Prior to the start of fall camp, Cardinal Sports Report analyzed some of the pressing questions facing the 2013 Stanford Cardinal. Now, days after Stanford's season ended last week with a 24-20 loss in the 100th Rose Bowl, we review how those questions were answered over the course of the season, and what those answers mean for the future of Cardinal football.
Preseason Question: Who will replace Daniel Zychlinski at punter? It wasn't the highest profile of position battles, but Stanford waited a few weeks into fall camp to decide the competition between Ben Rhyne, Conrad Ukropina and freshman walk-on Alex Robinson. Rhyne, the redshirt junior, ended up winning the job and had a very solid 2013 campaign.
Rhyne averaged 42.9 yards per punt (by comparison, Zychlinski averaged 43.1 in 2012). 23 percent of his punts went for at least 50 yards, and he pinned the opponent inside of its own 20-yard-line on 29 percent of his punts. Rhyne was also at his best in Stanford's biggest game of the year; the North Carolina native averaged 49.8 yards per punt in five boots at the Rose Bowl
It's expected that Rhyne will return in 2014 for his fifth and final season of eligibility. As a result, Stanford's punt team should once again be a strength.
Preseason Question: Who will start at outside linebacker opposite Trent Murphy? The outside linebacker position experienced significant personnel changes over the course of the season. In fall camp, the competition to replace Chase Thomas was between James Vaughters and Blake Lueders. Vaughters won the starting spot, and both he and Lueders received significant reps at outside backer in the first part of the season.
That changed midway through the year. Injuries to Henry Anderson and Ikenna Nwafor (and later Ben Gardner) and the absence of an emerging young defensive lineman created major depth issues at the position. As a result, Stanford moved Lueders to defensive end in mid-October. He stayed there for the remainder of the season and played a critical role as the Cardinal's top defensive line reserve.
Several other developments shaped the composition of the outside linebacker group. Joe Hemschoot, who played inside linebacker and nickelback in the first part of the season, was moved to outside linebacker. Hemschoot provided some of the athleticism and ability to play well in space that Alex Debniak brought to the position in 2012. Additionally, redshirt sophomore Kevin Anderson emerged as an aggressive and physical presence as the season progressed. He finished the season with 6.5 tackles for loss and had a pick-six in the Rose Bowl. If Lueders stays at defensive end next season, Anderson and Vaughters will likely open the 2014 campaign as the starters at outside linebacker with Hemschoot No. 3 in the rotation, assuming he stays at outside linebacker. (The coaches like what Hemschoot brings to the table at outside linebacker, but if A.J. Tarpley leaves early for the NFL, which is a realistic possibility, they might be forced to reconsider his position.)
Preseason Question: How does Stanford get Kelsey Young more touches? Kelsey Young only had 22 touches from scrimmage in the 2012 season, but he left a strong impression in a limited role. Young averaged more than 11 yards a carry and 9.3 yards per reception, and scored two critical touchdowns (on a long run against Arizona and a reverse in the Rose Bowl). With the departure of Stepfan Taylor and Stanford's two NFL tight ends (Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo), it stood to reason that Young would be a bigger part of the offense in 2013.
But instead of growing, Young's role actually diminished this season. Though he averaged 8.65 yards per offensive touch, he only possessed the ball 17 times from scrimmage (14 runs, three receptions). Young isn't a fluid receiver, and with Tyler Gaffney dominating touches in the run game, Stanford wasn't able to carve out a consistent role for Young. Moreover, with Barry Sanders continuing to mature and the dynamic Christian McCaffrey set to join the program in 2014, it's not immediately clear how or where Young will be receive more touches in the seasons to come.
Preseason Question: How will Stanford's backup quarterbacks develop behind Kevin Hogan With Josh Nunes forced to take a medical retirement before the season, Stanford's proven quarterback depth was lacking in 2013; not a single quarterback on the roster other than Hogan had taken even one collegiate snap.
Fortunately for Stanford, Hogan stayed healthy the entire season, so Stanford's backup quarterbacks were never tested in a meaningful situation. But Evan Crower, who emerged as the No. 2 quarterback during camp, played well in limited reps. (Most of his pass attempts came against Cal.) Crower completed 10-of-15 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown with zero interceptions. There are still questions about Crower's arm strength and mobility, but he was accurate and efficient when called upon.
The 2013 season was also an eventful one for Dallas Lloyd. In the early parts of the year, Lloyd was featured alongside Ricky Seale in a package designed to take advantage of Lloyd's considerable athletic abilities. But after the package fumbled twice, it was shelved; Lloyd didn't take a snap after the Oregon State game. And, in bowl practices, Lloyd starting practicing at safety. The move was likely a result of two key factors: first, that Lloyd was unlikely to beat out Hogan, Burns, or incoming freshman Keller Chryst for the starting quarterback nod, and second, that the Cardinal was badly lacking in safety depth. And though Stanford isn't closing the door on using Lloyd at quarterback in the future, there will be plenty of opportunity for the Utah native to make an impact in the secondary in years to come.
Probably the most physically gifted quarterback on Stanford's roster, Ryan Burns, redshirted in 2013, but showed glimpses of his talent in open practices and drew praise from coaches and players throughout the season. It's still uncertain when Burns will be ready for primetime (it's unlikely that he'll be out Hogan next season), or if he'll beat out five-star incoming freshman Keller Chryst, but Burns has all the physical tools to be a star at the college level and beyond. And no matter how the quarterback competitions play out over the next few seasons, the future of the Stanford quarterback position is undoubtedly bright.
(Redshirt junior walk-on David Olson spent the season handling scout team duties along with Burns, but he did take one snap against Washington State, ending the game with a kneel-down. Though he does have another year of eligibility, Olson was introduced with Stanford's seniors on Senior Day and his Stanford career could be over.)