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Football Opponent Primer: Stanford Cardinal

Might be a rebuilding year

NCAA Football: Stanford at UCLA Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

ASU’s 2021 Schedule

Sep. 2: vs. Southern Utah (Thu.)

Sep. 11: vs. UNLV

Sep. 18: @ BYU

Sep. 25: vs. Colorado

Oct. 2: @ UCLA

Oct. 8: vs. Stanford (Fri.)

Oct. 16: @ Utah

Oct. 30: vs. Washington State

Nov. 6: vs. USC

Nov. 13: @ Washington

Nov. 20: @ Oregon State

Nov. 27: vs. Arizona

The David Shaw era at Stanford is entering its 11th year. During his decade at the helm, the Cardinal have ascended to the highs of Pac-12 titles and Rose Bowl berths, and dipped to the depths of sub .500 seasons.

Recently, it’s been more of the latter. In 2019, a 4-8 finish kept Stanford out of a bowl game for the first time under Shaw. After taking a small step forward with a 4-2 finish in the bizarre 2020 shortened season, The Cardinal are looking to contend in the North with a lot of new faces. When they come to Tempe for a Friday night showdown on October 8th, we’ll know whether or not they have what it takes to compete with the best in the conference.


Three-year starter Davis Mills was drafted this past spring, Shaw will employ a new signal caller this season for the first time since 2018. In the early stages of camp, a battle between two QB candidates has been narrowed to two leaders. Shaw has indicated that senior Jack West and sophomore Tanner McKee are both in contention for the starting job.

McKee and West both saw snaps in last year’s loss to Oregon with Mills unavailable. West saw the lion’s share, going 13-19 for 159 yards in the air. McKee took over for West during the Oregon game, tossing three completions in seven tries for 62 yards. While West is the more experienced quarterback, the two are similar in age. McKee spent two years abroad on an LDS mission in Brazil before joining Stanford prior to last season.

Whomever Shaw tabs as the starter will likely fit into a run first offense. The Cardinal will lean on running backs Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat. Jones is set to be the lead back, as he’s coming off a season in which he averaged 4.4 yards per carry as a sophomore.

Other Big Changes

Aside from Quarterback, the Cardinal pass catchers received the most noteworthy makeover this offseason. The two starting wideouts, Brycen Tremaine and Elijah Higgins, have seen minimal snaps in their collegiate careers. Higgins’ 15 receptions last season is the high mark for the returners. In a run first offense, Stanford will likely continue to employ sets with one or two wide receivers on the field.


The Cardinal’s defense has been its achilles heel for the better part of David Shaw’s tenure. While Stanford has often featured big names and explosive units on offense, its defense has been known to act as the team’s ball and chain. Recruiting difficulties and an inability to stay healthy in the front seven have contributed to the demise of a once great defensive unit. Fifth-year Dalyn Wade-Perry returns as defensive tackle, and will figure to anchor an inexperienced defensive line. Defensive ends Anthony Franklin and Aristotle Taylor will see significant time, while a deep but inexperienced linebackers room will round out the traditional Stanford 3-4 defensive scheme.

Why ASU will win

Well, simply put, Arizona State is significantly better on paper than Stanford. Quarterback, running backs, defensive line and secondary are all considered to be areas where the Sun Devils should outshine the Cardinal. Both squads will be coming off short weeks, with ASU returning from a trip to LA and a date with the Bruins. An explosive offense going up against a Stanford defense prone to allowing the big play should spell a big W for the Maroon and Gold.

Why ASU will lose

It’s always fair to point out that Herm Edwards’ ASU teams have a knack for losing close games in letdown fashion, and a loss of that variety at the hands of Stanford wouldn’t be too shocking. But this year, unlike others, features a combination of talent, experience and unique motivation. If ASU’s 2021 campaign is going as planned by the time October 8 rolls around, the Sun Devils would be remiss to let a Cardinal red blemish on the schedule hurt their postseason resume.