One in a series of posts evaluating each position's performance during the 2010 regular season and speculating about what lies ahead in 2011. I realize that these positions are obviously interconnected, but for the purposes of this series, my projections are based solely on the talent at the position, not those other positions which will impact it.
We might as well start with the position that had the most to prove coming into the 2010 season. After Toby Gerhart narrowly missed winning the Heisman Trophy as he broke almost every significant Stanford rushing record in 2009 before leaving for the NFL, many observers predicted a huge fall-off in the run game and even worried that Andrew Luck would suffer because of it.
That didn't happen.
Gerhart rushed for 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns in '09, and the team totaled 2,837 and 38 in thirteen games, numbers that looked difficult to approach. This year, though, the offense has done almost as well, having run for 2,532 yards and 32 touchdowns through the twelve-game regular season.
There's no replacing a legend like Gerhart, and there were times when the team seemed to be missing him around the goal line, but the Cardinal running back corps did their best to fill Toby's shoes.
Taylor got the majority of the work, and he translated that into 1,023 yards, good enough for sixth best in the Pac-10. Most of his yardage came during a five-week streak of 100-yard games in the middle of the season, but his numbers dipped towards the end as Harbaugh started leaning more heavily on Wilkerson. (Taylor averaged 23 carries a game during that mid-season stretch, but only 16 over the final four games.)
Wilkerson had single-digit carry totals in each of the first eight games, but broke out with an 81-yard performance against Arizona and figured prominently in the offensive game plan the rest of the way. His final regular season numbers (87 for 409 and three touchdowns) pale in comparison to Taylor's, but somehow he was more impressive in the limited sample size. Each week he looked more and more like the starting tailback in 2011, which brings us to the problem.
Believe it or not, there's a log jam at the tailback position. The top four gainers in 2010 are three sophomores and a freshman, and more talent appears to be on the way. The 2011 recruiting class includes commitments from three top-twenty running backs, Amir Carlisle, Kelsey Young, and Remound Wright. One of the backs already on campus -- maybe Tyler Gaffney -- will likely be moved into Owen Marecic's vacant fullback position, and others could be moved to the other side of the ball. Also, there's no guarantee that all three of the committed recruits will end up at Stanford. The bottom line, of course, is that it's never a bad thing to have an excess of running backs.
- 2010 Performance: B+
- 2011 Outlook: A-