Heading into the 2019 college football season, Stanford received a No. 25 ranking in the initial Associated Press poll. The Cardinal kicked off the campaign with a seemingly quality win over Northwestern, the reigning Big Ten West champions, and moved up to No. 23.
However, that was basically the highlight of the year.
USC and UCF both smashed David Shaw's club, which managed to upset Washington but otherwise trudged to a very un-Stanford-like 4-8 finish. The team battled injury issues while trotting out a subpar offense and unimpressive defense.
Stanford's 10-year bowl streak came to a screeching halt. The program had a losing record at home for the first time in 12 years, had its nine-game winning streak over rival Cal snapped and finished last in the Pac-12's North Division.
And as the season ended, the exodus began. In December alone, a head-turning 12 players entered the transfer portal.
On offense, that includes quarterback Jack Richardson, wideout Donald Stewart, tight end Scooter Harrington and linemen Devery Hamilton, Henry Hattis and Dylan Powell. Defensively, the list contains linemen Jovan Swann, Michael Williams and Bo Peek, plus linebacker Anthony Trinh and cornerback Obi Eboh. Kicker Collin Riccitelli completes the dozen.
The simple reaction: That isn't a good sign!
But context and nuance are important, too. Exactly how bad is it?
From a numerical perspective, 12 transfers is among the worst nationally. Connecticut has 18 players in the portal, per ESPN's Tom VanHaaren, but it is readying to leave the AAC and has 20 total victories over the last seven years. Coastal Carolina—which is new to the FBS—had 10 players decide to transfer on the same day.
Being mentioned in the same discussion as either program isn't great for Stanford. While transfers will always happen, no school wants to have its depth depleted so rapidly.
That's also where nuance is valuable. So far, the Cardinal are about to lose only a few likely contributors.
Hamilton tallied 27 career appearances on the offensive line, while Hattis entered 21 games and Powell played 20. They were all potential starters in 2020, along with Swann and Williams. They combined to provide 55 tackles with 13.5 stops for loss and five sacks in 2019 and will be missed.
The other six either recently dropped on the depth chart (Eboh and Riccitelli) or haven't yet made a significant impact (Stewart, Harrington, Peek and Trinh).
In fairness to the transfers, some of them may return—except for Powell, who has committed to Indiana. Harrington, for example, could be a larger factor in 2020 if tight end Colby Parkinson declares for the NFL draft. Some may need another offseason to develop, which could be a reflection of coaching.
The rumors connecting Shaw to the NFL might have contributed to the players' decision to enter the transfer portal as well.
Lastly, this isn't a matter of deciding to chase playing time because it isn't going their way immediately.
"All of the players who would be leaving are seniors who would be immediately eligible as graduate transfers," according to Daniel Martinez-Krams of the Stanford Daily.
Let's be clear: There is typically nothing wrong with a player seeking a place where he can earn more snaps. It's fine if a freshman wants to leave, but that decision shouldn't be rushed. As someone nears the end of his eligibility, though, making an honest assessment of opportunities—both athletically and academically—is imperative.
Unless there are some underlying culture worries—and there's no evidence of that—this is largely a depth problem.
After taking only 14 players in the 2018 recruiting class, the Cardinal added 23 in 2019. Entering the early signing period for the 2020 cycle, they hold 19 verbal pledges. The program will likely be a fair number below the 85-scholarship limit.
The deficit might be problematic if injuries wreak havoc on the roster, much like they did this year. Given that Stanford already had depth deficiencies in 2019, seeing a crowd of potential starters and backups head for the door is a major concern.
Yet because all 12 players are graduate transfers anyway, it's an issue basically limited to 2020. Other than a few with two years of eligibility left, they'd be leaving "The Farm" next year.
Stanford has a problem, yes. But if Shaw and Co. address the roster shortage properly with better recruiting and improved development of young players, this is more of a short-term dilemma than the origin of a future meltdown.
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.