Questions aplenty for Stanford after upset loss

It is in the nature of college football teams to not show their very best in the first game of the season.

Rust. Nerves. Uncertainty about the ways in which lineups will or won’t mesh. Replacing lots of new starters. Seeking continuity against an opponent, not just your own players in training camp. No one should expect a team to be great in week one. Seasons are processes. They are organic entities. They evolve, and moreover, they must be allowed to evolve.

Yet, for a team that reached four straight BCS bowls from 2010 through 2013, the reality of a disappointing 2014 season was supposed to lead to a reasonably lucid and coherent performance at the beginning of 2015.

Instead, one of the Pac-12’s best teams over the past five years could not have played much worse.

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On Saturday, Stanford looked bad. Real bad. For a team that had outside hopes of a national championship when it woke up this morning, the Cardinal are left picking up the pieces after a horrid afternoon in Evanston against Northwestern, losing 16-6 under the Midwest Sun.

The Cardinal looked masterful in their opening drive against the Wildcats, but that march netted only three points. After that, the day went continuously downhill, and never really changed direction. The Stanford offense, which has prided itself on hard-hitting football the last several years, was bottled up by the Wildcats and held to only 85 yards on the ground. The Cardinal were held to 3-of-15 in third down conversions, and Stanford turned the ball over twice en route to the defeat, including an interception in the end zone in the final minute to put a bow on the game.

Northwestern dictated tempo throughout and the Cardinal had nothing to offer in reply. The Wildcats ran 79 plays to Stanford’s 62. The question now for Stanford is whether this will be emblematic of the season to come or just an aberration, something that will be forgotten in much the same way that Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech… and then didn’t lose another game.

There was a lot working against Stanford. The game was played on a hot field, and the 11 a.m. Central start time equated to kicking off at 9 a.m. in Palo Alto. The Wildcats’ front looked strong throughout the day as well.

So now what? Stanford is coming off an 8-5 season after three straight years of 11 or more wins. The road gets no easier for the Cardinal, as they host an angry Central Florida team coming off an upset loss to Florida International. The Knights will attempt to right their own ship, full of determination after falling short of their own standards in week one. After that? Stanford must play USC and Oregon State on the road.

Many questions are left to be asked and answered for this Stanford squad: Was the run of 2010-2013 a product of the Jim Harbaugh era and nothing else? Will quarterback Kevin Hogan rise to multiple occasions in the face of a monstrously difficult Pac-12 schedule? How will Stanford’s offense respond after getting handled by the Wildcats?

Lots of questions. Lots of time left to answer them. Lots of time to improve for the Cardinal.

Yet, no one could have anticipated that Stanford would need to improve this much after a week-one performance that couldn’t have been worse.

About Mike Abelson

Mike Abelson is an editor for Comeback Media. He also works as a writer and broadcaster for numerous organizations throughout New England. You can follow his journey to see a basketball game at every New England college at throughthecurtain.blog.

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