While the Cardinal finished 2023 with a 3-9 record for the third year in a row, the program showed some flashes that it could be on the path back to relevancy.
These bright spots included the comeback win over Colorado, a strong defensive performance in a win over Washington State in Pullman and a close loss to college football playoff participant Washington at home. Among the lowlights were getting boat raced in the Coliseum by USC, the loss to Sacramento State and failing to win a game at Stanford Stadium.
Nevertheless, the off-season is here and reasons for optimism remain. Coach Taylor and his staff showed last year that they could utilize the transfer portal within the confines of Stanford’s admissions policies. The staff has also amassed a great inaugural recruiting class — good for No. 27 in the country, per 247sports.com.
The other big piece of news, of course, is that the Cardinal will be competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference next fall, ending Stanford’s 105-year association with the west coast’s only Power 5 conference. The ACC schedule figures to be a bit more favorable for coach Taylor’s team than its Pac-12 schedule has been the past few years.
The transfer portal officially opened on Dec. 4, and Stanford’s roster can, and will, change daily. As it currently stands, Stanford has 98 scholarship players slated for its 2024 roster — this total includes the incoming recruiting class. The NCAA allows a maximum of 85 scholarship players, so 13 athletes will have to either transfer out of the program or drop out of the recruiting class. More will have to depart if Coach Taylor and his staff elect to bring in transfers, which is highly likely. In short, expect to see some departures over the next few weeks and know that the sky is not falling; roster fluctuations are a necessity.
Though there is a strong chance this article will become outdated very soon, here we will take a look at the state of the offensive position groups.
After weeks of unpredictability at the quarterback position, sophomore Ashton Daniels emerged as the Cardinal’s top option in the quarterback room. Sophomore Justin Lamson served as the running quarterback, and essentially represented the entirety of the offense’s running game. Junior Ari Patu, who was the favorite to win the position a calendar year ago, was stuck as the third string and never got a chance, even when those above him struggled. Unsurprisingly, he announced his decision to transfer after receiving his degree in the coming months.
Of course, the eyes of the Cardinal faithful will be on incoming four-star freshman Elijah Brown out of top-ranked Mater Dei. We think Stanford will once again have a wide open quarterback competition this offseason, so don’t rule out freshman Myles Jackson to take a jump and compete. But for now, we see the most likely outcome to be a continuation of the end of this year: Daniels as the primary quarterback with Lamson coming in for certain situations, especially in short yardage.
Stanford’s running game never really got going in the 2023 season, though the shaky offensive line definitely played a role in that. Regardless, none of the Cardinal running backs developed into the go-to ball carrier: the team did not have a back who rushed for more than 230 yards on the season.
Senior E.J. Smith, who received 53 carries for 216 yards, has already entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer. The son of hall-of-famer Emmitt Smith came into Stanford as a highly regarded recruit but was unfortunately not able to reach his projected heights. Senior Casey Filkins finished the season with one less rushing yard than Smith and could return for a fifth year on the Farm or follow Smith to the portal. Freshman Sedrick Irvin showed flashes in his first season, finishing with 113 yards and a touchdown, and could develop into the bell cow if Filkins elects to move on. Sophomore Ryan Butler — a transfer from Princeton — was mostly used in short yardage situations, only receiving 18 carries.
Stanford has three running backs in its incoming recruiting class: Cole Tabb, Chris Davis and Micah Ford. All three are similarly rated, and at least one of them figures to receive playing time in their first year of action. If Filkins leaves the Farm, it would not hurt to look to the transfer portal for a more proven option in the backfield.
Stanford’s passing game was supposed to revolve around senior Benjamin Yurosek, but the tight end from Bakersfield, Calif. only played in six games due to injury, recording 16 catches for 239 yards and a touchdown in those appearances. After the season opener against Hawai’i, Yurosek was for whatever reason not a focal point of Troy Taylor’s offense.
Attention now turns to what Yurosek decides to do in the coming weeks. He came into the season as one of the top tight end prospects in college football, but a lackluster 2023 campaign hurt his draft stock. He could still enter the draft, return for a fifth year or enter the transfer portal where he would be one of the most coveted transfers in the country.
Sophomore Sam Roush was the Cardinal’s most productive tight end this season, fielding 28 passes for 288 yards. If Yurosek departs, Roush will be Stanford’s main man at the position. Often-injured senior Lukas Ungar will most likely move on to help with scholarship numbers. Behind Roush are junior Shield Taylor, sophomore C.J. Hawkins and freshman Chico Holt — who transferred in from Northwestern after Pat Fitzgerald was fired just before the season. The Cardinal will also welcome two incoming freshmen to the room: Aiden Black and Benjamin Blackburn.
Elic Ayomanor is a star. The redshirt freshman recorded over 1,000 yards this season, had the highest PFF grade on the roster and broke the single-game receiving record for the program. True freshman Tiger Bachmeier emerged as well, putting up over 400 receiving yards. That is a one-two punch that should play very well in the ACC next year.
Senior John Humphreys has retired from the sport, but senior Bryce Farrell is expected to be back to play a year with his younger brother, incoming recruit and wide receiver Chase Farrell. Improvement from sophomore Mudia Reuben would be welcomed, and freshman Jackson Harris, who entered the rotation late in the year could also make a leap to join junior Jayson Raines as a depth piece. Incoming freshmen Emmett Mosley and Emanuel Ross are intriguing prospects, and given Bachmeier’s emergence this season, another true freshman could certainly make their way into the rotation.
This unit got decimated by the transfer portal last offseason, and, as expected, was the weakest group on the team. They need to get older, especially since other teams have far more fifth and sixth years using their extra COVID year than Stanford does (that will end after 2024 however!). Thus, the decisions to return for a fifth year from seniors Levi Rogers and Connor McLaughlin were vital for the 2024 offensive line. Senior James Pogorelc and sophomore Lucas Heyer have already entered the transfer portal.
At tackle, the Cardinal will be looking for growth from sophomore Fisher Anderson, freshman Luke Baklenko or junior Jack Leyrer. Freshman Simione Pale should improve over the offseason, and grad transfer Trevor Mayberry will be back to fill in the other guard spot.
To be a serviceable unit next season, Stanford is currently counting on big jumps from multiple guys and an impressive coaching job to have them gel together. We don’t expect any of the incoming freshmen to contribute like Pale did this season, so picking up a couple transfers here would be much appreciated. Keep an eye on Princeton grad transfer Jalen Travis, younger brother of former Stanford basketball player Reid Travis.