By now you’ve probably heard about Stanford’s (literally) gargantuan 2012 recruiting class and the struggles of our good ole friends in Berkeley to keep their commits interested. That was one fun signing day.
Not only is it amazing that the Cardinal is bringing in the best class in school history, but it’s also amazing that Stanford did it without any of the things that would have appealed most to recruits 13 months ago: the chance to be coached by Jim Harbaugh (and his enthusiasm, previously unknown to mankind), the opportunity to play alongside all-but-assured first overall pick Andrew Luck and the likelihood of ending up at a BCS bowl next season.
I can’t say whether the coaching staff’s sales pitch has changed, but Stanford now has quite different laurels to rest on: David Shaw’s soft-spoken confidence and deep Cardinal heritage, the appeal of a somewhat anonymous life on the Farm and an undeniably world-class education. All those things had to have weighed heavily on the Class of 2012’s minds, and all seem much more permanent than a coach who belonged in the NFL, a star quarterback whose college career eventually had to end and an always-unpredictable shot at an upper-tier postseason berth.
So as you look at Stanford’s 12th-ranked recruiting class, with its three top-10 offensive linemen, host of potential defensive playmakers, dynamic group of receivers and well-fathered running back, all of whom are coming to the Farm from around the country for the things that have defined the school since its inception, you’ve just got to ask: has Stanford football turned a corner for the long run?
When people talk about the Cardinal’s conversion from Pac-10 doormat to national contender over the past few years, usually they bring up toughness, a blue-collar work ethic, renovated facilities and better coaching. But of everything that’s changed, the one thing that few people acknowledge is the recruits themselves. Their transformation — or, rather, the transformation in how they view Stanford — is why this recruiting class was so strong, and it’s also why Stanford’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.
First, there’s the issue of the “anonymity” of Cardinal student-athletes, who enjoy getting lost in the crowd of Nobel laureates, cutting-edge researchers and successful entrepreneurs who call the Farm home. Barry Sanders admitted that it was an important (though exaggerated) consideration in choosing Stanford. But you know what? Cardinal student-athletes were just as anonymous — if not more so — five or 10 years ago, when the football program was struggling to stay afloat. It seems like this only became a consideration in the last year or so, when Andrew Luck became a national figure. But many recruits have taken notice, and Stanford is reaping the rewards of that recognition.
On the other hand, I’m not sure that many linemen have to deal with the attention a star like Luck would garner. There have got to be are other reasons why high-quality players are flocking to Stanford. The appeal of academics is one likely suspect, but again, Stanford was never really outperformed by Division I schools in that category.
It’s safe to say that the attention Stanford has earned during the Harbaugh-Gerhart-Luck era is carrying over just enough to bring in top athletes and fuel this recruiting push for the time being. Yet the Cardinal’s prospects still look good for the long run.
Stanford’s entrance requirements have long been considered the limiting factor for the football team’s success. When recruiting season comes around, it’s hard to miss coaches being quoted as saying something along the lines of, “There are only a few dozen good players in the country who could possibly get in here, and it’s our job to find them.”
Fair enough. But why, then, are those academically inclined recruits all of a sudden showing up at the top of the ESPNU 150?
Shaw seemed to hint at the answer after the class was announced. “Every single offer that we make and everything that we tell all of these guys is that the offer is contingent on their admission to Stanford,” he told ESPN.
Stanford coaches are known to start the recruiting process early, working with guidance counselors and prospective Cardinal athletes to make sure that the recruit has the necessary test scores and grades to make it to the Farm. Qualifying for Stanford admission is a lot of work in and of itself, and if you’re a top-tier football recruit with offers from a bunch of top-tier football schools, you might not be inclined to put in the effort.
Unless, of course, Stanford is a top-tier football school. For the past two or three years, that’s what it’s been.
If Sanders and the incoming offensive linemen live up to expectations, the Cardinal is still going to be consistently ranked for the next few years. And if the pieces fall into place, you’re looking at a potential BCS bowl berth in 2014. Stanford has drastically outperformed its recruiting rankings recently; can you imagine if the coaching staff can pull that off again, but with a top-15 group?
All the Cardinal has to do is remain in the national conversation for the next few years. Then high-caliber recruits will keep working hard in school, keep getting admitted to Stanford, keep coming to the Farm.
And keep winning here.
Joseph Beyda was so bummed to find out that Barry Sanders never had a nickname that he’s determined to find a good one for Barry J. Sanders. Send him your ideas for a good sobriquet at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.