Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The reigning Pac-12 champions are ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches preseason poll, one spot lower than Oregon.
This year, Stanford's offense is without running back Stepfan Taylor and center Sam Schwartzstein. Running back Tyler Gaffney returns after taking a year off to play baseball. There is also excitement over redshirt freshman running back Barry Sanders Jr., son of the legendary Oklahoma State and Detroit Lions running back.
Defensively, Stanford looks solid. Linebacker Chase Thomas, cornerback Terrence Brown and lineman Ben Gardner are gone, but everyone else is back. The defense should be the strength of the team.
Stanford's schedule is one of the 10 most difficult in the country. San Jose State, Notre Dame and at Army fill out the nonconference slate. Last year, Notre Dame beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime.
Big tests: Arizona State on September 21, Washington on October 5, Oregon on November 7, at USC on November 16 and Notre Dame on November 30
Arizona State, Oregon and USC are Stanford's biggest threats. Getting Arizona State and Oregon at home should tip the scales in favor of Stanford. Remember, last year Stanford beat Oregon on the road.
Notre Dame should be a revenge game for the Cardinal. Last year's game ended in controversy when Taylor appeared to have possession of the football as it broke the end zone's plane—the officials ruled otherwise.
USC is the key to Stanford winning the North. The Cardinals beat the Trojans 21-14 last year, but USC was without its starting center, Khaled Holmes. USC will end its four-year futility streak against Stanford at home if everyone is healthy.
Prediction: 11-1 regular season record. Stanford and Oregon will have identical records, but because Stanford will have beaten Oregon, Stanford will represent the North in the Pac-12 Championship.