Kansas State Wildcats at (8) Stanford Cardinal (-16, 47.5 o/u)
A Pac-12 contender with national title hopes will look to get 2016 started strong this Friday when the no. 8 Stanford Cardinal (12-2 SU, 10-4 ATS in 2015) host the Big 12’s Kansas State Wildcats (6-7 SU, 6-7 ATS) at Stanford Stadium (9:00 PM Eastern).
Led by Heisman almost-favorite Christian McCaffrey, the Cardinal are coming off a strong season that saw them win the Pac-12 North and the Pac-12 title game (41-22 over USC). They narrowly missed out on the College Football Playoff, but got some solace with a 45-16 domination over Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
McCaffrey set the NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards last season, breaking the mark set by the great Barry Sanders. The back piled up 3,864 total yards, including a school-record 2,109 on the ground. He really was Mr. Everything for the Cardinal offense, also hauling in a team-high 45 passes.
Both teams will start an inexperienced pivot in 2016. For Stanford, Ryan Burns gets the nod, but Keller Chryst will also get a chance (to hand the ball to McCaffrey). Said head coach David Shaw, “Ryan Burns will start and play a good chunk of the game … Keller Chryst will play as well. We’re going to play both guys and try to win a game. There hasn’t been a huge separation between the two. Both guys have played extremely well. Ryan has been enough ahead to get the nod.”
Burns is actually a senior, but has only attempted seven passes in his Stanford “career.” (Can you call it a career when you don’t get a dime?)
On defense, the Cardinal will feel the loss of linebacker Blake Martinez, who led the Pac-12 with 141 tackles last season. Shaw will lean heavily on defensive lineman Solomon Thomas to keep the front-seven fearsome against the run.
K-State’s front-seven is arguably the team’s best asset. It returns leading tackler Elijah Lee along with Charmeachealle Moore, who finished last season very strong. The unit will have a hard time containing McCaffrey, but all-conference safety Dante Barnett should be able to lend a hand, knowing that Stanford is going to be run-heavy.
On offense, the Wildcats will look to QB Jesse Ertz. He won the starting job last year but suffered a season-ending ACL tear on the first play of the season.
Head coach Bill Snyder managed to sneak his team into a bowl game in 2015 thanks to winning three straight to close the year. They were crushed 45-23 by Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl, though, putting a disappointing end to a thoroughly mediocre season that saw the Wildcats win just three conference games.
Like Stanford, K-State is going to be a run-first team. Snyder has a decent backfield stable that includes returnees Charles Jones, Dalvin Warmack, and Justin Silmon. The trio combined for over 1,500 rushing yards and 20 TDs last year.
Both teams are a little different this year than last – that’s just the nature of college football – but there are enough similarities to make some of the trends relevant. The Wildcats are just 1-4 ATS in their last 5 non-conference games and also 1-4 in their last five against the Pac-12 (though that one dates back pretty far). Stanford is a solid 9-3 in its last 12 as a favorite. The Cardinal are laying a decent 16 points, but I like McCaffrey to get his Heisman chase started with a bang and pile up the yards against a mediocre K-State defense. Take the Cardinal in a rout.
Pick: Stanford (-16).
Photo Credit: Brian Cantoni (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.