Stanford’s final game of this year is, in many respects, its first of next season.
The Sun Bowl is more preview than review, and Cardinal fans can thank tailback Christian McCaffrey for providing an unexpected peek into the program’s future.
For all the varied reaction to McCaffrey’s decision to skip the bowl game – and make no mistake: the response within the Stanford football community was decidedly mixed – the result of his absence is indisputable.
Instead of focusing on one of the greatest players in school history, the spotlight will shift to the role players expected to lead the Cardinal next season, particularly on offense.
The unit that faces North Carolina on Friday will be essentially the same that takes on USC, Washington and Notre Dame in the fall.
“It will be a challenge find a counter-punch, because (without McCaffrey) they won’t have someone who can get 30 carries,’’ Cardinal radio analyst and former quarterback Todd Husak said. “Who knows. Maybe they’ll throw the ball more.’’
The power running game will remain at the core of Stanford’s existence, not only for the Sun Bowl but also next season. (As coach David Shaw said: “The offense hasn’t changed in the last five years.”) But a slight uptick in the aerial attack seems likely, if only to take advantage of playmakers on the perimeter like Trenton Irwin and JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
Just how much tweaking takes place in the post-McCaffrey era seemingly will depend on opponent, game flow and quarterback play.
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