This grade might seem high, but I'm consistently willing to give Hogan the benefit of the doubt regarding this year. Call it the better angels of my nature or idiocy or whatever you want. Hogan wasn't the primary problem this season, and he wasn't the primary solution, but all in all, I thought he did okay. He was absolutely terrible in some games, and pretty darn good in others. The lack of an intermediate passing game that was so bemoaned last season returned this year, but it came at a cost. The offense was far less explosive as a consequence. He threw fewer interceptions and had a higher completion percentage, but he walked into sacks far too often, threw some of the most WTF interceptions I've ever seen, and threw for fewer yards this season - on 50 fewer attempts. I think Hogan's grander issues were more attributable to failures of the coaching staff and offensive line - it's been proven that you can win games with Hogan and a strong defense - so I'm willing to let him end 2014 with a decently high grade.
Running Backs: C+
This group was never consistent. They ran well at times, and they didn't run well at times. They struggled to pass block all season long. Lead dog Remound Wright had moments of consistency and explosion, but also committed some backbreaking penalties. Kelsey Young was okay, but not as explosive as in years past. Patrick Skov was pretty strong in short yardage and goal line packages. The only guy I really liked out of the bunch was Barry Sanders, and he never even found the end zone this season. So it goes. This group didn't do a good job of carrying the torch from Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Part of that isn't their fault - as I'll address in the offensive line section - but this is a year to forget from this group.
Christian McCaffrey: A+
This kid needed his own grade apart from the morass above him. He was outstanding from the moment he first touched the field, and I only wish he had been used more frequently this season. He came up a yard short of two touchdowns in back-to-back games, but still finished the year with 51 total touches for 494 yards and two scores. That's a 9.68-yard-per-touch average. He's literally a walking, breathing first down. Here's hoping he goes bananas in the bowl game and the coaches let him touch the ball three times as often next season.
Wide Receivers: B-
I think all I can say about this group is that they were alright. They weren't the primary issue with this team and they weren't the primary solution for it either. The only consistent issue with this group was play calling, but that's not their fault. The coaches tried to get the ball to Ty Montgomery too often, which means they had to manufacture touches for him because he didn't play especially well down the field. While I understand the coaches wanting to take their most explosive player and make him the focal point of the offense, it didn't turn out particularly well. In retrospect, they shouldn't have tried to make Ty into "TY!" That energy would have been better expended on Christian McCaffrey. Devon Cajuste was good and Michael Rector was pretty good, but he was unfortunately not targeted as much as I would have liked. I really enjoyed what Francis Owusu brought to this group this year as well. His ceiling is very, very high.
Tight ends: A
After "The Great Tight End Drought of 2013", I thought 2014 was a showcase performance by Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton. I really thought their on-field performance this season was outstanding. However, I do think the coaches underutilized them, though. Hooper was a consistently dominant performer, Taboada proved he could be a fearsome red zone threat, and Cotton flashed some real potential downfield. I wish Pep Hamilton had this group to play with, because he would have found a way to get all of this pass-catching tight ends involved more frequently.
Offensive Line: C
I don't think it's a stretch to say that this was the worst position group this season. Aside from Andrus Peat, who had a steady, but not overwhelming season, every player had major issues. Blown protection calls, individual failures in the run game and pass protection, bad snaps... you name it. This group ended the year on a strong note - their best performances were reserved for the final two games - but they were the onfield unit most responsible for the Cardinal's offensive problems. Four of the five starters should return, so perhaps the future is bright next season, but this squad struggled mightily in 2014.
Defensive Line: A
I don't know that there's all that much to say about the defensive line. They were rock solid all season long. They worked hard and did their job - even when they were on the field all the time. Henry Anderson was excellent most of the year and David Parry had some dominant games. They weren't spectacular at creating pressure from base sets, but that's a small knock on a good group. It's fair to say that they were good in every game but the Oregon game.
In my opinion, this group was Stanford's best position group this season, and I think every single player improved over the course of the season. Two players stood out in particular: James Vaughters, who was an absolute beast against the run, and Peter Kalambayi, who was a freak on the field. Of course, I can't avoid mentioning leading tackler Blake Martinez, who stepped in admirably for Shayne Skov, and AJ Tarpley, who was consistently excellent. High marks all around, boys.
Defensive Backs: A-
Once again, this was another position group where every player improved over the course of the season. Alex Carter was fantastic, Wayne Lyons finally took a leap, and Jordan Richards was great against the pass and the run. The only weak spot from time to time was Zach Hoffpaiur, who has never been particularly natural in coverage. (But he was good at stopping the run as a nickel corner.) I think Duane Akina proved to be an asset to the Stanford coaching staff right away, and I think the added physicality from this unit was attributable to his coaching philosophy. The fact that he finally got Wayne Lyons to break through his plateau was most impressive to me. So why the minus? A defensive back blowing his assignment on the final play of the Notre Dame game cost Stanford a win.
Special Teams: B-
Ty Montgomery was a good kick and punt returner and Ben Rhyne was perhaps too good at punting the ball, but Jordan Williamson was a mess early in the season. That's what drags this grade down so much. Now, he missed only one field goal from the Arizona State game onward, but his leg was sorely needed early in the year, and he didn't deliver. Kudos to him for getting right at the end of the year, including some very impressive kicks against Oregon and Utah.
Where to start with the coaches this season?
There was too much emphasis on getting the ball to Ty Montgomery, too little development of Kevin Hogan, too many blunders in the red zone, too many poor in-game coaching decisions and too many poor play calls to leave me feeling overwhelmed by the coaching staff this season. Their early failures were almost comprehensive and it was painful to detail them week after week after week.
That said, their midseason switch to a more effective offensive strategy was heartening. That's not an easy thing to do - coaches are prideful about their playbooks - and I think it shows that this staff is at least willing to try and rework some things, even in the middle of the season. The play calling improved near the end of the year, and they finally found some things that worked. Ending the year on a fifth straight Big Game win and a dominant victory over #8 UCLA was extremely positive for this group, even if the home loss to Utah was positively wretched.
It's also worth noting that Lance Anderson did a phenomenal job in his first year as defensive coordinator. It's become overlooked because the Cardinal's offensive problems were extreme, but good defense isn't a birthright by any means. After losing Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, this defense was just as rugged as any one in years past. There's a reason why Anderson got some notoriety for the Broyles Award this season, and he deserves a huge heap of praise for his performance. He waited a long time for this job, and he exceeded all expectations in year one.
Overall, I don't think this was the coaches' best season - not by a long shot - but there were some inarguably positive signs at the end of the year. I think there's substantial room to grow and that another offensive mind probably needs to be added to the staff to help shake the play-calling doldrums - but I'm willing to say that their end of season improvement left me feeling better than if you had asked me this same question several weeks ago.