Kirby Lee/USA Today

Previewing the Stanford Football Running Backs

The Cardinal's Cup Runneth Over at Running Back.

This is probably the most important position group to preview, because it’s top performer has been one of the least exposed players in college football, AMIRITE?!?!?!

But seriously.

Stanford has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at running back in the Harb-Shaw Era.  Nobody on The Bootleg needs to be reminded of the lineage, but let’s go through it because it’s fun,ok?  Who doesn’t love reminiscing about the exploits of Gerhart, Taylor, and Gaffney?

Is there really much to be added about Christian McCaffrey?  Coach Shaw said at Pac-12 Media Day he has to be careful when he talks about #5 because it doesn’t end up sounding like he’s describing a real human being. McCaffrey had the greatest season in college football history out of the backfield in 2015, and he’s back and supposedly better than ever for this season.  He was the team’s leading receiver, as if running for over 2 Grand wasn’t enough of a contribution.

McCaffrey accounted for 72% of the team’s rushing yards in 2015, and number that stands decrease this year, not because McCaffrey won’t even more difficult to stop, but because he’s got some company in the backfield this year ready to step up and take on a much larger role in 2016.  That’s what’s incredible about this group:  there are reasons to be excited even if you set McCaffrey aside.

In an alternate universe in which Christian McCaffrey chose to star, for say, Stanford’s Rugby team, the buzz about Bryce Love coming into 2016 would be more of a roar.  The electric 187-lb. Dynamo didn’t do much in 2015 except catch 15 of the 16 passes thrown to him into catches good for a jaw-dropping 15.1 yards per target.  McCaffrey, the team’s leading pass catcher, averaged “only” 12.3.

However, Love wasn’t just making plays off the catch.  As a rusher, he averaged 7.8 yards on his 29 carries.  Yes, we need a “SMALL SAMPLE SIZE” caveat, but it’s hard to blame anybody who saw those 29 carries and 15 catches for not summoning an enthusiasm unknown to mankind about what Love may do on the field this year.

“The good thing is that because of our way of taking care of McCaffrey this spring Bryce took everything and did really well.  He’s a complete back,” Shaw said.

Count Coach Shaw among the enthused.  He’s made no secret of the staff’s intent to use the McLovin’ backfield frequently in 2016.  When factoring in the fact that both are very good receiving, the possibilities are endless. One would expect this is not a point lost on opposing defensive coordinators across the Pac-12.

One player who did not help Stanford’s rushing average because of his particular specialty was Remound Wright.  Wright cashed in for 13 touchdowns in 2015, and one issue Stanford will certainly have to sort out is who will be assuming his goal line/short yardage role this year?  Shaw has already confirmed that McCaffrey is “will definitely get some AB’s” in those circumstances, and McCaffrey has stated that he’s up for it, unsurprisingly.

McCaffrey would never point this out, but Wright’s 13 touchdowns certainly would have helped his Heisman resume’, not that it should have needed any help at all, but I digress.  Should McCaffrey concede the goal line role again this year, look for Sophomore Cameron Scarlett to step up into Wright’s role.  Wright deserves enormous credit for carving out his own niche on last year’s team, and as Shaw pointed out, it takes more than just a battering ram to succeed in those situations.

Scarlett certainly fits the physical bill, but will he have the savvy to make it a go?  He certainly stands as the most viable candidate after McCaffrey.  Senior Pat McFadden, a fullback, and Freshmen Trevor Speights and Dorian Maddox round out the backfield.  If there is a concern here, it would be that the depth is certainly inexperienced.  It’s another reason to expect Love to carry more of a load:  Stanford can’t really afford for McCaffrey to suffer from attrition, lest Love and Scarlett be forced to do their Thunder and Lightning Act a year earlier than expected.

Love's growth and McCaffrey's brilliance have Stanford looking very strong, and knowing they've got talent at the skill positions has to be easing any agita' the coaches may have about the quarterback competition. Whoever wins the job at quarterback is gonna have no problem convincing opposing defenses the ball is going to whoever stands behind them in the backfield. Pending the cohesion of the offensive unit, the Cardinal run game is gonna be a sight to behold.

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