What’s this? A Q&A? Must be about time for football, huh? Joining us today is Jack Blanchat, co-manager of the SB Nation Stanford site Rule of Tree, who provides us much-needed intel on those strange birdtreethings out west.
Jon: As you may recall, there was some, umm, controversy with our band a year ago this weekend. How aware is the Stanford Band of this, and will our fanbase need to turn their collective sense of humor up to, like, 14 at halftime?
Jack: I feel pretty good that the Stanford band knows all about Kansas State's tribute to Star Trek, and I kind of expect the band to reference it in their halftime show. It's important to know that the Stanford band exists to irritate and annoy people - I've overhead fans of the opposing team complain about the Stanford band at every single bowl game I've been to - so an expanded sense of humor is always a good idea.
Jon: Rick Neuheisel created a small firestorm with his comments about UCLA's income from the Pac 12 Network, suggesting they might be a legitimate Big 12 target. Obviously, that was poppycock... but it does raise the question. Is there dissent out there regarding the conference's revenue stream? And perhaps more importantly, does the Pac 12 tradition make it sort of a moot point in the "we don't really care" sense?
Jack: I don't know if there is widespread dissent about everything the Pac-12 is doing, but I can say for a fact that the Pac-12 Network has been an unequivocal flop. Four years ago, the conference leadership promised us that a deal with DirecTV was almost done, and instead it's just harder for people to watch the games now. The continued, obvious mismanagement of the conference's media rights is really irritating, especially when you know you're competing for exposure with Heisman voters, which has rankled Stanford fans in particular over the last 8 years.
But I think ultimately any talk of teams leaving the Pac-12, particularly UCLA, is just silly saber rattling. The original 8 members of the Pac-12 (particularly the four California schools, who are in a special category all their own because they have a contractual guarantee to all play each other in football every single year) stand to lose too much with their fans to ever really consider leaving the conference.
Jon: Stanford. How on earth does a school with such stringent academic requirements win ninety NCAA championships every year? Sorcery? Bribery? Silicon Valley technical genius?
Jack: The biggest part of Stanford's widespread athletic success is money - we have 36 varsity sports, all of which have terrific facilities and coaches, and that takes a big bankroll to manage. Thankfully for the athletic department, Silicon Valley is swimming in dollar bills, and that has helped Stanford invest in the resources it needs to be nationally competitive at so many sports. (So that's how Stanford athletes accounted for 27 medals at the Olympic games in Rio, the most of any university worldwide.)
Jon: David Shaw is obviously a completely cromulent head coach. What's his mindset? What sort of schemes does he lean on regularly?
Jack: Shaw calls all the offensive plays for Stanford, and he's generally a pretty conservative guy on the field with just a little flair in his play-calling. Stanford has traditionally run a pretty conventional power run game with a West Coast passing game, but they've quietly incorporated some more spread passing concepts and zone running schemes as their personnel has changed over the years.
Jon: While it's certainly plausible that Christian McCaffrey can just gain 500 yards and score 30 points all by himself, what's up with the rest of the Stanford offense? What do the Cardinal run, and who else should we keep an eye on?
Jack: The biggest story is Stanford's new starting quarterback for the first time in four years, Ryan Burns. Burns was the third string QB on the depth chart last season, but beat out highly touted recruit Keller Chryst to win the starting job. As I mentioned in my last answer, Stanford has a big playbook with a lot of variations, and I've heard that Burns' mastery of the playbook helped him win the starting job. Also, I think his on-field chemistry with wideout Trent Irwin (a 5-star recruit two years ago) helped him gain the nod as well. Look for those two to hook up through the air.
Jon: What about the defense? What should we expect to see, and who are the playmakers?
Jack: Stanford has run a 3-4 defense for about 6 years now, and this year the strengths of the defense are the defensive backs and superstar D-lineman Solomon Thomas. Thomas was named to the preseason All-Pac-12 first team, and he should be a decent candidate for defensive player of the year if he's able to build on his 3.5 sack, 10.5 TFL season from last year. There are some pretty new faces among the front seven though, so there might be some room to run for K-State in this one.
Jon: Any dining/tourist suggestions for our fans heading to Palo Alto?
Jack: The Bay Area on the whole has some fantastic tourist spots - the Golden Gate Bridge and Muir Woods are fun sights - so if you're coming into town for the weekend, try and check out San Francisco at some point. Palo Alto is a little less all that compelling unless you want to see the Google or Facebook campuses, but Stanford's campus is pretty cool (there's even a great art museum on campus) and might be worth setting aside some time to take a walk around before the game. And I think if you're coming to the Bay, you have to get a California burrito or some tacos.
Jon: Finally, as always... who ya got, and by how much?
Jack: I think Stanford takes this one by two touchdowns or so... let's say 28-14. I think McCaffrey is gonna be tuned up to put on a show, and after last season's game one loss to a team of purple Wildcats, I think Stanford will be well prepared for week one and ready to go.
Our thanks to Jack for taking the time to drop some knowledge. Be sure to check Rule of Tree for my responses to his questions, and check out all their other pre-game coverage for even more great information.