STANFORD — Stanford heads into the season with questions about which player will touch the ball first after the snap.
Where it ends up from there is less in question.
While Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns battle it out to replace four-year starter Kevin Hogan at quarterback, the Cardinal offense will once again revolve around Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey.
After shattering Barry Sanders' record for all-purpose yards with 3,864 yards last season, McCaffrey is back for his junior season as a faster, stronger and more knowledgeable player, coach David Shaw said.
He also has plenty of other playmakers to help. Dynamic back Bryce Love is expected to get significantly more time alongside McCaffrey than he did as a freshman when he was used mostly as a spot replacement.
Michael Rector and Frances Owusu give the Cardinal two talented senior receivers and Dalton Schultz is the latest in a line of dangerous tight ends for the Cardinal.
"The quarterback's job is to deal the cards," Shaw said. "Don't make it any more complicated than that. How fast can I get the ball out of my hands into somebody else's hands. The guy, or guys, who do that the best will play."
Shaw said he's in no hurry to pick a starting quarterback and said he's open to playing both. The two have just 10 career combined passes as Hogan led the team to three Rose Bowls in four seasons as he became the winningest quarterback in school history.
"Their job is not to compete with the other guy," Shaw said. "Their job is to play the best they can play and let us make the decision beyond that. If we play two guys, great. If we play one guy, great. If we play one guy a lot and have a role for the other guy, that's fine too."
Here are some other things to look for from Stanford this season:
STAY IN SCHOOL: Rector's decision to return for his fifth year and wait for the NFL draft gives the Cardinal offense a big boost with a deep threat on the outside. Rector has averaged 18.3 yards per catch for his career and has become more than just a vertical receiver.
"Looking at the team we were going to have I saw it could be a special team," Rector said. "I wanted to be a part of that."
IN THE TRENCHES: The Cardinal lost plenty on both lines this past offseason and return just two starters in Casey Tucker and Johnny Caspers on the offensive side. The defensive line lost stalwarts Aziz Shittu and Brennan Scarlett but gets talented Harrison Phillips back from a serious knee injury to team with returner Solomon Thomas to anchor that group.
KEY GAMES: A tough stretch to end September featuring a home game against USC and trips to UCLA and Washington will determine whether the Cardinal will be able to stay in the hunt for the playoff. The schedule also includes tricky road games against Notre Dame and Oregon, as well as a visit to rival California in the Big Game.
SEASON OPENER: The two-quarterback system should get a fairly tough test to start the season when Stanford hosts Kansas State. The Wildcats were a bowl team last year and have four defensive players who were selected to the preseason all-Big 12 team.