many “similar styles of play” comparisons that have been made on offense, Stanford like the Wildcats have shown a commitment to the nickel.
Primary Threat – For the same reasons Christian McCaffrey was considered the primary threat on offense, it is clear that the explosiveness follows him wherever he goes. Even though he only returned one punt and one kickoff for a touchdown, proliferation in terms of yards combined for four digits.
Also keep an eye out for senior kicker Conrad Ukropina, and his near perfect record of 67 for 67 on point after attempts and 18 for 20 on field goal tries. There is no way to discredit what that means for a team over the course of the season.