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Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Recruit and return: Stanford Cardinal

By Erik McKinney

Though the season ended on a sour note, with a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, 2013 was another tremendously successful season for the Cardinal. Stanford posted an 11-win season and defended its Pac-12 crown. Heading toward signing day, it's doubtful this loss will damage any of the momentum the Cardinal have built on the recruiting trail. On the heels of a small recruiting class in 2013 -- Stanford signed just a dozen prospects -- Shaw and his assistants will be able to go after more recruits in the 2014 class, though this group still likely won't approach the maximum allowable limit of 25. At this point, Stanford's 2014 class ranks No. 28 in the nation and No. 4 in the Pac-12.

Key losses: CB Usua Amanam, FS Devon Carrington, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, FB Ryan Hewitt, DE Josh Mauro, OLB Trent Murphy, ILB Shayne Skov, RB Anthony Wilkerson, C Khalil Wilkes, OG David Yankey*

Instant impact freshman: Stanford must find a way to replace 390 carries, 1,971 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground from 2013, as Gaffney and Wilkerson complete their Cardinal careers. And while there are some very talented backs on the roster looking to contribute, it's likely that ESPN 300 athlete Christian McCaffrey (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian) will make an early impact and could push to see the field as a true freshman. As a senior, McCaffrey rushed for 1,858 yards and 27 touchdowns, caught 39 passes for 721 yards and 16 scores, and intercepted two passes on defense. Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders will likely have a say as to who takes over the lead tailback spot from Gaffney, but running back is one of the few spots where the 2014 Cardinal are without much proven depth. If a newcomer has a chance to be heard from next year, there's a good chance it will be McCaffrey.

Top 2014 recruits: Joining McCaffrey in this class are three fellow ESPN 300 recruits, including No. 1 quarterback Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto), defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) and safety Brandon Simmons (Arlington, Tex./Timberview). The linebacker position is also very well represented, as four-star recruits Joey Alfieri (Portland, Ore./Jesuit) and Jordan Perez (Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad) join Bobby Okereke (Tustin, Calif./Foothill) and Lane Veach (Chandler, Ariz./Perry) there. In Stanford's power offense, the fullback is always an intriguing piece, so watching how Daniel Marx (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) develops there should be interesting.

Questions for signing day: There is a chance that Stanford could close with a phenomenal trio of recruits as ESPN 300 prospects Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell), Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) and Dalton Schultz (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) are all on the board. All three would add to positions that have been tremendous strengths for Stanford over the past few seasons. Landing Thomas at defensive end, Tucker at offensive tackle and Schultz at tight end would not only prove that the Cardinal's success on the field is unlikely to come to an end soon, but it would make yet another statement that Stanford is one of the recruiting elite when they set their sights on a top prospect. The Cardinal could also put the finishing touches on a fantastic front seven recruiting class if defensive ends Uriah Leiataua (Compton, Calif./Dominguez) -- who holds an offer -- and Louis Vecchio (Villa Park, Calif./Villa Park) -- who hasn't yet been offered but could be close to one -- wind up in this class.

* Possible early entrant in NFL draft