2017 Sydney College Football Cup Preview: #14 Stanford Cardinal v.s. Rice Owls

2016 Sydney CFB Cup: California Golden Bears 51, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 31

There are multiple traditions currently taking place in the world of College Football. Some of these traditions are on-the-field, and some are off-the-field. Last year, the first game of the 2016-2017 College Football season didn’t take place in the United States but rather in Sydney, Australia. It was played between the California Golden Bears and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. This matchup was the first game in a new series called the Sydney College Football Cup. This was a rare treat not only for the people of Sydney to enjoy a good College Football game, but also for the players, coaches, and personnel of the two universities. The Golden Bears defeated the Rainbow Warriors in high-scoring fashion, 51-31.

Last year’s matchup was the first game for quarterback Davis Webb as the starting QB of the California Golden Bears after the departure of Jared Goff, the 1st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. In the game, Davis threw for 38 completions (out of 54 passing attempts) for 441 yards and 4 passing touchdowns. Davis also accounted for a rushing touchdown. Overall, California accounted for 630 total yards and Hawaii accounted for 248 rushing yards and 482 total yards.

This year, the tradition of a College Football game in Sydney continues with a matchup between the Rice Owls (3-9 last year) and the #14th ranked Stanford Cardinal (10-3 last year). Although this game will not be the exact first College Football game of the 2017 season, nor it will be the most exciting matchup of Week 1, it will continue a new tradition in a long list of international CFB games.

#14 Stanford Cardinal

The #14 Stanford Cardinal come into this season as one of the top three teams from the PAC-12, as they return head coach David Shaw for a seventh season at Stanford. During his tenure with Stanford, Shaw has won three PAC-12 championships, the latest from the 2015 College Football season. In order for the Cardinal to contend this year, they will need more stability on offense. Last season, they were ranked 83rd in points per game (26.3) and 115th in passing yards per game (158.2). When Keller Chryst took over the starting quarterback job in Week 8, he helped the Cardinal win six games in a row and scored 30 or more points four times. Overall, the offense returns eight starters from last season.

The defense for the Cardinal returns eight starters from last seasons team as well. This is the same defense that was ranked eighteenth in the nation in points allowed per game (20.4). The defense has multiple stars that are likely to be of high-value in the 2018 NFL Draft. Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips is a hybrid player who played next to defensive end Solomon Thomas (the third pick in the 2017 NFL Draft). Phillips accounted for 46 total tackles, 21 solo tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 7 sacks (returning team-high). Outside linebacker Joey Alfieri accounted for 51 total tackles, 30 solo tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks.

Rice Owls

This season will be the eleventh season for David Bailiff as the head coach for the Rice Owls. The Owls last winning season was in 2014 when they finished with an 8-5 record. The year before that, Rice was the C-USA conference champions in 2013. Now the program faces uncertainty as they are looking with little room to improve on last year’s 3-9 record.

The Owls offense only returns five starters from last season. All five returning players are offensive lineman which will supply great sufficient blocking due to experience. However, Rice will now have to rely on their youth in the skilled positions. The Owls were ranked in the bottom half of every major offensive category in the C-USA last season. This stat includes points per game (93rd nationally and tenth in C-USA – 25.3 points) and passing yards per game (80th nationally and eighth in C-USA – 215.2 yards).

Rice hired Brian Stewart as their new defensive coordinator to fix a unit that was ranked 114th in points allowed per game (37.3 points), 123rd (of 128 teams) in passing yards allowed per game (287.7), and 123rd in total yards allowed per game (504.5). The biggest change to the Owls’ defense is in the defensive scheme. Stewart will bring in a switch from the 4-2-5 to a multiple scheme that adjusts to the opposing offense.

One of the top playmakers on the defense is strongside linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee. Ellerbee is the team’s leading tackler with 118 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. Along with defensive linemen Preston Gordon and Blaine Padgett, Ellerbee will make a more efficient pass rush. This pass rush will be highly needed against the talented offensive line of Stanford.

Analysis and Expectations of the Game

This game will be the first season opener for Stanford QB Keller Chryst after Ryan Burns started off the season for the Cardinal last year. Keller has proved to be a more efficient passer than Burns with his late success last year. Stanford needs to open the season in a more efficient manner if they hope to be a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. The offense will have to replace a high-power playmaker in running back Christian McCaffrey. The 2017 first round draft pick rushed for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 2,019 yards and accounted for 1,070 kick return yards the season before.

ESPN.com gives Stanford a 98.3% chance to beat the Rice Owls on August 26th. Rice will need consistent starters in the offensive skilled positions. The lack of experience will be a big factor for building an efficient and productive offense. The defense for the Owls will be better but will have a tough task in the first game against Stanford. Look for Stanford to establish a run game with new starting running back Bryce Love. Chryst might also have himself a big game as he will be given a chance to establish a favorite target to throw to against the poor pass defense of the Owls.

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