Stanford football has seen some great running backs throughout its history. Darrin Nelson and Toby Gerhart are only a couple of the names that Cardinal fans will always remember due to their record-setting contributions to the program. But where does current Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor stack up against those legendary ball carriers?
As a matter of fact, Taylor is on pace to threaten several school records in 2012. He may very well end his career as the greatest statistical running back Stanford has ever seen.
Of course statistics are not the only, or even the best, measure of greatness in a running back. Taylor demonstrates great speed, strength and consistency while running the football, just as former players like Nelson and Gerhart did when they played. However, for the sake of looking at the record books, let's just stick to the numbers.
Darrin Nelson's career lasted from 1978 through 1981. He had three 1,000-yard seasons and is Stanford's all-time leading rusher with 4,033 career yards. However, that record should be in serious danger in 2012. Stepfan Taylor already has 2,773 career rushing yards over his first three years at Stanford. That means he only needs 1,260 yards to match Nelson's mark, a number Taylor cruised past in 2011 when he totaled 1,330 yards.
His production should only increase in 2012, as head coach David Shaw will likely rely more on Taylor while the Cardinal break in a new quarterback. Look for Taylor to become Stanford's all-time leading rusher late in the 2012 season.
Taylor could also threaten Toby Gerhart's single-season record of 1,871 yards. Gerhart posted that total in 2009, a season that resulted in a Heisman Trophy nomination. Along with his record-breaking yardage total, Gerhart scored a very impressive 28 total touchdowns in 2009 as well.
While 1,871 yards is an extremely high total, I believe that Taylor has the potential to eclipse it in 2012. Taylor should only improve on his 2011 mark of 1,330 yards on the ground. He will be the true leader of the Stanford offense with the departure of Andrew Luck, and should carry the load on the ground with a new quarterback easing into the offense.
Another factor to consider is the Cardinal's strength of schedule in 2012, or lack thereof. Arizona, Washington State, Washington, Duke, UCLA, San Jose State and Oregon State all allowed more than 150 yards on the ground per game last season. Those seven teams make up more than half of Stanford's current schedule.
The Cardinal will only play one team, USC, who finished in the Top 25 in run defense in 2011. That easy schedule should allow Taylor's yardage totals to increase in 2012 and potentially threaten Gerhart's single-season record.
Aside from rushing records, Taylor could become Stanford's all-time leading scorer in 2012. The current record belongs to Eric Abrams, Stanford's kicker during the early 1990s, who totaled 282 points throughout his career.
Taylor already has 180 points throughout his first three years at Stanford, as he has scored 30 total touchdowns. That means he needs 102 points, or 17 total touchdowns, in 2012 to match Abrams' record. While that may sound like a high total, Taylor scored 16 total touchdowns in 2010. He only scored 12 in 2011, but with the departure of backup running back Tyler Gaffney, who had seven rushing touchdowns last year, Taylor should have no more competition for goal-line carries. I have no problem picturing Taylor making at least 17 trips to the end zone in 2012.
After the 2012 season is over, the Stanford record books should have Taylor's name written all over it. The senior running back will threaten three of the school's biggest offensive records during his last season with the Cardinal. Look for him to challenge legendary backs such as Darrin Nelson and Toby Gerhart in the discussion of Stanford's greatest offensive weapons of all-time as the 2012 season wears on.