Lock and reload: SU football's 2012 class

I can still clearly remember my (non-Stanford) friends deriding my prediction regarding the school's football future following the Cardinal's 38-14 loss to Cal that ended the 2008 season. The loss had caused Stanford to finish 5-7 in Jim Harbaugh's second season.

I had predicted that Stanford would finish with nine wins in 2009, because Jim Harbaugh's formula would prove that it was possible to recruit at an elite football level even with rigorous academic standards.

At the time, my friends laughed at me. In 2009, though, Stanford went 8-5 and likely would have reached the predicted nine-win plateau had Andrew Luck not broken his finger before the Sun Bowl.

By 2011, the Cardinal had earned two straight 11-win regular seasons and berths to BCS bowl games. And on Wednesday, David Shaw landed the haymaker: Stanford inked (at least) a top-10 recruiting class, highlighted by what is possibly the greatest incoming collection of offensive linemen in college football history.

Who's laughing now?

On the heels of the remarkable turnaround orchestrated by Harbaugh, Shaw is seizing the window of opportunity opened by the likes of Luck and Toby Gerhart.

His program is becoming the Duke basketball of the college football world. Today's influx of five-star athletes shows that America's elite football student-athletes are making Stanford their first choice.

National Signing Day 2012 began with the Cardinal already having locked up the nation's No. 3 guard in Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash.) last Thursday. Entering the big closing day, Stanford was already set with at least a top-20 recruiting class, given the prior commitments of No. 2 outside linebacker Noor Davis (Leesburg, Fla.), running back Barry J. Sanders(Oklahoma City), four-star defensive back Alex Carter (Ashburn, Va.), and four-star defensive tackle Jordan Watkins (College Park, Ga.).

The exclamation points that Stanford tacked onto its 2012 class, though, might have bucked even the wildest expectations of the Cardinal coaching staff.

Andrus Peat, the 6-foot-7, 300 pound, five-star behemoth of an offensive tackle from Tempe, Ariz., started the epic day by donning a Stanford hat before a national television audience slightly before noon. The signing validated the Cardinal's trip to the Fiesta Bowl, as Peat visited a team practice before the game, an event that undoubtedly influenced his decision to come to Palo Alto.

Two hours later, Stanford pulled off the ultimate upset when it nabbed the fourth-ranked offensive tackle in the country in Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif.) right out of USC territory. A five-star recruit who had grown up a diehard Trojan fan–and whose Facebook profile picture is a shot of him gesturing "Fight On" alongside Matt Barkley–chose to don the Stanford cap instead of the USC one.

It is 2012, so one could be forgiven for thinking the world was coming to an end at that point.

But the Cardinal were far from finished.

Before the high-fives from the Murphy victory subsided, premiere defensive tackle Aziz Shittu (Atwater, CA) also committed to Stanford and completed a barrage of reloading that the Farm has never seen before. There's still an outside shot that top-rated dual-threat quarterback Jameis Winston (Hueytown, AL) will sign as well within the next week.

Regardless of whether or not Winston joins the party, it's now clear that a permanent period of Stanford football success has been established.

After the 2009 season, the majority of the national media said that Stanford could not sustain its success without Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal responded with a 12-win season and an Orange Bowl Championship.

After that 2010 run, the naysayers said that Stanford would wilt without Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal's response was nearly identical, as the team again posted a one-loss regular season and earned another BCS bowl berth.

Now, the doubters will point to Andrew Luck's departure as the reason for Stanford football's decline. But today's unprecedented signing day success in Palo Alto suggests otherwise. The Cardinal are reloading talent at an elite level that cannot be ignored.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link.

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