Biggest question mark: Was quarterback Keller Chryst’s three-game surge a sign of things to come or a product of playing awful defenses? Without a Christian McCaffrey-shaped security blanket, Chryst will need to carry more of the load. Biggest 2017 game: The visit from Washington might be the biggest Pac-12 game of the regular season … unless that’s Stanford at USC. Summary: David Shaw and Stanford might need another year to produce a national title-caliber team, but the 2017 Cardinal will be sound on defense and improved on offense, and the schedule maker sends Washington to Palo Alto.

In a given year, Stanford tends to have to replace fewer players than others.

Stanford exploded for 46 points per game and 8 yards per play in this span, and when you expect to see a breakout, you don’t need as much evidence to assume a breakout has occurred.

Stanford won its final six games of 2016, and now the Cardinal return not only Chryst, but also No. 1 receiver Trenton Irwin and Arcega-Whiteside, four of five starting offensive linemen, and 74 percent of their defensive production.

Defense Stanford is in the middle of its most sustained stretch of awesome play since Pop Warner was head coach, but the pieces haven’t all synced together in a while.

Stanford mostly played only four linemen, and two are gone; a couple of well-placed injuries could mean extreme reliance on redshirt freshmen up front.

Stanford ranked third in Special Teams S&P+, thanks to A-grade efforts from Jake Bailey in kickoffs and punting, Conrad Ukropina in place-kicking, and Christian McCaffrey in kick returns.

We haven’t seen the latter since 2013, when the Cardinal lost three games by a combined 13 points, won the other 11 games by a combined 199, and ranked fourth in S&P+. The 2015 team nearly sneaked in the CFP’s back door after a gross early loss to Northwestern, but the defense was quite shaky by Stanford standards.

Last year’s midseason funk landed Stanford at 23rd in year-end S&P+, but if the defensive line holds up and the run game gets going, this is easily a top-15 team.

Stanford Football