Season Report Card: Stanford Cardinal
After all, the Cardinal have now been to four consecutive BCS bowls and were a few plays away from playing for the national title again in 2013.
There were tremendous highs in 2013. The manhandling of a cocky Oregon squad, impressive regular season wins over Arizona State, UCLA and Washington, and a Pac-12 Championship Game rout of the Sun Devils.
But there were also lows: Eggs laid at Utah and USC and a lethargic effort in the Rose Bowl.
Put together, what does that give Stanford for the season? Here are the final grades:
When Stanford lost this season, it was because the offense failed the Cardinal, not the defense. There were games in which Stanford's offense looked unstoppable (55-17 and 63-23 routs of Washington State and Cal for example), and then there were other games, like the Rose Bowl, when the offense looked lost.
Kevin Hogan, who was at one point seen as a rising star and top-flight talent, regressed a bit in 2013 without his tight end security blankets Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Some Cardinal fans are clamoring for Ryan Burns, who redshirted in 2013 or true-freshman-to-be Keller Chryst to get a crack at Hogan's job next fall.
To me the fall off at tight end was more alarming. Stanford has built itself on tight ends, with a half dozen on NFL rosters. This year, the Cardinal got zero production from the position. Luckily the Cardinal had three tight ends redshirt in 2013 and the top tight end recruit Dalton Schultz joining the offense in 2014.
Positives on offense were running back Tyler Gaffney and wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Both had breakout seasons and Gaffney continued Stanford's trend of bruising tailbacks that wear down opposing defenses. The problem was that few weapons emerged beyond the two of them.
Simply put, this was one of college football's best units. It shut out Oregon's offense for three quarters, didn't surrender 30 points in a game all season and had the nation's sack leader, Trent Murphy. Murphy led Stanford's so-called #partyinthebackfield, but he wasn't alone. Linebacker Shayne Skov, who was in his second year back from knee surgery, looked more like the pre-injury stud roaming the middle of the field than his 2012 incarnation.
What made Stanford's defense so strong in 2013 is that there were no weak links and lots of depth. With the exception of failing to get a stop on USC's game-winning drive in the Coliseum in November, the Cardinal defense rose to the occasion time and again.
This is a huge point of contention among Stanford fans. David Shaw takes a ton of criticism because of micro-level play-calling decisions. Sure, he can be set in his ways at times (I would have liked to see more creativity in the Rose Bowl and better play-calling at the goal line at Utah), but it is also that same play calling that has gotten Stanford to be the program it is today.
Three straight BCS games speak for themselves. The game plan against Oregon was as close to perfect as it could be. Stanford doesn't have top recruiting classes every year but continues to be a top-10 team. I can't fault the coaching.
After all, there is a reason David Shaw is wanted for almost every vacant coaching position and that in just four years, Stanford has built one of the nation's more impressive coaching trees.
Any season with a Rose Bowl win is an A. Any season with a Rose Bowl appearance is at least an A-. From where Stanford once was, this program continues to amaze me.