The Stanford Cardinal kicked off their 2013 on a high note as they pushed their way to a win in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Vizio over the Wisconsin Badgers. It was Stanford’s first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1999 and their first win in the Granddaddy of them all since 1971. But head coach David Shaw says this team still has room to grow and improve and they have yet to play their best football yet. That should make 2013 a year of new heights for Stanford football.
The team is going to lose a lot of talent to graduation after this season, though. Most notably, running back Stepfan Taylor and his 1,530 yards rushing from 2012 will need to be replaced. Taylor put his mark on the Rose Bowl win, rushing for a hard-fought 88 yards with a touchdown, giving him a school-best 45 scores in his career. He served as a consistent presence for the Stanford offense as the quarterback situation went through an occasionally rough transition.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford will have to replace a group of starters who were key to the team’s success this season. Defensive lineman Terrence Stephens was a blocker-consuming force in the middle of the defense, helping free up Stanford’s linebackers to make plays. Linebacker Chase Thomas, who was second on the team in tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (7.5), decided to return to school for his senior season in 2012 and will now move on after doing wonders for his draft stock.
Thomas’ example will hopefully sway some other key contributors who are weighing their options between returning to school for another year or jumping into the NFL draft this spring. They include linebackers Shayne Skov, who led the team in tackles this season and is eligible for a medical redshirt, and Trent Murphy, who led the team in tackles for loss (18) and sacks (10) and defensive end Ben Gardner, who was third on the team in TFL (14.5) and sacks (7.5).
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cardinal risk losing two of their top receivers to the NFL in the tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Ertz is considered one of the top tight end prospects in this year’s draft and could be a first-round selection. He led the team in receiving this season with 69 catches for 898 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-foot-8 Toilolo finished third in receiving for Stanford this year, catching 24 passes for 393 yards and four touchdowns.
But Shaw has made sure the cupboard is far from bare next season, no matter what those players decide. In consecutive years, the Stanford program has had to replace a Heisman Trophy runner-up in Toby Gerhart, a head coach in Jim Harbaugh and another Heisman runner-up in Andrew Luck and gone 34-4 with three straight BCS bowl games to show for it. The Cardinal have proven that they aren’t a flash-in-the-pan program, but a football factory on the rise.
The team will be led next season by Kevin Hogan, of course, who will look to improve on his abbreviated freshman season. Since replacing Josh Nunes as the starter following the game against the Colorado Buffaloes, Hogan has led Stanford to a perfect 5-0 record with wins over three different ranked teams (including back-to-back wins over the UCLA Bruins) and a Rose Bowl win. He’ll only get better as he continues to learn, grow and develop in the Cardinal offense next season.
Stanford accomplished plenty in 2012. They won the Pac 12 Championship, their first conference title since 1999, won the Rose Bowl and took another step towards raising Stanford into the discussion of premier programs in college football. But as David Shaw told the world on New Year’s Day, they’re only going to get better.