Ten Questions for 2010

Two recruiting analysts, ten questions, one recently-minted recruiting class. The highs, the lows, the ones we got and the ones who got away, we go through it all and you won't want to miss it...

Andy questions, Daniel answers

1. Daniel, what's your overall feeling on this class? Obviously it lost some pretty major talent towards the end of the recruiting cycle, but do you think it's still a quality group that will help move Stanford towards its goal of consistently contending for Pac-10 titles and going to bowl games every year?

Andy, I'm feeling good, but that might just be because I saved 15 percent on my car insurance by switching to Geico. No, seriously, I give this class a solid B, which is roughly an A- for our generation given grade inflation. So while not ecstatic, I am content.
As I wrote in a previous article, the problem historically for Stanford has not been top-end talent. That's a good thing, because this class is short on top-end talent, with no five-stars and Lueders, Wilkerson and Carrington the only four stars not stuck behind Andrew Luck. Still, there are plenty of top-end guys to be found in the 2009 and 2011 classes (well, if they don't all decommit first).
What Stanford has historically most needed is a whole swarm of competent three-star types to fill up the rosters, build quality depth, and not surround the freshman-year Toby Gerhart, Trent Edwards and Michael Okwos of this world with revolving doors for offensive linemen and defensive backs, as has been the case all too often. This class has 16 three-star guys, so that's some wonderful depth for a team that still has major holes on the roster.

2. What position group excites you the most in this year's class, and why?

The offensive line, because that's the group that most excites the staff and I assume they know best. Offensive linemen tend to be quieter, no-drama types, and so with Cameron Fleming, David Yankey, Dillon Bonnell and Cole Underwood locked up and committed a long time ago, fans are overlooking the quality group we've signed there. Stanford really feels the services have underrated the group, Fleming in particular. Only time can tell if they're right, but this staff's track record for evaluation has been impressive to say the least.
As far as the individual player who excites me the most though, it's Devon Carrington. Staff absolutely love him and I wouldn't be shocked to see him starting next year.
Second-most exciting group would maybe be the linebackers, but it's hard to put them here given the loss of Jordan Zumwalt, which of course brings us to your next question...

3. With more than 15 decommits, this year's recruiting cycle did not lack for disappointments. If you had to pick one area in which 2010 disappointed, what would that be?

Lopsidedness. We sign two great running backs, but we already signed three last year. We sign three quarterbacks when we have arguably the best rising sophomore quarterback in the country. We sign four offensive tackles (per Scout, anyways) when we need far more help at defensive tackle. A DT, a cornerback and a wide receiver (fingers crossed for Jarrod West) would have helped immeasurably.
Still, keep in mind that players will switch positions. Even with Brandon Bourbon gone, I would question if both running backs end up there, not to mention the three ahead of them. The same holds for Darren Daniel at quarterback -- it doesn't take a genius to look at the depth chart and figure he might prove more valuable elsewhere.

4. What are your thoughts about Pac-10 recruiting as a whole? It seems as if four and five star recruits seemed to flock to schools like UCLA, Cal, and USC on Signing Day.

I think this is a great thing for the Pac-10, which is on the path to becoming a great conference that should truly challenge the SEC for No. 1 overall in a few years. It's also great timing given that the Pac-10 is about to get a whole lot more exposure with the pending ESPN contract.
In the past, the Pac-10 has been USC and the other nine schools in a jumbled mess, but now it looks like two clear tiers are forming: USC, Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Stanford and Washington in the first tier, and the Arizonas (both of whom should take a step back next year), Oregon State and Washington State in the second group. That's a great power dynamic for the conference moving forward – from that first group of six, we can have three or so ten-plus win teams that fatten up on the league's underbelly and challenge for the title every year. People seem to forget about any part of a league outside the Top 25, and a clear-cut system of haves and have-nots is the Pac-10's best bet for maximizing its number of top-25 programs, likely at six.

5. How much do you think the lack of coaching stability impacted the recruiting class and led to another rough close?

I think it cost us one recruit, at most. Jordan Zumwalt and Brandon Bourbon could well have been gone anyways. We did close on Blake Lueders (which, by the way, we might not have without some of our new assistants), while the stealths we missed on were long shots. So worst-case scenario is that we're one recruit poorer for the staff transition, and the reality may be that if bringing in new faces helped us land Lueders, we might have actually finished as well, if not better, than we would have with the 2009 staff intact.
Furthermore, I think whatever attrition did occur was worth it for us to try to build the best possible staff. I realize the staff is not yet finalized, but the names that we have heard have been very promising. Fans also need to keep in mind that some of the coaching losses aren't necessarily a bad thing, but instead a function of Jim Harbaugh doing a little early spring cleaning. Some fans complain about the coaching during the season, but then complain about the resultant instability when those same coaches are not renewed in the offseason. Can't have it both ways, folks. On the whole then, I think the staff transition is positive, because it not only reflects the attractiveness of our assistants and growing prestige of Stanford football, but it also shows that Jim Harbaugh isn't satisfied with 8-5. He thinks certain changes had to be made to get us over the hump, and all the more power to him to have the courage to make those changes.

Halftime break. Grab a beer. We'll wait.

Okay, now that you're back, Daniel's got Andy on the hot seat now. Here goes…

1. Admissions, Andy, admissions. My take is that some guys got in with pretty borderline numbers, numbers that likely wouldn't have gotten in a few years ago. Moving forward, I wouldn't have been comfortable with any more leniency from the Admissions Department. I know the staff also feels that Admissions has been more than fair this past cycle. What are your thoughts?

Well, Daniel, I do agree that the football admissions standards have been somewhat eased from the excessively high levels enforced by former Dean of Admissions Robin Mamlet. And yes, we did see some reported numbers from athletes who were accepted that would be eye-opening, at the least, if accurate.
So I agree with you in that I don't think the standards need to be lowered any more, despite the painful rejection of Louis Young. Not even a question for me at this point.
Again, aside from Young, I think admissions were, in a somewhat of a strange way, the best non-story of the 2010 recruiting cycle. Although guys like Chris Martin, Kenny Stills, and Tony Jefferson were admissions casualties in a sense, I don't get the feeling they were really in the admissions ballpark, even with the lowered standards.

2. Who are the three to five guys you are most excited about in this class and why?

Blake Lueders - By all accounts, he is a superb football player. Although he will likely start his Stanford career at middle linebacker, he should continue to grow and develop into a dominant defensive end. In my opinion, the best barometer for future college success of high school players is performance at the Under Armour and Army All-American bowl games. Last year, Shayne Skov was a dominating force in the Army game and made early and important contributions to the Cardinal defense as a true freshman. In this year's Army game, Lueders was singled out for his tenacity and tackling skills. While he does struggle in coverage, that issue might become somewhat moot if he ends up along the defensive line, like I think he will.
Anthony Wilkerson - Believe it or not, the Stanford coaches were just as high on Wilkerson as they were Malcolm Jones - if not higher. And I think it's fair to say that the staff has been right more often than wrong when evaluating offensive prospects. Beyond that, Wilkerson just seems like a tantalizing combination of speed and strength, as cliché as that might be. Even though he may not have the offer list of Jones, Jordon James or Anthony Barr, he runs with aggression and is nearly impossible for one defender to tackle. I see no reason why he won't flourish in Stanford's offense, and he will be a candidate to earn significant playing time as a true freshman.
Cameron Fleming - It's often been said that Texas high school football players are more college-ready than prospects are in other areas of the country, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Fleming play as a true freshman, perhaps at right tackle. Beyond that, he has some nice offers despite making a very early commitment to TCU, and looks like a beast with great feet on film. While I'm nothing close to a professional talent evaluator, I didn't see him get knocked backwards even once. And like you say, Daniel, he's another guy the coaching staff is really, really high on, and I'd tend to trust their offensive evaluations.

3. We were the No. 12 class three days ago and we close at about the No. 25 class. Admissions was the problem with our top cornerback, Jordan Zumwalt chose UCLA at the 11th hour and we didn't sign anyone else in the past week. Independently, all three of those things make sense -- some players won't (and shouldn't) get admitted, we will lose our share of toss-ups just like we've won our share, and if we start like gangbusters there's less opportunity to close strong. Plus, of course, with admissions, we have less chance at flipping guys at the 11th hour than other schools. So are we being too hard on the staff for what feels like a fade down the stretch?

I think it's fair to say that through a combination of factors, the staff didn't do a very good job of closing this year. People will underestimate how much losing Andy Buh hurt in the recruitment of Jordan Zumwalt. To make matters worse, to best of my knowledge, no linebackers coach has been named as of today. How can you blame Zumwalt for going someplace where the coaching situation was more settled?
On the other hand, Louis Young was obviously out of their hands, and the staff should be commended for doing an excellent job of keeping him interested and high on Stanford through some turbulent times. They also stole four-star recruits Blake Lueders from Notre Dame and Brett Nottingham from UCLA in the weeks leading up to Signing Day. That shouldn't be discounted. There wasn't a gigantic splash or stealth that everyone was hoping for, but under the circumstances, I'd say the coaching staff did a decent job of closing. Losing guys who were basically locks for admission like Malcolm Jones, Tai-ler Jones, Beau Allen and Blake Barker hurts a bit more, but I don't think you can pin all that on the staff.

4. What become recruiting priorities for 2011? My top three are fullback, DT and wide receiver, for what it's worth.

Priorities for 2011: 1. DT 2. DT 3. WR 4. LB 5. OL 6. CB. ... Did I mention DT?

5. The staff has made some decisions in terms of redshirts I'm sure they wish they could do again. They shirted Andrew Luck, and then burnt some shirts last year for guys who didn't see the field that much. Say you're Coach Harbaugh. Who are you redshirting? Who are you definitely playing? Who do you want to see in the summer before you decide?

Redshirts are always a tricky thing to manage. If Harbaugh could do things over, he probably would play Andrew Luck, but you can't blame him for playing a guy like Terrance Stephens last year, who was forced into action because of injury. And who knows if Andrew Luck would have been Andrew Luck had he not redshirted, although all signs point to yes. And am I incredibly delusional to think there's a 2 percent chance he returns for a fifth year? (Okay, so that probably won't happen.)
It's tough to say which guys should be redshirted because you don't really know where they are with physical, and even more so, mental development until they actually step foot on a field. Still, here's what I'd say:
For 2010, guys I'm definitely redshirting are: Joe Hemschoot, Eddie Plantaric (asuming he moves inside), Brett Nottingham, Cole Underwood, Dillon Bonnell (I'd want one healthy season after he recovers from the knee injury), Darren Daniel, Ed Reynolds (definitely if he moves to LB, probably if he stays at safety) and Davis Dudchock (no need to play him with all the TE and H-back types from the 2009 class)
To be honest, the only guy I'm sure will see the field this year is Anthony Wilkerson.
The rest are simply too tough to categorize. I think one true freshman offensive lineman will play, but I don't know who the most college ready offensive lineman will be. I'd think Cameron Fleming would be the man, but David Yankey put on a ton of weight between his junior and senior years, and could step up as well. If guys like Blake Lueders, Devon Carrington, Keanu Nelson, Henry Anderson, Alex Turner, heck even A.J. Tarpley are good enough to crack the two deep, then I saw play them. Lueders seems to be the most physically ready out of that group, but he still might not crack the two deep with guys like Trent Murphy likely to complement Chase Thomas and Tom Keiser.

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