They're the young and the relentless. A handful of first-year players are asserting themselves as Stanford prepares for a make-or-break month starting Saturday against No. 7 Oregon.
The team has 12 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the depth chart for the game. Considering USC, Cal and Notre Dame also are on the menu in the coming weeks, their success is essential if the Cardinal is going to qualify for a bowl game after eight years.
"We're going to be the group that takes charge and puts Stanford on the map," freshman punt returner Drew Terrell said this week. "The time is now."
Redshirt freshmen Andrew Luck, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin have started regularly this season, but six first-year players recently advanced to help shore up the defense.
Are they ready? "They are as ready as they're going to be," defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said. "They add a physical presence, and this week we're going to need a more physical presence."
The biggest change was in the secondary, where redshirt Quinn Evans replaced senior Richard Sherman at left corner against Arizona State. Another redshirt freshman, Chase Thomas has filled in at defensive end for injured Erik Lorig and freshman Shayne Skov is starting at linebacker.
On offense, freshman tailback Stepfan Taylor is Toby Gerhart's main backup.
Coach Jim Harbaugh says rotating Taylor with Gerhart is like the difference between a pitcher throwing a fastball or a curve: "Complementary backs are a wonderful thing to have."