CU opponent preview: Led by K.J. Costello, Stanford eyes Pac-12 title

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Stanford head coach David Shaw has guided the Cardinal to four Pac-12 championship games.
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For years, the Stanford football team has been known for its run game.

Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love have all been star running backs for the Cardinal over the past seven years. Led by that group – as well as a stout defense and strong offensive line – Stanford has been one of the elite teams in the Pac-12 for a decade.

For the Cardinal to continue their winning tradition this season, they’ll lean not so much on the run game, but on the talented right arm of quarterback K.J. Costello.

This month, Buffzone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on Stanford, which will visit the Buffaloes on Nov. 9.

The most highly touted Stanford quarterback since Andrew Luck, who was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, Costello leads a team that, as usual, has its sights set on a Pac-12 title.

“Over this decade, we have changed the lens with which Stanford football is viewed through, which I think is great,” head coach David Shaw, who has gone 82-26 in his eight seasons leading Stanford, told The Athletic.

In 2009, head coach Jim Harbaugh and Luck helped to snap a streak of seven consecutive losing seasons. The Cardinal have been annual conference title contenders ever since. Under Shaw, who took over in 2011, Stanford hasn’t finished lower than third in the Pac-12 North and has played in the Pac-12 title game four times.

Costello is the key to another division title run, and the Cardinal are hoping to take advantage of what could be his last season in Palo Alto. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Costello’s got ideal tools for the NFL and is likely to be drafted early next spring if he leaves early.

“There’s no thought in my mind that he would come back for a fifth year; I don’t think he’s going to need to,” Shaw told The Athletic. “He showed last year he can play this game at a high level, and now it’s that transition of going from being a good college quarterback … to a true NFL-caliber starter.”

Costello will be working with a new set of receivers. His top three receivers from last year are gone and there’s not much experience this year. Stanford could lean on a talented group of sophomores.

Tight end Colby Parkinson is poised for a big year, however. Like Costello, he’s one of the best in the country at his position. At running back, Cameron Scarlett is expected to lead the way, and he’ll run behind a line that is being reconstructed but features All-American candidate tackle Walker Little.

On defense, Stanford is loaded with talent up front, with sophomore end Thomas Booker on the verge of being a star. He made just three starts as a true freshman last year, but racked up 28 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Nose tackle Michael Williams is one of the best in the Pac-12, as well.

There’s a lot of experience at outside linebacker, too, but inside, there’s virtually no game experience. The secondary features All-American Paulson Adebo at cornerback and Malik Antoine at safety.

On both sides of the ball, there are holes to fill – as just nine starters return – but Costello, overall roster talent and a winning tradition should ensure that Stanford is once again among the best teams in the North division.

Stanford Cardinal   

Date with CU: Saturday, Nov. 9, time TBA, at Folsom Field

Head coach: David Shaw, 9th season (82-26)

Series: Stanford leads 6-4

Cardinal in 2018: 9-4, 6-3 in Pac-12; defeated Pittsburgh, 14-13, in Sun Bowl

Returning starters: 9 – 4 on offense, 5 on defense

5 offensive players to watch (2018 statistics):

QB K.J. Costello, Jr. (269-of-413, 3,540 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT; rushing: 42 att., minus-20, 1 TD)

LT Walker Little, Jr. (12 starts; first-team All-Pac-12)

TE Colby Parkinson, Jr. (29 catches, 485 yards, 7 TD)

RB Cameron Scarlett, Sr. (79 att., 330 yards, 8 TD; 10 catches, 109 yards, 1 TD)

WR Connor Wedington, So. (9 catches, 65 yards, 0 TD)

5 defensive players to watch:

CB Paulson Adebo, So. (64 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 20 PBU, 4 INT)

S Malik Antoine, Jr. (52 tackles, 1 sacks, 2 INT)

DE Thomas Booker, So. (28 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 TFL)

OLB Jordan Fox, Jr. (61 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL)

DT Jovann Swann, Jr. (28 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 7 TFL)

Notable: This year will be the first meeting between CU and Stanford since the Buffs’ 10-5 win in 2016. … The Cardinal have won eight-plus games in 10 consecutive seasons and nine or more in each of the last four. … Last season, Stanford ranked 123rd nationally in rushing offense, with 107.9 yards per game. It was Stanford’s worst average since 2006. … Stanford ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 37th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 22.9 points per game. The Cardinal have yielded less than 23 points per game in nine consecutive seasons. … Stanford is 14-4 in Pac-12 road games the past four years. … The Cardinal won four in a row to close last season. … Scarlett and junior Trevor Speights (59 carries, 221 yards, 1 TD) are both expected to get a lot of carries in the run game. … Costello took over as starting quarterback midway through the 2017 season. Since then, he’s thrown 43 touchdown passes and only 15 interceptions. … Junior kicker Jet Toner was second-team all-Pac-12 last year. He is 35-for-41 on field goals and 88-for-88 on extra points in his career.