The Stanford Cardinal, a Pac-12 powerhouse for the past half-decade, are ranked 8th nationally and are expected to win the Pac-12 yet again. Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffery and, for what seems like the 200th year in a row, another stellar defense, Stanford should face its biggest challenge around bowl season, and is expected to more or less roll through the regular season. However, until August 24th, they didn't even have a starting quarterback.
That wasn't too much of a worry for David Shaw's Cardinal, however. With McCaffery and sophmore tailback Bryce Love running behind a brusing, albeit young, offensive line, Stanford's offense would be fine no matter who was under center. So why did Shaw take Burns over the young and promising Keller Chryst? The answer goes back to Stanford's whole philosophy as a football program.
Stanford, ever since Jim Harbaugh took over and since David Shaw succeeded him, has been all about control. On defense, they like to control the line of scrimmage. They want a strong defensive line to set the tone for the game, and let the opposing team that you will fail if you try to run, and that they will hit your quarterback if you try to throw. On offense, they control literally everything. They control time of possession. They control the pace of the game. They control the line of scrimmage. They control the entire field. And that requires a steady hand running the offense. Someone whom the coaches can rely on to make the right audible at the line, or the right read on a pass play.
And for David Shaw and his staff, Ryan Burns was exactly that man. Ryan Burns is a classic pro style quarterback. He works best under center. He has great accuracy on short routes, and pretty good vision of the field. He is not a dual-threat quarterback by any sense of the word, but he is agile and mobile enough to roll out of the pocket and scramble for a few yards here and there. And frankly, that's all that Stanford needs. They have an excellent running back, probably the best player in the country actually, a good receiving corps highlighted by Michael Rector and Francis Owusu, and, as is a Stanford trademark these days, a great tight end in Dalton Schultz. They have all the pieces around the quarterback, and they don't need a superstar at QB.
The quarterback competition came down to two quarterbacks who represented two different things for Stanford. In Keller Chryst, David Shaw had a quarterback who is young, faster than previous Stanford quarterbacks, a strong arm, and somehow who could make the highlight play. However, for every highlight that Keller could create, he can also underthrow his receiver by 3 yards on a simple out route. With Chryst, it's a make or miss situation. He can give you greatness one day, and just be straight bad the next. He is still young, however, and will soon be a great quarterback. Look for him to get some action against Kansas State, and he could even take the starting job under some unplanned circumstances later in the season.
But with Burns, Stanford won't necessarily have that highlight play potential, but he will be consistently good. And that is all that the Cardinal need. I like the decision that Shaw and his coaching staff made. Stanford has all the pieces, and they just need a steady hand to steer the ship. Stanford could accomplish great things this year, and Burns, for now, is exactly the man for the job.