Bryce Love is ready to step up. He's already proven that.
When Christian McCaffrey was out with an injury at Notre Dame in October, Love responded with 160 all-purpose yards and scored the winning touchdown and two-point conversion in the 17-10 victory.
He piled up 130 yards on the ground, many the hard way through the teeth of the Fighting Irish defense.
A sophomore from Wake Forest, North Carolina, Love ran for 78 yards against Arizona, 89 against Oregon State and 111 against Cal.
He's fast, fearless and effective inside and out.
"He's an every down back," said David Shaw, the Director of Football. "He's a physical, explosive runner. He's not a small back by any stretch of the imagination. He runs through tackles and he's tough. For a guy who's under six foot, he can push the pile and drive his legs."
Love, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection, will be the featured back on Dec. 30 when Stanford (9-3) shoots for its sixth consecutive win in the 83rd Sun Bowl against North Carolina (8-4). Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and the game will be televised on CBS.
On Monday, McCaffrey announced he will not play to train for the NFL Draft. That gives Love a jump-start on the 2017 season and he plans to make the most of it.
During the regular season, he carried 90 times for 644 yards -- a team-leading 7.4 average -- and scored three touchdowns. Love plays bigger than his 5-10, 187-pound frame and the former high school track star has never been caught from behind.
"He's played in a lot football games," Shaw said. "He knows what his capability is."
McCaffrey concludes his Stanford career with 6,987 all-purpose yards, second most among active FBS players.
The two-time All-American and 2015 Associated Press Player of the Year rushed for 1,603 yards this season (145.73 average), despite missing the second half of the Washington State game and Notre Dame due to injury.
"We would be lying if we said we weren't a little disappointed, but at the same time, we are also understanding," said Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas.
Going down to El Paso
Stanford leaves for El Paso on Monday morning and will practice at nearby Eastwood High School that afternoon. The team will conduct its only open practice on Tuesday from 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. local time, then goes to Fort Bliss to meet with the troops and have dinner.
On Wednesday morning, select players will visit a local children's hospital, followed by an afternoon practice. That evening, players will dine at Indian Cliffs Ranch.
On Thursday, Stanford will attend the Sun Bowl Rotary Luncheon at Durham Center at UTEP. Afterward, the team will hold a walk through at the Sun Bowl.
The pass-happy Tar Heels are led by redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Tribisky, who has thrown for 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He is considered a certain top NFL Draft choice.
Five North Carolina players have 25 catches or more, paced by Ryan Switzer with 91 for 1,027 yards and five touchdowns. Bug Howard has 48 receptions for 768 yards and seven scores.
Shaw is 3-2 in bowl games, tied for first with Bill Walsh for the most victories in school history. Stanford is trying to claim its sixth 10-win season this decade, trailing only Alabama (8). Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma have also recorded six 10-win seasons this decade.
Stanford will be well-represented at the game. More than 2,000 seats have been purchased for the Tickets for Troops program. Military personnel from Fort Bliss, a United States Army Post in El Paso, will be given free tickets and a Stanford t-shirt and root for the Cardinal. Fort Bliss is home of the 1st Armored Division.
Stanford has several connections with the state of North Carolina and Texas. In addition to Love, starting outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi hails from Matthews, North Carolina.
Junior quarterback Keller Chryst played two years of high school football in the Tar Heel state, where his father, Jeep, was an assistant coach for the Carolina Panthers, before moving to Palo Alto. Chryst played against current Tar Heel running back Elijah Hood.
On the Texas side, junior defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, recent recipient of the Morris Trophy presented to the top lineman in Pac-12 Conference, is from Coppell, while junior free safety Brandon Simmons is from Mansfield.
In addition, Stanford Direcotr of Athletics Bernard Muir has close ties with Bubba Cunningham, the director of athletics at North Carolina. They worked together at Notre Dame for a few years, where Muir served as associate athletic director for student welfare and development (2000-02) and Cunningham was associate director of athletics for external relations (2000-03).
Although the Stanford band will not attend the Sun Bowl, Cardinal fans will be entertained by the Horizon High School Band and the Stanford cheerleaders.