Bryce Love takes the torch from Christian McCaffrey at Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. -- Bryce Love stood near Stanford's practice field last Saturday when cornerback Quenton Meeks jogged by him on the way to a postspring game interview.

"G.O.A.T!" Meeks yelled as he passed the running back.

That's become a popular acronym for "Greatest of All Time." It's a moniker that can be tossed around rather frivolously among athletes these days.

But not at Stanford. Because when the Cardinal recently used "G.O.A.T." referring to Christian McCaffrey, they meant it. His NCAA-record 6,191 all-purpose yards over the past two seasons reinforced the nickname. It's not taken lightly around these parts, and now Love -- Stanford's heir apparent to McCaffrey, who has entered the NFL draft -- must shoulder its burden.

Love only smiled bashfully in response to Meeks.

"That's 'Showtime,'" he said, deflecting the compliment while referencing Meeks' own nickname. "That's just how he is."

College football should learn plenty about Love in 2017. After averaging 7.8 yards per carry as a true freshman in 2015, the size of the speedster's workload nearly quadrupled in 2016. Love amassed 783 yards on the ground last year, maintaining his clip of over seven yards per rush as McCaffrey's sidekick.

Stanford dubbed its backfield the 'McLovin' package, and the tandem broke the Cardinal's program record by combining for 2,386 rushing yards. But all the while, Love was still the Robin to McCaffrey's Batman, as No. 5 clearly commanded the spotlight.

Now, Love is the master -- or at least the carrier of the "G.O.A.T" nickname.

The Cardinal have given Love the McCaffrey treatment this offseason, holding him out of the live portions of spring ball to ensure full freshness for what promises to be a strenuous 2017 workload.

And the parallels don't end there: Love, though he's lighter than McCaffrey at 191 pounds, is taking the chance to emulate his predecessor's versatility personally.

"Christian might have about 10 pounds on me, but he never fit the Stanford mold -- the big, downhill back -- that people would always talk about," Love said. "But he still proved that we can be all-purpose backs. We can come in and do everything that everyone else can do. And that's my motivation now, too: I want to deliver everything."

McCaffrey sparked a running back revolution of sorts at Stanford. The Cardinal had been known for their bruisers at the position -- Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, and Tyler Gaffney averaged over 220 pounds -- while McCaffrey and Love check in at about 20 and 30 pounds short of that mark, respectively.

Speed and agility are the new names of the game at Stanford, and Love -- who packs plenty of both -- insists that these two traits are not at odds with the Cardinal's power running ethos.

"We're trying to show that there doesn't have to be a certain 'mold' of back," Love said. "It's about more than how much you weigh. It's a mindset -- I think I can get into the end zone when I'm doing a lead dive or power."

Love will have reinforcements to help with those duties next season. Stanford showcased a promising backfield stable at this past weekend's spring game. It features Cameron Scarlett, Dorian Maddox, and Trevor Speights. The former is built in the mold of a 223-pound bell cow, the latter checks in at a versatile weight of 210 pounds. All three ripped off big runs during the exhibition, further assuaging concerns as the Cardinal forge into life post-McCaffrey.

Ron Gould is Stanford's running backs coach entering this new era, replacing Lance Taylor, who left to be an assistant for the Carolina Panthers. Gould coached seven eventual NFL Pro Bowl selections, including Marshawn Lynch, during his 16 years in the same position at California.

This is a coach who knows backfield talent, and he's been quick to embrace the potential that Stanford's new Love-led group packs.

"I feel like I've died and gone to heaven already," Gould said. "It's special to be here with these players. It's a phenomenal opportunity for me."

Love has already embraced Gould's simple mantra, "lead from the front." He's working to assume the alpha role in Stanford's competitive offseason workouts, the title that belonged to McCaffrey the past two years and caused strength coach Shannon Turley to bluntly describe describe his mental approach: "He just wants to kick your ass again."

Love strives to emulate that disposition and its killer instinct. He has massive shoes to fill, but recognizes that every workout brings another opportunity to take a step forward in the long road toward realizing the potential of the nickname he's inherited from McCaffrey.

"There's always a chance to get better," Love said. "The opportunities are endless."