STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford fans won't soon forget the team's last meeting against Northwestern, when the Cardinal traveled to Evanston for the 2015 season opener and were held to 240 offensive yards in a dismal 16-6 loss. The 23rd-ranked Cardinal look to avenge the loss on Saturday when they host the 25th-ranked Wildcats, who have gone 15-1 in their last 16 regular season games.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Stanford -6.5
Picked to finish third in the Pac-12 North preseason media poll, Stanford lost star running back Bryce Love to the NFL but returns junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who threw for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago. "In spurts last season, K.J. looked as good as anybody in America playing the position," coach David Shaw told reporters. "Now it's about taking that next step and really fine tuning his efforts every single week to be consistently great." Northwestern made a surprising run to win the Big Ten West Division title last season and could be even better this year. The team's veteran defense is led by senior defensive end Joe Gaziano and junior linebacker Paddy Fisher, who collected Big Ten first-team honors after recording 116 tackles and four forced fumbles last season.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (2018: 9-5)
Coach Pat Fitzgerald has yet to decide on a starting quarterback, where Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is battling with senior TJ Green, who appeared in nine games last season. John Moten IV, Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson figure to share the load at running back, while Bennet Skowronek, Kyric McGowan, and JJ Jefferson return to lead a deep group at wide receiver. The Wildcats held opposing teams to less than 130 rushing yards per game last season and boast a stellar defensive line led by junior Samdup Miller, who recorded 53 total tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss.
ABOUT STANFORD (2018: 9-4)
The Cardinal finished last season 123rd out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards per game (107.9) and hope to improve on that figure with a trio of returning tailbacks — Cameron Scarlett, Trevor Speights and Dorian Maddox — battling to replace Love, who was limited due to injury. New offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard lost several starters at wide receiver but has high hopes for 6-foot-7, 240-pound tight end Colby Parkinson and speedster Connor Wedington. The young secondary boasts a proven leader in junior cornerback Paulson Adebo, who ranked second in the country in passes defended (23) last season, with 19 pass breakups and four interceptions.
1. Northwestern is 12-2 in season openers under Fitzgerald.
2. Stanford has won 11 straight home openers since 2008.
3. Northwestern hosts UNLV after a week off while Stanford visits USC next week.
PREDICTION: Stanford 21, Northwestern 17