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Utah defensive end Jason Fanaika wants to win a Pac-12 championship, obviously, but his dream is more specific than that: He wants to meet his brother, Stanford sophomore offensive guard Brandon, in the championship game.

We'll be there, he told him. You make sure you are.

The Utes won't otherwise play Stanford, which they've edged dramatically in consecutive years, and Fanaika's best bet to play against his brother might be on Sundays.

But he's not the only Utahn who will keep a close eye on the No. 21 Cardinal: Senior strong safety Dallas Lloyd (like Brandon Fanaika, from Pleasant Grove), freshman linebacker Sean Barton (Woods Cross) and sophomore tight end Dalton Schultz (Bingham) may all figure into David Shaw's plans as he tries to knock off the North's heavily favored Ducks.

Strengths • A Stanford staple through the years, the run game wasn't its usual self in 2014, accounting for just 159 yards per game despite the promise of Christian McCaffery (Ed's son) and Barry Sanders Jr. (Barry's son). That seems likely to change behind a host of returning starters on offense (including senior tackle Kyle Murphy, a high school teammate of Travis Wilson). Famously steady but unspectacular quarterback Kevin Hogan also decided to return to school for his senior year after finishing last season on a high note against UCLA and Maryland. Few would count Stanford's offense among the strongest, but it has a chance to take a big step forward after squandering the defense's effort during a disappointing 8-5 season.

Weaknesses • It feels like we're in a parallel universe, talking about Stanford's offense as a strength and the defense as a weakness. They lose nine starters from one of the nation's best defenses (allowing just 282 yards per game in 2014), including safety Jordan Richards and defensive end Henry Anderson. Safety Zach Hoffpauir was drafted and signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and cornerback Wayne Lyons graduated so he could play immediately for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Still Shaw said at Pac-12 Media Days that he expects senior inside linebacker Blake Martinez to pick up the torch and lead a talented group to past heights, as the Cardinal managed after a fair amount of turnover last season.

Outlook • The opener against Northwestern, on the road, might be their easiest out-of-conference game. UCF is no cupcake, and No. 11 Notre Dame is a humdinger of a finale. It's a test every week. Stanford's easiest conference matchups are likely to come on the road, though, with Oregon State, Washington State and Colorado. It also skips Arizona State and Utah, which beat the Cardinal in 2014.

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Stanford schedule

Sept. 5 » at Northwestern

Sept. 12 » UCF

Sept. 19 » at USC

Sept. 25 » at Oregon State

Oct. 3 » Arizona

Oct. 15 » UCLA

Oct. 24 » Washington

Oct. 31 » at Washington State

Nov. 7 » at Colorado

Nov. 14 » Oregon

Nov. 21 » California

Nov. 28 » Notre Dame