Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal
While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.
Up next: Stanford.
1. Can the team address its scary defensive line situation? Stanford players warmed up with their position groups during this past Saturday’s open practice. Smatterings of about 10 players each gathered for drills in various areas of the field. One corner, though, was sparsely populated -- and noticeably so. Only three bodies warmed up with Stanford’s defensive line group.
The (sort of) good news: The Cardinal run a 3-4, so they have just enough healthy defensive linemen to practice without forcing a coach to step in as a placeholder (that would be rather dangerous). The bad news: That trench is the most physically strenuous position on the football field, and the combination of departures and injuries has decimated Stanford to the point where they have literally no depth there beyond the starting three. Harrison Phillips, Nate Lohn, and Jordan Watkins -- three relatively untested players -- must carry the load without substitute relief for the time being.
Stanford is counting on Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas to return from their injuries as quickly as possible. The Cardinal must also work for rapid development from their healthy players, because the shoes of Henry Anderson and David Parry are massive ones to fill. In that regard, this spring presents an enormous reloading challenge up front.
2. Which young defensive backs will emerge? Stanford has also had a large exodus of talent from its secondary. Jordan Richards is graduating, Wayne Lyons is transferring, and Alex Carter is leaving early for the NFL draft. Even Zach Hoffpauir may be gone by the time the 2015 season comes along, as he’s seriously considering turning pro in baseball. Ronnie Harris is the Cardinal’s most experienced returning defensive back, and he’s currently hurt, so the entire position group is one big, fat unresolved question mark at the moment.
Stanford is thankful that they’ve signed two straight recruiting classes that have been exceptionally strong at defensive back. It seems that those hauls may come in handy during the current pinch. Terrence Alexander appears to be the leading young candidate at cornerback, but there’s plenty of other unproven talent looking to gain position in this wild spring horse race. Taijuan Thomas played well at nickel back in Saturday’s open practice, while the likes of Brandon Simmons, Alijah Holder, Alameen Murphy, and Denzel Franklin will have opportunities to make their moves as well. Time is of the essence, because veteran offensive converts Dallas Lloyd and Kodi Whitfield look to be in good position to contribute. Touted freshman prospects Frank Buncom IV, Ben Edwards, and Quenton Meeks are slated to arrive on campus this summer, so even more fresh faces are expected to crowd Duane Akina’s room soon.3. Can the offense develop into a unit that sustains success over the long haul? Stanford has carried over confidence from the offensive success that it saw to close 2014. Since Ty Montgomery was already hurt then, the unit has lost only two starters from that impressive stretch: left tackle Andrus Peat and fullback Lee Ward. The hope is that minimal turnover helps foster greater consistency on this side of the football. So far in spring, the offense looks well-equipped to succeed, as Christian McCaffrey has added strength to complement his explosive presence. If Kevin Hogan can continue to efficiently distribute the football to the Cardinal’s four gigantic tight ends while making some plays with his legs, Stanford’s attack can be effective next season. This spring is all about establishing stability in that regard.
- Stanford can be very good offensively in 2015 if Kevin Hogan continues the solid quarterback play that he finished 2014 with.
- Success on the defensive side of the ball is a massive question mark, as it appears a daunting number of dominoes must fall between now and September for the Cardinal to maintain high-level efficiency on that side of the football.
Stanford will spend the next six months grinding to make the necessary variables break in its favor. Health will be key -- the roster is lacking on that front at the moment -- and successful player development will be essential. Here's why, viewed in the context of Saturday's first public look at the squad:
Decimated defensive line
To this point, Stanford has somehow, someway overcome a rash of bad breaks along the defensive line.
Let's take a quick trip down memory lane:
The aforementioned players are all out of the program now, but a perfect storm of gut punches persists. Aziz Shittu, Stanford's most experienced player at the position, will miss all of spring ball because of the serious injury that ended his 2014 season. Luke Kaumatule appears to be a better fit at outside linebacker. To make matters even worse, hot young prospect Solomon Thomas is now in a walking boot after jamming his toe this week. He'll miss the first session of spring practice. Dependable walk-on Alex Yazdi still has a year of eligibility remaining, but he recently decided to focus on his career outside of football, so even the "Iranian Meatball" isn't around any longer to provide much-needed depth.
The end result is frightening.
It likely has coach David Shaw thankful that the season opener is six months -- and not six weeks -- away: The Cardinal had only three defensive linemen suited up Saturday. Harrison Phillips, Nate Lohn, and Jordan Watkins (all lighter and less experienced compared to the rugged veterans Stanford had featured in this trench the past several seasons) took every single snap at practice.
That's a virtual death sentence at college football's most physically strenuous position, where depth is a prerequisite for effectiveness.
"It's very, very difficult for three guys to make it through an entire practice [without backups]," Shaw said. "They didn't bat an eyelash. They didn't back off. They were battling all through practice."
The trio earned hearty applause for their perseverance from Stanford's post-practice huddle, but that did little to address grave concerns up front. Increased health, depth and strength must come for the Cardinal this offseason if the program intends to overcome troubles along the defensive line as effectively as it has the past two seasons.
It's tough to bet against the Stanford defense after witnessing it deliver sturdy reloading efforts in recent seasons. But this is shaping up to be the most unnerving offseason test yet for defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and line coach Randy Hart.
Big runs galore
Stanford's offense, in particular its ground game, is the direct spring beneficiary of the team's depleted defensive front. Coaches say Christian McCaffrey has added strength to run more frequently between the tackles, and he certainly looks the part. Along with Barry Sanders, McCaffrey ripped off a number of big runs Saturday.
The Stanford offense features an enviable combination of explosiveness (see McCaffrey and Michael Rector) and size (see receiver Devon Cajuste and four powerful tight ends). Shaw noted that the offensive line, which lost only one starter this offseason, is far ahead of where it was at this point last year.
The power Cardinal have a powerful arsenal offensively, and they're counting on Hogan to deliver consistent play to glue it all together. For the first time since Andrew Luck roamed campus, in fact, Stanford appears to have fewer spring questions on offense than they do on the defensive side.
- Quarterback coach Tavita Pritchard said that backups Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst have not yet mastered the playbook. He did note that their athleticism and size (both appear fully physically developed) has impressed the Cardinal. Shaw hinted that a leader for the second-string spot probably won't emerge until August.
- Nick Davidson, fresh off a stint with Stanford's basketball team, earned first team snaps at right tackle. Dave Bright played right guard next to him, while Johnny Caspers manned second-team center duties with Jesse Burkett out (illness). Caspers is expected to be in the thick of the right guard competition, as is Brendon Austin, who did not participate in practice.
- Stanford's defense did enjoy some bright moments. Safety Dallas Lloyd delivered solid plays in run support, while Taijuan Thomas nearly intercepted a short pass at nickel back. With outside linebacker Kevin Anderson out (hand), the Cardinal rotated players plentifully at linebacker and in the secondary. Bobby Okereke, Joey Alfieri, Jordan Perez, Lane Veach and Sam Shober saw some of their most extensive public action to date.
- Conrad Ukropina showed improved height on his kicks during the field-goal session.
Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
- California: 41
- Arizona: 16
- Texas: 9
- Florida: 7
- Louisiana: 5
- Colorado: 3
- Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
- One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
- California: 46
- Arizona: 17
- Florida: 7
- Louisiana: 6
- Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
- Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
- One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
- California: 49
- Texas: 6
- Three signees: Arizona, Washington
- Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
- One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
- California: 33
- Colorado: 14
- Texas: 8
- Arizona: 3
- Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
- One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
- California: 26
- Oregon: 5
- Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
- Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
- Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
- One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
- Utah: 6
- Four signees: California, Florida
- Two signees: Oregon, Texas
- One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
- California: 25
- Georgia: 7
- Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
- Five signees: Utah, Washington
- Four signees: Louisiana
- Three signees: North Carolina
- Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
- One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
- California: 55
- Texas: 10
- Arizona: 5
- Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
- Two signees: Delaware
- One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
- California: 32
- Texas: 3
- Two signees: Florida, Utah
- One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
- California: 40
- Utah: 29
- Texas: 15
- Florida: 8
- Louisiana: 6
- Nevada: 3
- Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
- One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York
*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).
Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
- California: 28
- Washington: 14
- Idaho: 2
- One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
- California: 57
- Washington: 14
- American Samoa: 7
- Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
- Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
- One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.
Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.
Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.
North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.
In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).
In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.
USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).
Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.
"I love it," he said. "There's a hunger now. As much as we try not to worry about what other people say about us, it's nice when people talk about our conference and don't talk about us. Our guys get a little upset. I think that's great."
Winter training, which took place over the course of the past two months, was the first step in the Cardinal's reloading effort. Players say that sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley refined the program this year, and the changes helped infuse a fresh sense of accountability following disappointment in 2014.
"No one can half-ass a rep," quarterback Kevin Hogan said.
Monday's practice practice was Stanford's first chance to work out under full supervision of the coaching staff. While workout strain had been the dominant theme of January and the first half of February, the complete football package has now returned to the forefront. Shaw indicated that he was pleased with Stanford's communication on the first non-padded day of practice.
"There's a lot to compete for," he said. 'There'll be a lot of questions people have about us, and our guys are eager to answer those."
Here are some early returns:
The questions to answer
- Stanford is dealing with a smattering of injuries and absences in spring practice, and those further complicate the challenges facing the Cardinal. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, the two most experienced members of their respective position groups, will both miss spring practice due to injury. That sets the table for potentially wild competition in the trenches and in the secondary this spring: It'll be a free-for-all of unproven players battling for playing time at those positions. Shaw noted that Luke Kaumatule will shift between outside linebacker and defensive end (in nickel situations), movement that could be a fitting illustration of what is -- at this point -- an unsettled defense. "We have talented young defensive linemen that we're excited to see play," Shaw said. "But they've got a lot to learn."
- Running back Remound Wright will miss the first half of spring practice because of a disciplinary issue, leaving Stanford with only two scholarship backs -- Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders -- at the moment. Shaw said that fullbacks Pat Skov (when he returns from injury) and Daniel Marx will receive single-back carries, which seems indicative of Stanford's hunger for a power runner.
- Kyle Murphy has officially moved from right tackle to the left side as Stanford looks to fill Andrus Peat's old spot. Murphy's vacated position is shaping up to be a battle between Brendon Austin (also currently banged up), Nick Davidson (who just completed a brief stint on the Cardinal's basketball team), and Casey Tucker. Austin will also be in the competition for right guard, joining Johnny Caspers, David Bright, and Brandon Fanaika.
Here are five developments to keep an eye on over the next six weeks:
Competition along the defensive line
Stanford has been forced to replace significant pieces in each of David Shaw's years at the helm, but this offseason the team must rebuild the entire defensive line. This trench is considered the foundation of what has been the Pac-12's stingiest defense the past three years, and it's losing all three starters.
Rotation in the secondary
Though assistant Randy Hart appears to have his hands full with the defensive line, secondary coach Duane Akina finds himself in a similar situation. Stanford has recruited notably well at this position over the past two cycles, so it appears Akina has ammunition to work with. Still, the Cardinal must replace strong safety Jordan Richards (an integral defensive captain) and both starting cornerbacks -- Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons.
Spring practice provides a first chance to assess Stanford's shifting plan at cornerback -- where will fifth-year man Ronnie Harris fit in relative to younger blue chip talents like Terrence Alexander? -- nickel back, and safety. Zach Hoffpauir will be a key piece of the puzzle at the latter two positions, but he is playing baseball for the Cardinal, so several underclassmen should have a chance to move up the pecking order in the coming weeks.
Cohesiveness of the offense
While the defense reloads, Stanford's offense returns largely intact. The Cardinal surged on this side of the ball to end the 2014 season, so spring marks a chance for quarterback Kevin Hogan and Co. to maintain the cohesiveness and efficiency they finished with. Stanford's offense has struggled mightily during spring practice ever since Andrew Luck graduated. With the defense in the midst of such a daunting reloading effort, this can be the offense's chance to finally turn the tables. Finding consistent spring confidence is important for a group that took so long to establish an effective rhythm in 2014.
Progress at tight end
After several consecutive banner seasons, Stanford's threat at tight end disappeared completely in 2013. Its return began in 2014 when the young crop of Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton, and Greg Taboada hit the field. The trio developed increasing comfort last season, and expectations have taken full flight as they enter their third year in the program. Stanford is certainly hoping to re-establish an elite size-speed threat at the position beyond those three, and spring will serve as a gauge of progress on that front -- especially since many are hopeful that sophomore Dalton Schultz can make this crew a four-headed monster.
Balance in the backfield
Kelsey Young is no longer on Stanford's roster and is expected to transfer, so a crowded Cardinal backfield has one less body competing for touches. Shaw's distribution of carries figures to be a key factor in the 2015 season, and the prolific rise of youngster Christian McCaffrey promises to make the development of the position a fascinating watch. Remound Wright exploded at the goal line to close 2014. His coexistence with McCaffrey and Barry Sanders will continue to be an important variable.
Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.
FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends
- OG Jamil Douglas, Arizona State
- OT Jake Fisher, Oregon
- C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
- OT Andrus Peat, Stanford
- OG Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
- Randall Telfer, USC
- Connor Halliday, Washington State
- Brett Hundley, UCLA
- Sean Mannion, Oregon State
- Marcus Mariota, Oregon
- Buck Allen, USC
- Nelson Agholor, USC
- Dres Anderson, Utah
- Kaelin Clay, Utah
- Vince Mayle, Washington State
- Ty Montgomery, Stanford
- Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
- DE Henry Anderson, Stanford
- DT Arik Armstead, Oregon
- DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State
- DE Obum Gwacham, Oregon State
- DE Marcus Hardison, Arizona State
- DT Ellis McCarthy, UCLA
- DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
- DE Nate Orchard, Utah
- NT David Parry, Stanford
- NT Danny Shelton, Washington
- ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
- OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
- ILB Hayes Pullard, USC
- OLB J.R. Tavai, USC
- OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington
- OLB Tony Washington, Oregon
With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”
For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.
Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
- California: 128
- Washington: 16
- Utah: 15
- Arizona: 14
- Texas: 14
- Louisiana: 13
- Florida: 9
- Georgia: 8
- Hawaii: 8
- Oregon: 5
- Colorado: 4
- Three signees: American Samoa, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee
- Two signees: Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma
- One signee: Alabama: Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Wyoming, Washington D.C., Canada
- Zero signees: Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
- One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
- Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
- The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
- The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
- Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
- The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.
But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?
Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.
But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.
- Hawaii: 1
- California: 1
- California: 33
- Texas: 5
- Washington: 4
- Arizona: 3
- Georgia: 3
- Utah: 3
- Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
- One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii
- Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
- The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
- More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.
As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
How has post-Stanford life been for you?
You knew that because the combine fell in February that your schedule would be more tightly packed, but were you/your body prepared for that grind?
Anderson: It still came so quick. It did kind of hit me that you're jumping right back into training. You're pretty much trying to be a track athlete right when the season is over. It's a little weird just because that season is such a long grind and you kind of want some time to just relax and take a little time off, but you've got to get right back into it, training for the combine. The first couple weeks of training took a little getting used to but the experience has been great.
What has training looked like for you?
Anderson: They obviously train us for the 40-yard dash, the shuttles, the jumps and all that stuff -- the physical testing. But they've also done a really good job preparing us for the interviews, just getting mentally prepared for all that type of stuff and have us dominate that portion of the combine as well. And nutrition, we meet each week about nutrition as well. We've got nutritionists with us all the time. It's definitely a lot different from what I did at Stanford just because we're basically training to be sprinters rather than be football players. And Stanford was all about trying to be the best football player we could be. The weightlifting program was a little different.
You underwent a huge physical transformation from your freshman to redshirt senior seasons at Stanford. What has the transformation for a football player to a sprinter looked like for you?
Anderson: I have gotten leaner, dropped body fat, but I've stayed the same weight. It's weird because we'll probably never train like this again. You're never training to run a 40-yard dash. At Stanford, it was kind of an unorthodox strength and conditioning program we had there. It wasn't about how much you could bench, how much you could squat, how fast you could run. Everything was centered around just being a good football player. We weren't about benching heavy and all that kind of stuff. A lot of our work there dealt with just functional strength and being a good athlete. So, coming here and transitioning into benching as many reps at 225 as you can and trying to sprint as fast as you can, it has been a lot different.
What about the off-the-field training and life? Has anything funny happened with that?
Anderson: During interview training they've had some funny questions. They've told us some questions that some previous players had gotten in interviews. They said sometimes a scout or someone will walk up to you with some random object and list as many things as possible that you can do with that random object. We were all laughing about that because we didn't have any idea what that had to do with anything.
We went bowling one time and there were some guys who weren't too good at bowling, so that was pretty funny.
OK, name some names...
Anderson: First, Jon Feliciano [U of Miami offensive lineman] was a stud at bowling, I think he had his own ball and his own towel to polish the ball and everything. He was really good. And then, Patrick Miller [Auburn offensive lineman] was a pretty bad bowler. Watching Xzavier Dickson [Alabama linebacker] bowl was pretty funny as well.
You leave for the combine on Thursday morning and will work out on Sunday, what are your feelings on finally getting to Indianapolis?
Anderson: It's pretty cool. As a kid I never even dreamt of being able to play in the NFL so having an opportunity like this is something I truly cherish. Hopefully I go in there and make a good impression on all the teams and all the coaches that are there.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.
The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.
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Up next: Hogan's a hero
Who and against whom: Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan saved his best for last in a 31-10 victory against No. 8 UCLA, an upset in the season's final weekend that knocked the Bruins out first place in the South Division.
The numbers: Hogan completed 16 of 19 passes for 234 yards -- 12.3 yards per attempt -- with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 46 yards on seven carries (6.6 yards per rush).
A closer look: How good was this performance? According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the 10th best of the season nationally, and best in the Pac-12 based on QBR, so it was just about perfect. Hogan completed his first 12 passes and was 14 of 15 in the first half with both TDs, and then the Cardinal coasted home. The biggest connection, which featured a nifty move in the pocket to avoid a sack, was a 37-yard touchdown to Devon Cajuste 41 seconds before the half, capping a 92-yard drive. Adding to the impressiveness, Hogan and the Cardinal played like this without top receiver Ty Montgomery, who sat out with a shoulder injury. The victory also meant the Stanford seniors would finish their careers without losing to UCLA. Said Hogan, "We knew that this meant a lot to [UCLA], but we wanted to come out and get a win for our seniors, for our team. We haven't lost to them since we've been here, and we wanted to keep that streak going." It seemed to go under the radar how well Hogan played in Stanford's final three games -- all wins -- including the bowl victory against Maryland. His QBR was over 90 in all three, giving Hogan a strong finish to a mostly disappointing season in which he was dealing with the illness and then death of his father. One suspects his strong finish to 2014 might hint at his potential for a big 2015.
Coaches who've just signed highly ranked recruiting classes point to their numbers as a telltale sign of future success. Those lower on the pecking order argue that star ratings aren't really all that they're made out to be. Many writers espouse the vital importance of recruiting rankings when it comes to predicting future success, but examples of programs that outperform their signing day numbers inevitably persist.
Since the beginning of its turnaround in 2007 -- and outside of last season's dip to 8-5 -- Stanford has been one of these programs.
The Cardinal initially surged into national prominence behind recruiting classes that Rivals ranked 50th and 51st in the nation -- Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Coby Fleener and Doug Baldwin were just four of the future NFL parts of those 2007 and 2008 hauls. After that, Stanford didn't break into the top 20 of Rivals' team rankings until it finished fifth in 2012. That was the high-water mark, but it certainly didn't represent the norm: Although Stanford is currently sitting on consecutive top-20 hauls, the program's average recruiting class ranking in the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era is a not-so-gaudy No. 30.
"We don't pay much attention to the star rankings," defensive coordinator Lance Anderson said. "In fact, I'd have a hard time telling you how many stars each guy has, because we really don't look at them at all."
College football programs perform their own player evaluations independent of the recruiting services -- there's no surprise there. Stanford, though, has taken the distinct challenge of the university's strict admissions standards and turned them into a productive selling point, one that has fostered effective player development. As a result, this era on the Farm has already featured four consecutive trips to BCS bowl games and prolific player entry into the professional ranks: the NFL saw 41 Stanford players in 2014, good for 14th nationally and 16 spots above that average recruiting ranking of the past nine years.
Recruiting and development: Working in tandem
When it comes to development, the program's beating heart is a synergistic health and strength focus orchestrated by sports performance director Shannon Turley and the Cardinal's medical staff. But it's important to understand that the process begins long before that -- in the recruiting phase, when the staff must equip the cannon with the appropriate ammunition. In that regard, it can be argued that the university's strict admissions standards have harmonized with the football system.
"I love the kind of kids we have at Stanford," Anderson says. "I love coaching those guys. Aside from wanting to be really good and wanting to work really hard, they want to understand the whys and the hows. It's fun explaining things to them, because they're really smart kids, and they can handle a lot."
It's easy to see how a brainy approach to the game can mesh well with a strength and conditioning guru like Turley, who's a significant departure from the stereotypical, barrel-chested football strength coach. Turley is known as a "technician" and a "scientist" around the program, and his meticulous attention to detail has resonated well with Stanford's roster.
"I'm not concerned with how much our guys can bench press, back squat, power clean, or any of the numbers that really have nothing to do with playing football," Turley said in 2013.
Instead, he's focused on Stanford's functional strength -- "if it won't block, tackle or score touchdowns for us, we're not really concerned with it" -- a cornerstone evident whenever one sees a Cardinal workout staple: players pushing John Deere carts around campus, complete with yelling coaches on the bed (Stanford prides itself on its ability to move the opposition).
The 87 percent reduction in Stanford's injury rate from 2006-12 was staggering, and the team's strength advantages on the field have been apparent during this winning run. The system's biggest beneficiaries have morphed into superstars: Most of the Cardinal's NFL alumni, including Luck and Richard Sherman, return to train with Turley over the offseason. Luck's physical jumps were impressive (from 5.1 to 4.6 in the 40-yard dash even while adding 24 pounds), but the most eye-popping development under Turley's tutelage might have come on the defensive side of the ball. That's where two-star recruit Ben Gardner blossomed into an NFL draftee, and where Stanford has identified the gangly teenagers capable of transforming into athletic 6-foot-6, 285-pound specimens.
"We look at a way a kid is built, his frame and his background," Anderson says. "We look into his history: How many different sports has he played? How much has he been in the weight room already? We try to project what he can grow into -- if he can possibly develop like a Trent Murphy (three-star recruit, second-round NFL draftee) or a Henry Anderson (three-star recruit, projected NFL draftee)."
The right mentality: A prerequisite for development
Readiness for Stanford's system goes beyond the physical projections, and Anderson says it's tough to judge football instincts and attributes such as toughness on film. The Cardinal, then, put a high priority on encouraging prospects to attend their camps. That's where a number of current players first proved their mettle: The staff viewed Peter Kalambayi, for example, as an excellent athlete (worthy of four recruiting stars) before his visit, but he didn't turn into a primary recruiting target until after the staff saw his intangibles fit well in Stanford's scheme.
"We're looking to see that guys are tough," Anderson says. "And we're looking to see that they're coachable."
Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips (three stars) proved to be both, and that earned him an offer after he dominated a one-on-one strength drill at the Cardinal's camp, which he said differed greatly from other stops on his recruiting circuit.
"Out of all the camps I've gone to, this one was the most blue-collar camp," Phillips said after the 2013 camp. "No one cares what you weigh, no one cares how much you bench, no one cares how fast you can touch a cone and run back. It's basically who can strap up when the pads are on, when the mouthpieces are in. Who can get it? That's how the game should be played."
Phillips may have put his finger on Stanford's precise source of developmental success. Up to this point, the program has been able to stockpile recruits with a palpable hunger for improvement and the game of football, and that hasn't always overlapped with the flashiest prospects coming out of high school. Make no mistake, the Cardinal also nets highly ranked recruits, but there's a common denominator among the entire roster that has led to success. A player's ability to jive with the program's precise, scientific drive forward holds more value than any star ranking.
"We aren't always right [in our evaluations]," Anderson says. "But there have been some cases where it's worked out really well."
Given the significant annual roster turnover in college football, Stanford's success moving forward is reliant on the continuation of good development news -- especially since a bevy of young players will take over key roles on defense in 2015.
Last Thursday, we looked at the teams in the Pac-12 and how well they produced points after turnovers. This was the South Division, and here was the North. Now, we look at the flip side.
It can be frustrating when, after a big defensive stand, the offense coughs it up and gives the ball right back. Time for the defense to take the field again, be it inside their own red zone, the 50 or the opponent’s 1-yard line. (Or if you’re Shaq Thompson, just run it back 100 yards.)
Just like offensive points off of turnovers, there are exceptions. Sometimes a team gets a turnover at the end of the half or a game, so the defense doesn’t have to make a stand. So these numbers aren’t completely cut-and-dried. But rather it’s a measuring stick.
We looked at the South earlier today, and now we turn our attention to the North. If you’re curious how your team did last year, here are the numbers for the South and the numbers for the North.
Turnovers committed: 20
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-20 (50 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 69
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3
Turnovers committed: 11
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 3-11 (27 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 13
Games without committing at least one turnover: 7
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 5
Turnovers committed: 14
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 9-14 (64 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 43
Games without committing at least one turnover: 3
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3
Turnovers committed: 21
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 6-21 (28 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 38
Games without committing at least one turnover: 1
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 7
Turnovers committed: 17
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-17 (58 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 53
Games without committing at least one turnover: 5
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 2
Turnovers committed: 25
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 18-25 (72 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 114
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 1
Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.
Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.
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February 4 is long gone, but don't think that the drama of national signing day has vanished with the date. UCLA is still at the center of some national attention because linebacker Roquan Smith, one of their touted Wednesday commits, hasn't faxed his national letter of intent to Westwood. Smith is reportedly concerned that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has been in talks with the Atlanta Falcons, news that leaked shortly after Smith's commitment to UCLA but before his pledge to the Bruins became binding.
Smith may feel fortunate that he's not in the same boat as Ohio State recruit Mike Weber, who found Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to the NFL after he was locked into Urban Meyer's program.
In the case of Smith, UCLA, Georgia, Michigan, and Texas A&M are still technically alive in the battle for his services, and the saga will likely stretch into next week.
"[The recruiting period] isn't over until the end of April," Smith's coach said. "So there's no rush."
So in case any Pac-12 recruiting fans thought signing day would present a cut and dry finish to the 2015 cycle, think again. We're going to overtime, and it'll be a while longer before the drama fully subsides and the pre-spring ball vacation is here.
- Arizona's DaVonte' Neal is changing positions to help a thinned-out Wildcats defense. Read about the switch here.
- .One of Arizona State's biggest victories this recruiting season came through the signing of defensive tackle prospect Joseph Wicker.
- Is Cal football trying to mimic how Stanford recruits?
- Colorado's series with an in-state rival is likely to end after 2020.
- More signing day aftermath: This piece examines Oregon's slow-and-steady recruiting style.
- A developing Oregon State trend: Polynesian players. The Beavers just signed eight of them.
- Offensive lineman Kevin Reihner has exercised a graduate transfer to Penn State, and David Shaw indicated that he's not the only Stanford player who's been mulling his future options.
- Chronicling UCLA's Jeff Ulbrich/Roquan Smith saga.
- When it comes to recruiting, Steve Sarkisian has finished strong at USC.
- Grading Utah's coaches for their 2014 performance while looking ahead to 2015.
- Chris Petersen believes he has something special at Washington in Jake Browning.
- Washington State has lost wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons to Oklahoma.
Here's another "my, how times have changed" glimpse at college football, featuring a former USC Heisman Trophy winner.
Signed my letter of intent with my parents eating fruit loops in the morning before school started. Think signing day has changed! #fighton— Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) February 4, 2015