When former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck declared himself eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft, all hope seemed lost for the Stanford football program. All appearances were that the era of Stanford ranking among college football’s elite had come to an end.
Fortunately for Stanford, one important facet of their dominance seems to have been overlooked: lots of that success can be attributed to running back Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal’s ground attack.
We all know that Stanford’s offense revolved around Luck and his incredible ability to make something out of nothing. Time and time again, Luck stepped up in the clutch and helped elevate the Stanford football program to heights it hadn’t seen in years. The running game, however, seems have gone unnoticed as the Cardinal’s unsung hero.
For the past two years, Taylor has posted 1,000-plus yard seasons as the Cardinal’s premier running back. While defenses have turned their attention to Luck, Taylor has wreaked havoc on opposing front sevens with his ability to exploit holes in the defense and pick up yards after contact. A second-team All-PAC-12 running back in 2011, Taylor will be looking for another huge season in 2012 that could prove to be Heisman worthy.
Some questions may arise about Taylor’s ability to repeat his past success after linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin both headed for the NFL. Those questions will soon dissipate when the likes of David Yankey, Cam Fleming and Sam Schwartzstein take the field. The Cardinal also brought in top recruits Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, who should help keep Stanford’s stout offensive line intact. Although the offensive line lost some talent to the NFL this offseason, there’s still plenty of blocking available to make holes for Taylor all season long.
With Luck gone and lingering concerns about Stanford’s situation at quarterback, the Cardinal offense will be looking to rely heavily on Taylor this year to carry the load. Even with a plethora of running back talent (Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson, Barry Sanders Jr.) behind Taylor on the depth chart, the Stanford always fall back on their workhorse to make plays when the game is on the line.
If Stanford can maintain itself as a BCS-caliber team in 2012, a large portion of the credit will likely be placed on Taylor and the running game’s shoulders. And seeing how Stanford players have been Heisman finalists the past three years, there’s a good chance that the trend will continue this upcoming campaign.
Taylor might not be the biggest name heading into the 2012 season, but if he can stay healthy, he’ll certainly find his way onto most Heisman short lists by the time December rolls around.