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Heisman runner-up Love has lots of help on Stanford offense

August 16, 2018
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FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2017, file photo, Stanford running back Bryce Love, left, carries the ball as Washington linebacker Connor O'Brien attempts to tackle him during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif. After almost single-handedly carrying Stanford's offense last season with a breakaway run seemingly every week, Bryce Love figures to get plenty of help in 2018. The Cardinal enter the season with one of their most potent offenses in years surrounding their record-setting back who passed up a chance at the NFL for one more year on The Farm. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — After almost singlehandedly carrying Stanford’s offense last season with a breakaway run seemingly every week, Bryce Love figures to get plenty of help in 2018.

The Cardinal enter the season with one of their most potent offenses in years surrounding their record-setting back who passed up a chance at the NFL for one more year on The Farm.

Stanford brings back its top four receivers from last year, a promising quarterback in K.J. Costello and its usually stellar offensive line to surround last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up.

“The sky’s the limit this year,” Love said. “We definitely have some experience. We have the weapons. It should be fun.”

Watching Love carry the ball always is. He’s a threat to score almost every time he touches it. Love led all Power 5 running backs last year in yards rushing (2,118), yards per carry (8.1) and 100-yard games (12), and also set an FBS record with 13 runs of at least 50 yards.

No other player in FBS history has come back for another season after rushing for as many yards as Love did in 2017. He chose to delay his NFL career in order to get his degree in human biology and be a part of a Stanford team that has an offense that could be as good as any in college football.

Costello is more comfortable in his first full season as starter and has plenty of options to throw to with receivers Trent Irwin and JJ Arcega-Whiteside on the outside and Kaden Smith at tight end.

“A lot of the football game is winning one-on-ones and we have a lot of guys who can do that at all positions,” Irwin said. “That means we can be dangerous. It really opens up the playbook.”

Whether this season is a success for Stanford will depend heavily on the defense, which must replace Harrison Phillips on the defensive line, and Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks in the secondary.

Here are some other things to watch:

QB SHUFFLE: Stanford has struggled to find consistent quarterback play ever since Kevin Hogan graduated following the 2015 season. Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst shared the duties in 2016, before Chryst and Costello rotated last season. Costello finished the year as starter and showed some promising signs, leading a win over Washington, throwing four TD passes against Notre Dame and two more in the Pac-12 title game against Southern California. Costello missed spring ball with an injury but should be 100 percent for the start of the season when he looks to build on last year’s late-season success.

HOLE ON THE LINE: The Cardinal have had two of the top defensive linemen in college football the past two years with Solomon Thomas headlining the defense in 2016 and Phillips last year. There’s a void at that spot this year that Jovan Swann hopes to fill. Swann didn’t start a game until the Pac-12 championship against USC when he had six tackles and three quarterback hurries. Dylan Jackson also will need to step up his game this season.

JUST FOR KICKS: The Cardinal should be strong in the kicking game with the return of placekicker Jet Toner and punter Jake Bailey. Toner made 21 of 26 field goals last season and was perfect on his 54 extra points. Only three returning kickers had more field goals than Toner last season. Bailey posted the second-best punting season in school history last year, averaging 45.4 yards per kick. He led the Pac-12 and ranked seventh nationally.

SCHEDULE STUFF: The Cardinal open at home on Aug. 31 against San Diego State. The Aztecs beat Stanford a year ago in San Diego 20-17 and figure to provide a tough test again. The schedule this season for the Cardinal is extremely tough. Stanford must travel to Oregon and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks in September and finishes the regular season with three of four games on the road, including visits to conference favorite Washington, rival California and UCLA.

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