Will David Shaw be able to exceed expectations this year as Stanford guns for a Pac-12 West title? (Courtesy Michael Li/Flickr)

Will David Shaw be able to exceed expectations this year as Stanford guns for a Pac-12 West title? (Courtesy Michael Li/Flickr)

Can Stanford do the unthinkable? Here’s a plan …

The college football season is soon upon us, not that that’s a reason to strike up the band if national championships are your thing.

But while Cal will be lucky to win more than three games — hey, look, the Bears have threatened to pack a defense this time! — Stanford may be worth our while even if they’re probably a year away from bigger and better things.

OK, girls and boys, let’s play What If …

What if a Harrison Phillips-inspired Cardinal defense that ranked 38th against the run and 61st against the pass a year ago but returns eight starters makes a serious comeback …

What if senior quarterback Kelly Chryst plays with the confidence to match his size and skill level and his go-to guy Trent Irwin has a break-out season …

What if junior flash Bryce Love does a reasonable Christian McCaffrey impersonation behind five experienced road graders and racks up 2,000-plus total yards …

What if the Cardinal regroups after a loss at high-and-mighty Southern California in the second week …

What if coach David Shaw’s squad takes advantage of a cake schedule that has it in Palo Alto for the final three regular-season games …

What if the Cardinal takes seven consecutive wins and a 8-1 record into the Nov. 10 showdown versus a possibly unbeaten Washington team . . .

And the Cardinal ambushes the Huskies at Stanford Stadium to move into the top 10 nationally . . .

What if the Cardinal claims the tie-breaker against Washington and represents the Pac-12 West in the conference championship game …

And what if the Cardinal wins the rematch against USC and advances to the Final Four because, you know, it’s hard for one quality team to beat another another quality team twice in the same season?

True, those are a lot of ifs, but we can dream, can’t we?

OH, THE DRAMA OF IT ALL: The Cleveland Cavaliers made the most of a bad situation when they shipped Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in return for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and the Brooklyn Nets’ first pick in the 2018 draft.

Thomas actually had a higher Win Shares per 48 minutes (.23) than LeBron James (.22) last season, although that number is sure to decline as his teammate. Like Irving, Thomas is a defensive liability. But in Crowder, the Cavaliers acquired the kind of mobile wing defender that they lacked last season.

The draft pick is key here. If the Nets are lousy again, the Cavaliers will be in position to draft an elite young player for the near future. James might think twice before he walks out the free-agent door after the season, and in the likely event that he did, they would have a head start on a rebuild project.

But nobody likes the megadeal better than league and television executives. Imagine the drama when Irving and the Celtics collide with James and the Cavaliers for the right to lose to the Warriors in the NBA Finals next spring.

THE LIST: Five ways to build a fantasy football winner or your money back …

5. Never select a defense before the final two rounds. And if it’s Santa Clara, you’ve lost already, pal.
4. Virtually all tight ends are created equal. Don’t reach for them. Let them come to you.
3. Ditto quarterbacks, although Aaron Rodgers would be darn hard to pass up after round three. Otherwise, take Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota and/or Jameis Winston in the later rounds.
2. Target fast-risers such as Martavis Bryant, Jamison Crowder, Mike Gillislee, Tyreek Hill, Devante Parker and McCaffrey, who’s gonna be a monster in PPR (Points Per Reception) leagues.
1. Load up on running backs and wide receivers in the first six or seven rounds. This is where most games are won and lost. Stay the course. Don’t panic. This will work.

JUST SAYIN’:
NFL Players Association prez Eric Winston doesn’t care if the league is around in 20 years. Glad to hear there’s at least two of us.

Those nude photos of Tiger Woods on the internet are easily his most impressive performance in years.

American patriot George Foreman grilled haters Kevin Durant and Colin Kaepernick the other day.

Well done.

The Minnesota Lynx ran off 37 consecutive points in a 59-point blowout victory the other day. Commissioner Adam Silver immediately invited them to join the National Blowout Association.

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? A compliment?! Send them to pladd@aol.com, and who knows, you may get your name in the paper before long.

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