No. 14 Stanford ready for Down Under opener

Aug 21, 2017 - 11:17 PM Stanford is not only starting the season early, it is doing so on a different continent.

The 14th-ranked Cardinal, as its rival Cal did in 2016, will begin its season in Sydney, Australia. Stanford will play against the Rice Owls in a nonconference game that begins at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

If there is any team that can handle a change in preparation, it is Stanford, which is one of the most stable programs in the country. The Cardinal has finished 12th or better in the AP poll five times in coach David Shaw's six seasons. Stanford has posted double-digit victories five times in that span, as well.

Shaw commended his team for making the most of its shorter preparation time in July and August. He specifically lauded his team for its energy and focus during an intra-squad scrimmage in front of fans on August 13.

"That's what I was commending them on," Shaw said. "I was really nervous about being able to have the kind of training camp we need to prepare for the real grind, because the season is hard. ... With fewer practices, our guys went out there, fought and scrapped."

The good news for Stanford, which went 10-3 in 2016 and beat North Carolina in the Sun Bowl despite having star tailback Christian McCaffrey sit out, is that it has several veterans in key positions who can deal with a short training camp.

That includes starting junior quarterback Keller Chryst. Stanford won all six games Chryst started last year, although he did tear his ACL in the bowl game. But Shaw has been pleased with the way Chryst has looked driving off that leg in summer workouts.

While McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers) and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers), were both top 10 picks in the NFL Draft, Shaw said earlier in the offseason that this team could be even better. It helps that McCaffrey's understudy the past two years, junior Bryce Love, has solid experience and has averaged 7.2 yards per carry.

Love made the most of his touches last season against Rice. Love had seven rushes for 111 yards and touchdown, with a long run of 50 yards.

"We have really focused on starting fast," Love said. "Beyond that, going 1-0 every week is our big thing."

Replicating Thomas' impact and output with one star individual is improbable, but veteran leaders like linebackers Peter Kalambayi and Joey Alfieri, and cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, helps the continuity and prowess of the defense.

Stanford ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing 20.4 points per game.

Rice went 3-9 in 2016, finished in fifth place in Conference USA and was beaten 41-17 at Stanford Stadium in November.

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