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5 Stanford Football Players Who Must Step Up in 2014

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Cardinal Who Need Big Seasons in 2014

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This past season was another huge success for the Stanford Cardinal football team, who finished the year with an 11-3 record, the PAC-12 crown and a trip to the 2014 Rose Bowl. While they fell short of the lofty expectations that were set at the beginning of the season, it was another outstanding campaign.

If the Cardinal want to continue their reign atop the PAC-12 in 2014, though, they need some of their top up-and-coming talents to step up.

With so many of their stars graduating or heading for the NFL, it’s going to be extremely important for Stanford to find players capable of stepping up and filling the voids left by departed players. Whether it’s an established standout or a fresh body, someone must accept the challenge.

The Cardinal will also need a big boost from some of their current starters. With top talents gone, some of the returners will need to pick up the slack. Especially after watching a few of the best players to ever play for Stanford leave for the NFL Draft, it’s going to be difficult filling those shoes. The experience returning starters have, though, will have to do.

It’s going to be another huge year for Stanford football in 2014. With head coach David Shaw back for another go around and plenty of young talent waiting for an opportunity to shine, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be a force to be reckoned with in the PAC-12.

Here’s a look at five players who must step up in 2014 if the Cardinal are going to take the crown again.

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FS Zach Hoffpauir

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With Ed Reynolds headed for the NFL, the Cardinal are suddenly faced with an ugly situation at free safety. Devon Carrington, Joe Hemschoot, and Chris Gaertner are all seniors, and Drew Madhu was forced to quit football before last season because of medical concerns. That leaves Hoffpauir, set to be a junior, as the most likely replacement at free safety. Hoffpauir will be filling big shoes, but showed well in limited action this past season. Can he get the job done alongside Jordan Richards in 2014?

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LT Andrus Peat

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The only remaining starter along the Stanford offensive line heading into 2014, Peat will be handed the responsibility of leading the group. He doesn’t need to step up in terms of production or reliability, but instead must embrace the leadership role and help the four replacement starters gel as a unit. There’s no more David Yankey, Cameron Fleming, Khalil Wilkes or Kevin Danser, which means it is Peat’s time to shine.

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QB Kevin Hogan

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After an exciting first year as the Cardinal’s starting quarterback, Hogan had a down year in 2013. Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad year, the redshirt sophomore wasn’t quite the playmaker he appeared to be in 2012. This upcoming season, Stanford will need him to become the top-tier passer he has the potential to be. If he can do that, Hogan should have no trouble leading the Cardinal to yet another PAC-12 championship.

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ILB A.J. Tarpley

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After five seasons down on the Farm, Shayne Skov is headed for the NFL. That leaves Tarpley as the heir apparent to the leadership role on the Stanford defense. The team’s second-leading tackler this past season, Tarpley has shown steady leadership skills alongside the fiery, intense Skov. With the sixth-year senior now out the picture, Tarpley has a huge burden to bear in taking over as the voice of the Cardinal defense. If his last two seasons as a starter are any evidence, though, he’ll have no problem taking the reins in 2014.

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RB Barry Sanders Jr.

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It’s time for Sanders to finally live up to his name. For the past two years, Stanford fans have been patiently waiting for the son of one of the greatest running backs of all time to live up to the hype. With Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson both graduating, 2014 will provide Sanders with the perfect opportunity to steal the show and earn the role of the Cardinal’s workhorse back. He’ll need to outperform Ricky Seale and Remound Wright for the starting job, but that shouldn’t be too tough considering Sanders’ bloodlines and natural ability.

Is 2014 finally time for Sanders to run wild? We’ll see.

Gil Alcaraz IV is the Director of Content for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.