Stanford is one of the most stable football programs in the country. As for that consistency, the 14th-ranked Cardinal will try to start the 2017 regular season the same way it ended the 2016 regular season: by beating Rice.
Stanford had an easy time on Nov. 26, beating the visiting Owls 41-17 and then going on to beat North Carolina in the Sun Bowl to finish 10-3, its fifth season of double-digit victories in coach David Shaw’s six years as head coach. Rice ended 3-9.
The teams will meet again Saturday, this time in Sydney, Australia, in a game that will begin at 10 p.m. ET.
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“This is like a bowl game for us,” Shaw said. “There’s an incredible amount of planning goes into it.”
Shaw commended his team for making the most of its shorter preparation time in July and August. He specifically lauded his team for its energy and focus during an intra-squad scrimmage in front of fans on August 13.
“That’s what I was commending them on,” Shaw said. “I was really nervous about being able to have the kind of training camp we need to prepare for the real grind, because the season is hard. … With fewer practices, our guys went out there, fought and scrapped.”
While running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas were both top 10 picks in the NFL Draft, Shaw said earlier in the offseason that this team could be even better. It helps that McCaffrey’s understudy the past two years, junior Bryce Love, has solid experience and has averaged 7.2 yards per carry.
Love made the most of his touches last season against Rice, rushing seven times for 111 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown. Stanford had a 534 to 291 edge in total yards.
“We’ll be a different football team,” Rice coach David Bailiff said in the Houston Chronicle. “We’re a healthy football team and we played a lot of young ones last year, so I think we’ll be a lot better this season.”
Replicating Thomas’ impact with one star individual is improbable, but veteran leaders like linebackers Peter Kalambayi and Joey Alfieri, cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, and safety Jason Reid help the continuity and prowess of the defense. Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips, who had 10 tackles for loss last season, including seven sacks, is strong up front.
Stanford ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing 20.4 points per game.
Both teams have intrigue at quarterback.
Rice is turning to redshirt freshman Sam Glaesmann to replace graduated starter Tyler Stehling. Glaesmann won a three-way battle against redshirt sophomores Jackson Tyner and J.T. Granato in camp. Granato later announced he would transfer.
Stanford has junior Keller Chryst, who went 6-0 as a starter last season, although he suffered an ACL team in the bowl game. Shaw was pleased with the way Chryst has looked driving off that leg in camp, but it remains to be seen just how Chryst will look early in the season moving in and out of the pocket.
Chryst showed his wheels last season with a 62-yard touchdown run against the Owls.
Stanford has its usual stout offensive line, so all signs point to a momentous game on the ground for the Cardinal. Last season, Stanford posted 373 rushing yards on 43 carries against the Owls — that’s a clip of more than 8 yards per carry — with three touchdowns.
Rice has good depth at running back, led by Sam Stewart, who had a team-high 479 yards in eight games last season.
Bailiff, entering his 11th season at the school, has seen his win total decrease every season since going 10-4 in 2013. He figures playing Stanford will be a good test before his team jumps into league play at UTEP on Sept. 9.
“Stanford’s an elite football team,” Bailiff said in the Chronicle.
“We knew that when we put them on the schedule, and at the same time, I think it’s one where you want to start with an elite football team because it shows us where we’re strong at and what we’re strong at and what we need to work at. Strong football teams expose weaknesses and we’re going to need to get them corrected.”