Tyler Gaffney began the grilling on his official visit to Stanford in January 2009, when Toby Gerhart, another two-sport athlete, served as his host. Gaffney continued it last season, when Gerhart, then a senior, was piling up 1,871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns, both school records, and Gaffney, then a freshman tailback, was mostly patrolling the sideline. Toby, how do you manage school and baseball and football? How do you deal with the speed of the game? How do you attack this defense? "I asked him a ton of questions," says Gaffney. There was, however, one thing he never thought to ask: "How in the world will we replace you when you're gone?"
After all, even with its Heisman runner-up off to the Minnesota Vikings, Stanford's offense is hardly destitute. Eight starters will be back, including four of the five guys who made up a line that allowed seven sacks, second fewest in the nation. Also back is sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, who passed for 2,575 yards and 13 TDs last year and who, unlike Gerhart last season, will be on many preseason Heisman watch lists. Luck will throw it more than he did last year, says offensive coordinator David Shaw, "but we don't want to be one of those teams that just lines up and throws the ball 60 times a game. We want to play tough and physical between the tackles and run the ball."
The Cardinal will rely on a trio of tailbacks: 5'11", 208-pound sophomore Stepfan Taylor, who was the team's third-leading rusher in '09 (behind Gerhart and Luck), with 56 carries and 303 yards; 6'1", 218-pound senior Jeremy Stewart, who had 17 carries for 107 yards in four games before a right-knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the season; and Gaffney, a rangy 6'1", 216-pound sophomore who had 22 carries for 87 yards last fall and earned Pac-10 honorable mention as a rightfielder for the school's baseball team this past spring. "We have a good group of guys who can all do something a little bit different," says Shaw.
This season, if all goes well, Gaffney and his backfield mates will step up and keep Stanford rolling. No questions asked.
COACH Jim Harbaugh (4th year)
2009 RECORD 8--5 (6--3 in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 14
Offense 8, Defense 6
4 Sacramento St.
11 at UCLA
18 Wake Forest
25 at Notre Dame
2 at Oregon
23 Washington St.
30 at Washington
13 at Arizona State
20 at Cal
27 Oregon State
In addition to his dazzling numbers as a passer, Luck ran for 354 yards, good for second best on the team.
The Pac-10 honorable mention fullback also tops the depth chart at middle linebacker.
Five-star 2009 recruit justified the acclaim last year by making 62 tackles, including 15 against Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl.
JASON O. WATSON/US PRESSWIRE (GAFFNEY)
Also a rightfielder for the baseball team, Gaffney (25) will platoon in the backfield with Taylor and Stewart.
PETER READ MILLER