David Shaw's team tabbed third in the North but hosts Oregon, Washington
Editor's note: The eighth in a series of articles previewing Pac-12 Conference football teams in reverse order of how they were projected to finish in the preseason conference media poll.
K.J. Costello has watched the film of last year’s Oregon-Stanford game over and over.
The Cardinal comeback is completed every time.
Justin Herbert and the Ducks, who had a touchdown overturned that would have given them a 31-7 lead in the third quarter with a successful extra point, lost 38-31 in overtime after committing some costly turnovers and defensive gaffes.
Costello passed for 327 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner, a tipped pass tight end Colby Parkinson came down with, to stun the crowd at Autzen Stadium.
“I remember getting a text message from a family friend saying, ‘Hey, did you know with seven minutes and 40 seconds left, the Google algorithm said you had a 99.9% chance of losing?’” Costello recalled at the Pac-12 media day event in Los Angeles. “It was pretty incredible to see our sideline. Everybody was bought in to the fact that we were going to win. I don’t think there was any doubt in overtime we were going to come out on top.”
The victory was the high point of the season for Stanford, which was 4-0 and ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll before losing four of its next five games.
After finishing 9-4 overall and 6-3 in Pac-12 play during the unsteady, injury-plagued 2018 campaign, the Cardinal is picked to finish third in the North Division in the preseason Pac-12 media poll.
Favorite Oregon (Sept. 21) and defending champion Washington (Oct. 5) both visit Stanford Stadium this fall.
“It’s definitely a little bit of an advantage for us, but we’re willing to adapt on the road. We were able to make it happen out at Oregon,” Costello said. “I’d love to make another run at Washington, but it’s nice we get them back at our place this year.”
Costello joined Herbert as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy this summer. Stanford coach David Shaw expects his 6-foot-5, 215-pound redshirt junior to enter the NFL draft after the season.
The Cardinal, which only returns three starters on offense, will put a lot on Costello’s shoulder pads after he led the Pac-12 in passer rating (154.97) last season by completing 65.1% of his passes for 3,540 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
“The ceiling for K.J. is very high,” Shaw said. “I think last year he played at a high level. In spurts, he looked as good as anybody in America playing quarterback. Now it’s about taking that next step, and not just about making more great plays but making fewer bad plays and really fine-tuning his efforts every single week to be consistently great.
“Not great sometimes and good sometimes, but consistently great.”
Parkinson is a preseason all-Pac-12 first team selection. The 6-7, 240-pound target should be in for a productive season with the graduation of wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who led the Pac-12 with 14 touchdown receptions.
Osiris St. Brown, Michael Wilson and Connor Wedington are the next receivers up.
“Nobody is going to replace what JJ did,” Costello said. “We’ve been lucky at Stanford to have guys that have had that individual success, but I think we have a lot of guys who have the potential that could have just as much an affect on the game.”
The offense was supposed to be led by Bryce Love last season, but the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up was derailed by a knee injury.
Stanford finished last in the Pac-12 and 123rd nationally in rushing (107.9 ypg).
Senior Cameron Scarlett (330 yards, eight touchdowns) and junior Trevor Speights (220 yards) will try to balance the offense behind a transitioning offensive line that loses four starters but features projected first-round NFL pick Walker Little.
“There's a reason why when you walk into our locker room, the first two things you see — on the left is a picture of the offensive line, on the right is a picture of the (defensive) front seven,” Shaw said. “Our guys know this is where football begins and this is where we need to be here.
“We want to win conference championships and go to a playoff and win a national championship. It has to start there, physically, mentally, emotionally. That's where football begins.”
Stanford’s defense returns only five starters but outside linebackers Casey Toohill and Gabe Reid and defensive ends Jovan Swann and Michael Williams are experienced players.
All-Pac-12 fist team cornerback Paulson Adebo (20 pass breakups, four interceptions) leads a secondary that was picked on last year.
Herbert was 26-for-33 passing for 346 yards and a touchdown in last year’s meeting before his interception in overtime ended the game.
“I think the Pac-12 North is going to be as solid as ever,” Toohill said. “I’m excited to play against those teams.”
Before the rematch with Oregon, the Cardinal will have already played Northwestern at home and back-to-back road games at USC and UCF.
Stanford, which opened and closed last season with four-game winning streaks, has tricky road games at Colorado and Washington State and home games against rivals California and Notre Dame in November.
“Our guys have had a great summer, and now we’re headed towards a great training camp to prepare ourselves for a very difficult schedule and a challenge that I believe we’ll be up to,” Shaw said.
Coach: David Shaw, ninth year (82-26 at Stanford)
Key players: QB K.J. Costello, TE Colby Parkinson, OT Walker Little, DE Jovan Swann, CB Paulson Adebo, PK Jet Toner
2018 record: 9-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12
2019 projection: The Cardinal is picked to finish third in the North Division in the Pac-12 preseason media poll
Nonconference opponents: Northwestern, UCF, Notre Dame
Plays Oregon: Sept. 21 in Stanford, Calif.
Full schedule: Aug. 31 vs. Northwestern, Sept. 7 at USC, Sept. 14 at UCF, Sept. 21 vs. Oregon, Sept. 28 at Oregon State, Oct. 5 vs. Washington, Oct. 17 vs. UCLA, Oct. 26 vs. Arizona, Nov. 9 at Colorado, Nov. 16 at Washington State, Nov. 23 vs. California, Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame
Friday’s preview: USC