US college football returns Down Under for 2nd year in a row
By DENNIS PASSA
Despite losing two of its top players to the NFL as top 10 draft picks, Stanford will be favored against Rice when U.S. college football returns Down Under for the second year in a row on Aug. 27 in Sydney.
Running back Christian McCaffrey signed with the Carolina Panthers and defensive end Solomon Thomas went to the San Francisco 49ers. McCaffrey set a record with 3,864 all-purpose yards in 2015 and then rushed for 1,596 yards and scored 16 touchdowns last season, when Thomas had eight sacks and 15 tackles and Stanford went 10-3.
The Sydney game will be played at midday Sunday in Australia, taking into account television markets on Saturday evening in the United States, and is being heavily promoted by the New South Wales state government.
Stanford is expected to be among the teams included when the 2017 preseason AP Top 25 is released next Monday.
"I think we can play better," Cardinal coach David Shaw said earlier this month. "We have a chance to be a better team than we were a year ago, a complete team, even though losing two of the better players in the nation last year."
After the first week of Stanford's preseason camp, senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said it had been strange without Thomas and McCaffrey around.
"We miss them more from a friendship level as much as we do on the field," said Phillips.
Here are some other things to know about the Sydney game:
GETTING THERE: Rice will fly commercially from Houston to Los Angeles, then make the 15-hour flight to Sydney, arriving Tuesday morning, just hours ahead of the official media conference for the event. Stanford leaves San Francisco on Saturday evening and arrives Monday morning. Both teams lose a day heading to Australia due to the International Date Line.
CHANGE OF VENUE: When Cal beat Hawaii 51-31 last August to open the 2016 season, 62,000 fans were at the 80,000-capacity Olympic stadium in Homebush in western Sydney. This year organizers have moved the game to 45,000-seat Allianz Stadium, more commonly known as Sydney Football Stadium, and only minutes from downtown. Training fields at Moore Park, which surrounds the stadium and includes equestrian trails and a golf course, will be used by the teams for practice sessions ahead of the game. Organizers for the College Football Sydney Cup on Wednesday said tickets sales were "tracking very nicely" and that they expected sales to increase once the teams arrive.
THROW A SHRIMP: Former Australian Olympian and WNBA player and Rice coach Jae Cross provided some humorous moments for the players when she gave a speech about what to expect Down Under. "We have the top 10 deadliest animals ... actually it's only the top eight," Cross said, laughing. She warned the players in particular about the deadly Sydney funnel web spider, eliciting groans from many on the team. And she said not to expect anyone to say "throw a shrimp on the barbie." The Houston-based Cross said: "I don't know where that came from, Aussies say prawns."
PLAYING TOURISTS: Stanford has a trip planned to the Taronga Zoo on the shores of Sydney Harbour, where many of the players who want to see a kangaroo, koala or echidna - or even a funnel-web - will get their wish. Both teams have harbor dinner cruises planned, and Stanford will have its team photo taken in front of the Opera House.
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed from San Francisco.
More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Updated August 15, 2017