Pac-12: Tommy Vardell
Taylor has practically become famous, in fact, for being overlooked and underrated. It's a perception that is frequently noted just before a coach or player praises Taylor for his all-around skills as well as his character.
"For some reason, I don't know why, I think he is extremely underrated," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose Ducks play host to Taylor and Stanford on Saturday.
Taylor, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, is hardly anonymous. You don't become the first player in Stanford history to record back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and be known only as What's His Name.
He is 169 rushing yards from reaching 4,000 in his career and 203 yards from breaking the school's career rushing record held by Darrin Nelson. Taylor’s 36 career rushing touchdowns are third all-time on The Farm. He needs one more to tie "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell for second.
Taylor presently ranks 22nd in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 with 106.1 yards per game. He's also the Cardinal's second leading receiver with 28 catches for 184 yards and two scores. Last week in the win over Oregon State, Taylor fumbled for the first time in nearly a calendar year, snapping a streak of 261 consecutive rushes without a fumble dating back to Nov. 26, 2011.
Oh, and he can block, too.
"He's the best pass-blocking running back in our conference, and it's not even close," Shaw said.
You put this all together, and the most popular conclusion is that Taylor's payoff will be in the NFL, where his toughness, ability to run between the tackles and diversity of skills will be more fully appreciated.
"Oh, gosh, I think he's a really, really good player. I really like him," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think he's an NFL back. He's powerful, he's quick, he's smart, he's durable. He just keeps pounding at you. Of course, that's kind of Stanford's mentality, and he fits into it really well."
Riley knows firsthand. The Beavers own one of the nation's toughest run defenses, but Taylor gashed it for 114 yards on 19 carries in a 27-23 victory last weekend. However, it was a screen pass at the end of the third quarter that earned Taylor the most kudos. He took the short dump pass 40 yards for a critical touchdown that started the Stanford comeback, and just about every Oregon State defender had a shot at him but couldn't get Taylor down, most notably safety Anthony Watkins, whom Taylor dispatched with a brutal stiff-arm at the 12-yard line.
As for Taylor being underrated and underappreciated, the person who seems to care least about that is Taylor.
"I don't really think about that," he said. "I feel like people who watch football recognize what I do. I just go out there and play my game, control what I can control. That's the main thing. And try to get the win. That's my main focus."
Said Shaw, "He's the last person who wants to talk about himself."
Taylor might have to talk about himself if the Cardinal upset the No. 2 Ducks. By just about every estimation, Taylor will have to come up big for Stanford to have a chance. Stanford must run well and possess the football against a beaten-up Oregon defense, thereby keeping the Ducks' explosive offense on the sidelines.
Oregon pounded the Cardinal the previous two years, both times handing Stanford its only regular-season loss. While Taylor said, "It's the next game on our schedule; it just happens to be Oregon," he also admitted veteran Stanford players might have something of a "chip on our shoulder" when it comes to the Ducks.
And Taylor might be ready for his national close-up.
If he were to put up big numbers in a win over Oregon on Saturday, here's a guess that he'd become suddenly popular among fans of many college football teams, including Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said running back Toby Gerhart, who suffered a hamstring injury at Oregon last weekend, will try to practice Tuesday and may be able to play against USC.
"I talked to him yesterday and he said he felt good," Harbaugh said.
Gerhart's string of four consecutive 100-yard games ended when he carried the ball only eight times for 21 yards against the Ducks. He tried to play in the second half but was ineffective due to the injury.
He was replaced by Anthony Kimble, who rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Gerhart needs 68 yards to become the Cardinal's first back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since Tommy Vardell in 1991.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Links go good with mustard.
- California quarterback Kevin Riley practiced for the first time Wednesday. Now the question is: Will he start at USC?
- Arizona figures to run wild at Washington State.
- Arizona State has been struggling in the red zone.
- Oregon is planning to get its passing game on track against Stanford.
- It looks like Oregon State will start backup quarterback Sean Canfield at UCLA, at least according to starter Lyle Moevao.
- Is Stanford running back Toby Gerhart the second-coming of Tommy Vardell?
- Which is more powerful: momentum or a jinx? We'll find out Saturday when Oregon State visits UCLA.
- USC fans love griping about offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Nick Daschel considers why Pete Carroll might be talking about the BCS this week. Will running back Joe McKnight play against Cal?
- Washington State coach Paul Wulff says his team isn't going to quit.
Stanford has taken another step forward under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
Fact is, at 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-10, the Cardinal control their own destiny and, though it's a wild longshot, could earn a Rose Bowl berth if they win out.
That's probably not going to happen, but Stanford is two wins from bowl eligibility due to a new blue-collar attitude and a physical running game that makes up for a lack of athleticism at the skill positions and in the secondary.
Not that everything has been peachy. A 41-17 loss at then-15th-ranked Arizona State looks worse today after the Sun Devils took a four-game nosedive thereafter. And sloppy play cost the Cardinal at TCU and Notre Dame -- see a combined 7-zip turnover differential in those two nonconference flops.
Offensive MVP: Running back Toby Gerhart burst onto the scene with 147 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win over Oregon State, and hasn't slowed down since (when he's healthy). He ranks fourth in the conference with 91.6 yards per game and has scored seven TDs. He's bidding to become the first Stanford back to eclipse 1,000 yard rushing since Tommy Vardell in 1991.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Pat Maynor leads Stanford with 54 tackles -- 31 solo -- and has recorded four sacks among his 6.5 tackles for a loss. He also is known as a bit of a dirty player, which shouldn't necessarily be celebrated, but his grittiness sets a tone for a defense that is playing more physically and aggressively than it has in years. So this three-year starter, economics major and former member of the Future Business Leaders of America and Spanish National Honors Society has plenty of nasty to go along with brains.
What's next: While coaches hate it when reporters use terms like "must-win", Stanford faces a must-win game at UCLA this weekend if it wants its season to maintain its present positive trajectory.
Notching a fifth win at UCLA means Stanford will have a week off to get healthy before woeful Washington State comes to town likely bearing a sixth victory and bowl eligibility for the Cardinal, who haven't been bowling since 2001.
It also means the rest of the schedule -- a brutal three-game stretch of at Oregon, USC and at rival California -- is just gravy. Stanford can play like a hungry underdog instead of a desperate team that knows it needs another win for a shot at a bowl game.
And then, in February, Jim Harbaugh will sign a highly rated recruiting class and away the Cardinal go.
Assuming that Harbaugh can resist the suitors from other programs -- or the NFL -- who figure to come calling.