UC Davis (0-0) at (11) Stanford (0-0)
Saturday, August 30, 4 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked Stanford Cardinal open their 120th year of football on Saturday, as they kick off the 2014 campaign against the UC Davis Aggies.
David Shaw's Cardinal captured their second straight Pac-12 title in 2013 and continued one of the greatest periods of Stanford football, going 11-3 last season, finishing the BCS era with four straight BCS Bowl bids. It also marked the fourth straight season that the team had posted at least 11 wins.
Stanford countered upset losses to Utah and USC, with big wins over Pac-12 powers Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon. The season did end on a sour note though, with a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Ron Gould's first season at the helm of UC-Davis showed some promise. Despite dropping their first four games, the Aggies had some momentum late and went 5-3 in FCS play as a member of the Big Sky Conference. It was good for a tie for fourth place in the league standings.
The team returns talent on both sides of the ball, but a challenging schedule, especially early on, could have UC Davis take one step back, before eventually moving forward.
This series is tied at 1-1. Stanford blanked UC Davis in the first-ever meeting in 1932 (59-0), when the team was known as the California Aggies. That game preceded the Big Game and marked the last win in the Stanford coaching career of legend Glenn "Pop" Warner. UC Davis evened things up by scoring 20 unanswered points to claim a 20-17 upset win in 2005 at Stanford Stadium.
The Aggies are a run-first team and that will likely be the preferred mode of travel in 2014 as well, especially with the loss of four-year starter Randy Wright under center. Quarterbacks Ben Scott (6-3 sophomore) and London Lacy (6-3 senior) may both see action in the opener. Junior Turner Baty could emerge as a solid selection under center as well. He played two seasons at CC of San Francisco, becoming the school's all-time leading passer (6,220 yards).
Still, the offense will eventually be funneled through senior tailback Gabe Manzanares, who was the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year in 2013, rumbling for 1,285 yards and 10 TDs. He is currently shelved due to a minor injury, making way for former starter Colton Silveria to get a heavier workload early on.
Both the run game and the passing game will benefit from four starters returning along the offensive line.
The Aggie defense had its ups and downs a season ago. The team allowed just 200.0 yards per game passing, but was a victim of poor run defense, yielding 188.2 yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry. Returning six starters to the defensive side of the football should help with continuity a bit.
Up front the team will seek an identity now that rush end Nick King (62 tackles, 9 TFL, 8 sacks) and tackle Anthony Kaspar (48 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) have moved on.
The strength of the unit is behind the line this year, with linebacker Stephen Pitts (71 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 4 sacks), safety Charles Boyett (team-high 86 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT and 2 fumble recoveries) and cornerback Shamawn Wright (32 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1 INT and 9 PBUs).
Stanford has had to replace some stars over the years on offense and this season brings more of the same. Gone is standout tailback Tyler Gaffney, who posted 1,709 yards in 2013, while pacing the Pac-12 with 21 rushing touchdowns. Replacing the production won't come easy, but senior Kelcy Young and sophomore Barry Sanders Jr. will try to fill the void.
Shaw is looking forward to seeing key players like Young and Sanders finally get their time to play.
"I'm fascinated about Kelcy Young. We haven't seen him play running back honestly since his freshman year," said Shaw. "And really even then since his senior year of high school. But he's had a great training camp, but I want to see him under the lights. And I haven't seen Barry play in a couple years."
There is some continuity under center with the return of senior QB Kevin Hogan. The 6-4, 225-pounder completed 61 percent of his passes last year, for 2,630 yards, with 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. His numbers could increase this year with more of an emphasis on the pass and the return of receivers like Ty Montgomery (61 receptions, 958 yards, 10 TDs) and Devon Cajuste (28 receptions, 642 yards, 5 TDs).
The Stanford defense will need to retool in 2014 due to some serious star power moving on. The Cardinal will no longer have players like Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner or Ed Reynolds to rely on.
There remains depth up front, headlined by returning starters in end Henry Anderson and tackle David Parry. Skov will be missed in the linebacking corps, but A.J. Tarpley (93 tackles) and James Vaughters (36 tackles, 4 sacks) are strong candidates to pick up the slack.
Safety Jordan Richards (69 tackles, three INTs) returns to anchor the play in the secondary.
Setting the tone on the defensive side of the ball will once again be key for Shaw's squad.
"We'll tackle and push the envelope. We'll do as much as we can as far as being physical and tackling," Shaw said. "Everything we do, there is a method to the madness. But you have to be physical. You have to play football as we call it. Tackling guys to the ground."
Pulling off another stunning upset at Stanford Stadium isn't likely for the Aggies in 2014. Although the Cardinal are re-tooling on both sides of the football, this is the perfect game to work out some of the kinks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stanford 51, UC Davis 7
08/29 15:18:20 ET