The No. 14 Stanford Cardinal will open up the 2017 in Australia against the Rice Owls. Kickoff is set for 10:00 EST at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Saturday, August 26th. For those wanting to catch the action, it will be televised on ESPN.

Stanford vs Rice College Football Vegas Game Preview

The Cardinal come in off a 10-3 campaign in 2016. Stanford closed out the season with 6 straight wins, including a 25-23 victory over UNC in the Sun Bowl. The Cardinal failed to defend their Pac-12 title, finishing 3rd in the North with a 6-3 record.

That’s now 5 double-digit win seasons for head coach David Shaw in his first 6 years on the job. Even with the loss of RB Christian McCaffrey and DL Solomon Thomas (both Top 10 picks), Stanford has high expectations in 2017. The Cardinal return 16 starters and are excited about the return of junior QB Keller Chryst, who started the final 6 games last year.

While Stanford has taken their program to a new level, the Owls are heading in the wrong direction. After 3 straight winning seasons, including a 10-4 campaign in 2013, Rice is coming off back-to-back losing years. That includes a miserable 3-9 record in 2016, where they started out 1-8 and went just 2-6 in C-USA.

This could be a make or break year for head coach David Bailiff, who is entering his 11th season on the job. Bailiff and company will return 15 starters for a 2nd straight year, which means they got a lot of veteran players. The Owls should be improved across the board, but still aren’t expected to be a serious threat in Conference USA.

If you want to place a wager on this contest, the books currently have Stanford as a massive 31-point favorite. The over/under for this one is sitting at 50.5 points. Click here of more Week 1 lines and free betting leans.

Free NCAAF Betting Pick: Rice +31

These two teams actually closed out the regular season against each other last year at Stanford. The Cardinal won the contest 41-17, but came up well short of covering the 35-point spread. Rice only trailed by 17-points late in the 3rd quarter. Even though the Owls covered easily in that contest, the public will still have a hard time backing Rice in this one.

I believe the value here is with the Owls to at least keep it respectable. Stanford has a bit of history with Shaw of not covering the number in the opener. In the last 5 years they are 1-4 ATS in the first game and the lone cover was a 45-0 win over UC Davis as a 42-pt favorite. In 2015 they were upset at Northwestern 16-6 as a 10-pt favorite. They also barely snuck out a 20-17 victory over San Jose St laying 24 back in 2012.

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You also have to factor in that the Cardinal don’t need to run up the score here to make a statement to the playoff committee. Their schedule will allow them to do that. Speaking of the schedule, Stanford has a bye after this one before a massive showdown at USC. I think the primary goal here is to get the win and not get anyone injured.

As for Rice, I expect them to treat this like it was a bowl game. This is there chance to show everyone that they aren’t going to be a pushover like they were a year ago. One thing I really like about this matchup is the Owls return just about everybody on the offensive line and front 7 on defense. That’s huge going up against a physical team like Stanford.

I know that the Cardinal are well equipped to replace McCaffrey with junior Bryce Love. Still, McCaffrey was an elite talent that impacted the game in so many ways. Keep in mind he carried it 30 times for 204 yards against the Owls last year. At the same time, Rice only lost by 24-points despite going just 15 of 48 for 124 yards in the passing game. They can’t be any worse than that.