Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 12:19 PM
Stanford was faced with a challenging early schedule and while it's far from over, the early returns on the Cardinal are positive. They've played two games, against Kansas State and USC. Stanford has delivered a pair of double-digit wins and ATS covers, including a 27-10 win over the Trojans on ABC's prime-time telecast on Saturday.
There were good reasons to be concerned about Stanford. They were breaking in a new quarterback with Ryan Burns. The most talented part of their roster was underclassmen. If there was ever a point in the season where they'd be vulnerable, it would be early - especially with an early schedule that still includes UCLA, Washington, Washington State and Notre Dame. But the Cardinal has not only survived, they have thrived.
Defense has been a big early key for Stanford. Both of their games have played to the Under in spite of being set at modest totals to begin with. The 26-13 win over Kansas State was Under 48.5 and the total on the USC game was 50.5. It's a lot easier for a new quarterback when his defense is playing well. In the two games combined, Stanford has only given up 209 rush yards on 58 attempts.
The other thing that makes life easy for a new quarterback is having the most complete running back in the nation. Christian McCaffrey was one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy and he's lived up to the hype. McCaffrey is averaging nearly 150 yards per game on the ground at 5.6 yards-per-carry He's also catching an average of over five passes a game at better than ten yards a pop.
In spite of this, McCaffrey may be moving into the odd position of actually becoming a value bet in the Heisman race. His odds have stayed more or less steady, holding at 7-1. But Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is currently sucking up all the oxygen in the room, having gone from 50-1 on Friday to the top-heavy 2-3 favorite after his amazing game against Florida State. It's important to remember that September's frontrunner is rarely December's trophy-holder and if McCaffrey is actually going to be ignored that makes him worth looking at.
The quiet value that McCaffrey has in the Heisman race is equivalent to what Stanford as a team offers in the race for the Pac-12 North title and ultimately the overall conference championship. In spite of the impressive early wins and in spite of a strong track record of success under Shaw, the Cardinal are still narrowly behind Washington in the betting odds for both the division and league titles. Stanford is 9-5 to win the North and 19-10 to take the Pac-12.
Those odds aren't anything that will turn your head, but ranking Stanford behind Washington - who has neither a recent pedigree nor an impressive early statement - seems like a fool's errand. The value on the Cardinal is very much like their football team - quiet, never flashy and simply efficient.