Stanford football coach David Shaw wants to keep running back Bryce Love from thinking like golfers who shoot a low round one day, and then wonder why they're not making as many birdies the next day.

Shaw won’t worry if Love is trailing last season’s 2,118-yard pace at any point in 2018. “This year’s about him getting bigger, stronger, being more versatile – different things, adding to his game,” Shaw said last month during the Pac-12 Media Day. But “we’re not going to do the Bryce Love stat watch.”

So the school's promotion of Love, the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, will have to go beyond the numbers.

The Cardinal are picked to finish second in the Pac-12 North, after winning the division title last year. That part is easy to forget, amid all of the attention on Washington. Stanford's nonconference schedule includes games at San Diego State and Notre Dame, plus UC Davis at home. The Cardinal will host Utah on Oct. 6, after visiting Notre Dame.


This is the second installment in a series about Pac-12 football teams in 2018. Today: Stanford.

The Cardinal will succeed if:

The defense is adequate and quarterback K.J. Costello is good enough to keep defenses from focusing entirely on stopping Love.

Costello shared time with Keller Chryst in last October's 23-20 win over Utah and eventually took over the job. He'll be working with new offensive coordinator Tevita Pritchard, although Shaw calls the plays. Senior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside missed the Utah game due to injury, but he caught 48 passes for 781 yards.

Love’s hallmark is his ability to break off big runs, after seemingly being contained. The Utes know all about that; they held him to 84 yards on 19 carries – not counting his 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Love runs behind the Pac-12′s best offensive line that includes Brandon Fanaika of Pleasant Grove High School.

The Cardinal won’t succeed if:

The secondary is vulnerable, after losing safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks to the NFL a year early. Stanford’s defensive backs are ranked No. 8 in the Pac-12 by Athlon Sports.

The related issue is rebuilding the defensive line (ranked No. 7), which has featured one or more dominant players in recent years. September games vs. USC and Notre Dame will be good gauges of the Cardinal defense.