To most of the United States, the month of February doesn't exactly scream "spring." But at Stanford, February is just as good a time as any to get to work on the 2015 football season.
With Stanford starting spring football practice on Monday, here are a few players to pay attention to that will play a big role in determining the Cardinal's fortunes this season.
Kevin Hogan and Keller Chryst
The only logical place to start begins with the present and the future of the Stanford quarterback position. The things we know about the quarterbacks at this point are twofold: 1) David Shaw has said that Kevin Hogan is the starter, period. 2) David Shaw has said he wants to get his younger quarterbacks experience at some point in 2015. He doesn't want to go into 2016 with a green new starter. Hogan looked supremely good at the end of last season, and his return was a big positive for this season, but I'm more curious to see what exactly Chryst will offer the Cardinal in the future. He's a big, strong guy with a powerful arm - he looked like Ben Rothelisberger against high school competition - and we all know that any slip ups by Hogan will be met with anything from whispers to shouts for Chryst to play.
There's no question that McCaffrey is a rare talent. His electric play was so profound that it even changed the offensive output late in the season. But does the offense still look look like it did during the last three games last season: heavy doses of McCaffrey featuring Remound Wright as a power back with Kevin Hogan throwing 20 passes a game? Or does the coaching staff have some new wrinkles to introduce this spring? McCaffrey's star is just starting to shine, and I'm curious to see how the coaching staff features him this year.
The former 5-star defensive lineman was recently listed by SI.com as one of 10 redshirt freshmen ready to break out in 2015. Stanford will need him to do just that after losing David Parry and Henry Anderson along the defensive line. Is Thomas a dominant 3-technique in the making or is he going to take some time to adjust to the college game? Spring should provide us a few answers into just how good Thomas could be this fall - and if he's capable of being the beast in the middle he was touted as coming out of high school.
Murphy was a key part of the massive offensive line recruiting class of 2012, and he finally ascended to a full time role as the right tackle in 2014. Now Murphy's task gets a little taller this spring - he'll be asked to flip to the left side and replace Andrus Peat. Murphy was partially responsible for last year's disappointing offensive line performance - he didn't really look comfortable with the speed of the game until late in the season - but a chance to the position he played in high school may help ease the transition. Of course, Murphy's services will need to be replaced on the right side of the line, but he's the guy I'll be zeroed in on this spring.
Peter Kalambayi and Ronnie Harris
These two guys were nice surprises on last year's excellent defense. Both played with consistency sprinkled with flashes of brilliance, locking themselves into starting roles pretty early in the season. However, with all the attrition on the defensive side of the ball, these two are now thrust into the spotlight. If last year is any indication, Harris will be called upon to be the top lockdown cornerback with both Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons off to the pros and Michigan, respectively. (It's important to note that Harris is recovering from an injury, so the primary competition this spring will be among the younger guys.) Kalambayi, who tied for second on the team with 6.5 sacks last season, has the immediate task of replacing the rock-solid James Vaughters, who was a force in the run game last fall. Both guys will need to maintain their high level of play to help set the tone for a defense that will once again face a lot of questions - just like last year's squad.