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Stanford Cardinal Set for Challenge in New Era of ACC

Cardinal challenges
© James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With the new college football season quickly approaching, the Stanford Cardinal will begin their new era in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 2024 season will mark a first in the 104 seasons of Stanford football as it will be the school's first season in a conference not based on the West Coast.

As coach Troy Taylor and his staff look to improve from a 3-9 record last season, the schedule will test and present new challenges for the Cardinal in their first season in the ACC.

Cardinal Face Tough Offenses Early

The first game on Aug. 30 has the Horned Frogs of TCU coming to town in a big test for the defense. In 2023, Stanford allowed 462 yards and 37.7 points per game, ranking last in the Pac-12 Conference. The Horned Frogs ranked fourth offensively in the Big 12 Conference with 467 yards and 31 points per game.

After the contest with TCU, Stanford hosts Cal Poly before going on the road, and across the country for games against new conference foes Syracuse (Sept. 20) and Clemson (Sept 28). The clash with the Tigers in Death Valley will be another test for a team's defense looking to establish themselves. Last season, the Tigers offense finished fifth in the ACC averaging 403 yards per game and sixth with 30 points per game.

New, Old Rivalries

The month of October brings the annual clash with the Fighting Irish (Oct. 12) in South Bend, Ind. Following last season's win by the Irish, Taylor and his staff will be looking to get back in the win column and pull the series closer. Currently the Irish lead the all-time series 22-14 against Stanford. The clash is followed by a home contest against fellow conference newcomer SMU on Oct. 19. Last season SMU finished second in the American Athletic Conference averaging 38.7 points per game and third with 455 yards per game.

November brings the last regular season trip across the country with a clash against North Carolina State on Nov. 2 before returning home for the final home game of the season against 2023 ACC runner-up Louisville. To finish the season, Stanford and Cal have their annual game, hopefully without the band getting in the way, and end the season with a road trip to San Jose State.

Trial by Fire

The first season for the Cardinal in the ACC will be a trial by fire featuring some of the conference heavyweights throughout the season. Although the travel across the country will be an added wrinkle for the team, year two under Taylor should be an improvement from 2023.

Elic Ayomanor returning as a receiver after a 1,000-yard, 6-touchdown performance last season, is poised to continue being a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Ayomanor has shown a willingness to make plays in traffic but to also be a headache for would-be tacklers.

Quarterback Ashton Daniels also returns and is ready to build off his 2,247-yard, 11-touchdown performance last season. Daniels showed a solid arm and a good ability to push the ball downfield, averaging 6.9 yards per pass last season. Both Tiger Bachmeier and Bryce Farrell should give options to the passing game for Daniels in 2024.

Cardinal challenges

Defensively, the team returns the leading tackler in Gaethan Bernadel who registered 87 tackles in his first season with Stanford after posting 102 in 2022 for the Golden Panthers of Florida International. Also returning are the team leaders in sacks, David Bailey, and interceptions, Scotty Edwards. Linebacker Tristan Sinclair should be able to build off his career season in 2023. Also, edge, Wilfredo Aybar will be one to keep an eye on as the team should generate pressure from the trenches.

Cardinal Outlook

A five-win season is reasonable with challenging games against TCU, Notre Dame, SMU and Clemson on the schedule for the team to test themselves. The games against Virginia Tech, NC State and Louisville will be the ones that pose the biggest questions for the team. If the team can pull off wins in two of them, possibly Virginia Tech and NC State, the team could find itself looking to go bowling.

The Cardinal have playmakers returning for the second season under Taylor. After a 3-9 finish in 2023, beginning the ACC era will provide new challenges for the team.


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