Rivals ranked Stanford’s recruiting class 22nd, but, given their recruiting constraints, you could argue it was the best class in the country. Nick Saban will jettison upperclassmen to cram in all the four and five-star talent he signed, but he doesn’t have to ensure all those kids could get into Stanford.
Using their increased profile, Stanford has recruited nationally, targeting the few elite prospects with academic pursuits beyond eligibility. They landed six of Rivals’ Top 250 recruits, most notably top-100 Georgia linebacker James Vaughters. That number would have been higher had Harbaugh not left.
Being able to read at a collegiate level does not adversely effect college football performance. Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck are the last two Heisman runners up. Both were high-school valedictorians.
Stanford has brought in Top 25 classes the past three signing days. The question is whether the Cardinal’s strategy is sustainable. Harbaugh, by all accounts, was an animal as a recruiter. David Shaw will start in a better position, but without Harbaugh’s energy and “character and cruelty” shtick it’s unlikely the quantity and quality of recruits will be the same.
Even with Harbaugh’s vitality, Luck was pivotal. Stanford has no margin for error. They need their top prospects to pan out or exceed expectations every time to compete on a national level. If Luck was merely an average Pac-10 quarterback, Stanford would still be butting up against a 7-8 win ceiling. Harbaugh isn’t the hottest coaching commodity in the NFL.
Stanford efforts are commendable, but unless they bring in Andrew Luck every four years, 12-1 will be an exception to a more reasonable norm. Relying on players that could attend the school without football won’t have the Cardinal beating Cal every year, but they will have the moral high-ground to taunt the bears for relying on JUCO kids.
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