STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — By David Shaw's standards, Stanford had another successful season.
The Cardinal won the Pac-12 for the second consecutive year, went to a BCS bowl for the fourth straight season and will likely send several players into the NFL again. While Stanford lost to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, Shaw believes the best days are still ahead for his program — especially with a four-team playoff for the national title starting next season.
"You have to come out of the season saying, 'This was a successful season. It didn't end the way that we wanted it to. But as far as being one of the better teams in college football, you have to say that we were up there,'" Shaw said Thursday. "Do we have high aspirations again for next year? Absolutely."
The Cardinal will need to replace several top players — notably departing linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and running back Tyler Gaffney.
Shaw said that linebacker A.J. Tarpley and defensive end Henry Anderson will return for their final year of eligibility. He also said All-American left guard David Yankey, right tackle Cameron Fleming and free safety Ed Reynolds are still deciding whether to declare for the NFL draft.
Yankey is widely expected to leave and be one of the top interior linemen taken, while Fleming and Reynolds are projected middle-to-late round picks who "could take it to the last day" to decide, Shaw said. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
Shaw is looking forward to another date: Feb. 24 — the first day of spring practice.
Wide receiver and All-American kick returner Ty Montgomery, who injured his knee in the Rose Bowl, is expected to be ready but may be held out of the first portion of spring practice as a precaution, Shaw said. His injury did not require surgery.
Regardless of who's on the field, Stanford will carry the same high expectations the program had heading into this past season.
The Cardinal claimed the past two conference crowns, but for the fourth straight season they were one loss away from possibly playing for the BCS title. While Stanford has upended Oregon two straight years, close losses at Utah and Southern California kept the Cardinal out of the national championship mix.
After earning the highest ranking in The Associated Press' preseason poll in school history at No. 4, Stanford (11-3) finished at No. 11 following its 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Granddaddy of Them All.