Stanford Cardinal running back Bryce Love is having an historic season, topping 1,000 yards in the opening five games. He has impressed this season, while showing flashes early in his career backing up Christian McCaffrey. Now it is time to measure him against some of the all-time Stanford greats who have played tailback.
The factors I will be using to judge these backs are stats, consistency over the college career and the effect they had on their team. Did they lift their team, or were they part of a great roster? After heading through the history books, these are the top five backs.
Honorable Mention - Tommy Vardell - 1988-91
Vardell had by far the worst quarterback situation of the running backs on this list, with Jason Palumbis throwing for only 4,954 yards in four years. Verdell only recorded 1,893 yards but is third in rushing yards all time, with 39 scores. On a team with a mostly mediocre passing offense, Vardell found the end zone time and again for the Cardinal.
- Stepfan Taylor: 2009-12 - Taylor did have the benefit of playing with some great quarterbacks, like Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan, he bridged the gap between the two games. He never had a bad season, even between finding the next star signal caller after Luck’s departure. He leads Stanford in career rushing yards with 4,300 and second with 40 career rushing touchdowns in his career. He is first all-time with 21 100-yard games and had a career yards per carry average of 5.1. He is the best back in Stanford history because of his numbers and the consistency he had in turnover at key positions.
- Toby Gerhart: 2006-09 - A great running back that was a Heisman contender, Gerhart is another back that guided the Cardinal through plenty of quarterback turnover. After starting with a solid quarterback in Trent Edwards, he downgraded to T.C Ostrander before leading the team through rough waters until Luck took over in 2009. Yes he played with Luck, but only for one season and during his freshman year. Gerhart is fourth all-time rushing with 3,552 yards and leads Stanford with 44 career touchdowns.
- Christian McCaffrey: 20014-16 - Yes, yes he had Hogan for two of his three seasons and Hogan is third in career passing yards. He is also not getting credit for receiving and return yards here, but even with all of that, the Heisman contender is still one of the best backs in Stanford history. His was a stud in his time with the Cardinal, changing the game and elevating the offense which helped elevate Hogan. He has 2,922 career rushing yards which puts him third all-time and second all-time in rushing yards per carry with 6.1 yards. He also has 21 touchdowns and 11 100-yard games in his career for ninth and second respectively in Stanford history.
- Bryce Love: 2015-current - This is not recency bias, Love is a great running back, who has played through really tough quarterbacks. The best quarterback he played with was Hogan, and he was securely fasted to the bench. When he got a chance to start while McCaffrey was out in 2016 he stepped in and looked phenomenal. Now as the starter he set the record for Stanford as the first running back to reach 1,000 yards in just five games. He has also set school bests in yards in a single game (301), yards per carry through a career (8.5) and sixth all-time with 10 100-yard rushing games. He has had no help from his quarterbacks or other skill position spots. He is a top level back and is making a run at the Heisman trophy.
- Darrin Nelson: 1977-78, 1980-81 - Nelson was a great running back, but he gets points taken away because of the quarterbacks he was playing with at Stanford. In his first two seasons, he played with Steve Dils, who is a solid signal caller and is 18 on the Stanford passing list. In his next two season he played with John Elway, who was pretty good at throwing the ball as well, ranking fourth in Stanford quarterbacks. While Nelson did rush for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns (second and seventh all-time) he still is the only running back on the list to play with a top ranking Stanford quarterback every year of his career. He was a great back, but is slotted at five because of the team around him while making the cut with his great numbers.