Pac-12: Keller Chryst

This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Cory in Phoenix writes: Kevin, on Athlon's coaches rating it seemed that much of the ratings for new coaches are based on the talent in place before they arrived. Is Todd Graham really a better coach than Rich Rod or is Jim Mora really better than Mike Leach? So my question, if you were the AD of Generic University, a hypothetical university in the Pac-12 that finished 6-6 (i.e., this is an average team with average talent), and could steal one Pac-12 coach to rebuild your program, which coach do you hire to lead your program to the Rose Bowl?

Kevin Gemmell: I get this question a lot in chats. And if I were running the show for the Generic U Fighting Millers, I would probably select David Shaw as my head coach for one very simple reason: We believe the same thing philosophically.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkIf you prefer a power game and a 3-4 defense, then your outlook is rosy with David Shaw.
I grew up in the Bay Area in the heyday of Joe Montana and Steve Young to Jerry Rice. I grew up watching Tom Rathman block for Roger Craig and Bar None Floyd blocking for Ricky Watters. I believe in the West Coast offense. So does Shaw.

I’ve been a beat writer for football teams that have run the spread and the option and the pro style. And the pro style is what I would run if I were a coach. Because I believe that a strong, power-based rushing attack wears teams downs over a 60-minute game; that 3-yard carries in the first quarter become 6-yard carries in the fourth. The ability to run power up and down the field is demoralizing to an opposition. It’s not just X's and O's. It’s a mentality.

Defensively, I believe in the 3-4, especially in the Pac-12, where talented edge rushers are invaluable and perimeter speed is critical.

Of course, that’s what makes this such a fun debate. Say what you want about Utah’s offensive inefficiencies the last few years, Kyle Whittingham can coach up an even front as well as any coach in the country. If I were running a 4-3, I’d snag Whittingham in a heartbeat. If I wanted uptempo, I’d tap Mark Helfrich. If I wanted to raid, I’d go with Mike Leach.

You get where I’m going with this. It’s a question of personal preference. It has less to do with the man and more of what the man believes and whether that’s simpatico with what you believe.


Gerry in Elko, Nevada writes: This isn't really a question, but rather giving praise to the blog. Year after year I hear Oregon State "fans" calling for the firing of Mike Riley because Oregon State doesn't achieve the same success that Oregon does. You all at the blog always seem to praise him for the job he has done for OSU. Anyway, I just got done reading the Athlon Coaches list and [Chris] Petersen at No. 2 sounds a bit high, but I'm OK with that. I expect him to drop a bit because I don't see him having much success in Year 1. The list for the most part is sound in my opinion, though. Keep up the good work!

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks for the kind words, Gerry. I had a great talk with Rick Neuheisel a couple of months back about Mike Riley and one of the things he said was that “Corvallis isn’t getting any closer to the best athletes.” And yet Riley has recruited a quarterback who is on pace to become the league’s all-time leading passer and a receiver who was last year’s Biletnikoff winner. That ain’t bad. Anyone question whether he’s still got “it?” I might be biased (oh wait, I am) because I’ve known Riley since I was covering the Chargers pre-Y2K. But the guy is one of the most respected coaches in the country for a reason. And I hope OSU fans will always appreciate what he has done for that program.

As for Petersen, as I noted in the piece, my first thought as well was that he was a bit high on the list for having never coached in the conference. But when you look at his resume, it’s as strong as anyone else and a good reminder for just how deep the roster of coaches is in this conference.

Consider the current Pac-12 coaches who have won BCS bowl games:

  • Petersen: 2 (2006 Fiesta, 2009 Fiesta)
  • Whittingham: 2 (2004 Fiesta, 2008 Sugar)
  • Rich Rodriguez: 2 (2005 Sugar, 2007 Fiesta)
  • Shaw: 1 (2012 Rose)

Others have won as coordinators or assistants. You can argue that Leach got hosed out of a BCS bowl game at Texas Tech in 2008 (and he’d agree with you). Ask Bob Stoops if he thinks Petersen is a good coach.

As someone who covers the conference, I talk to a lot of folks about other folks. Comes with the job. And so far I’ve yet to hear someone say anything other than glowing about Petersen and what he brings. Oh yeah, don't forget about that whole two-time national coach of the year thing.

Now, will that translate to a playoff berth in Year 1? Probably not. But the guy has a proven system, and I think the rest of the Pac-12 coaches realize that while it was tough before to go to Seattle, it’s about to get a lot tougher.


Justin in Denver writes: What is the deal with Stanford not showing interest in ESPN No. 1-rated QB Josh Rosen? It appears he wanted to go there and then decided on UCLA because Stanford was giving him no love. Does Stanford feel they have too many quarterbacks or did Rosen simply want to know too early from a school that takes its time? Any chance Stanford lures him out of his commitment?

Kevin Gemmell: There is so much insider baseball that goes on with recruiting that, honest answer, I have no clue what happened. Coaches aren’t allowed to talk about players they are recruiting, so we’re only getting one side of the story. Here’s what we got from Erik McKinney’s story when Rosen committed to UCLA last month.
While Rosen began his recruitment as a strong lean to Stanford, Cal actually emerged as the team to beat for a moment after Rosen's relationship with the Cardinal faded due to him not receiving an offer. But a poor season by the Golden Bears allowed UCLA to jump into the picture.

In the interest of giving you the best answer possible, I talked to McKinney this morning. Essentially Stanford looked at Rosen and Ricky Town and opted to offer a scholarship to Town (who has since committed to USC). Simple as that. One seemed like a good fit for the school. Another didn’t.

Just because a recruiting service (yes, even ours) ranks a quarterback as the No. 1 guy, that doesn’t mean he’s right for your program. And sure, you’d like to have a quarterback in every class. But Stanford brought in Ryan Burns two years ago and Keller Chryst last year, so it’s not like the cupboards are completely empty.

And let’s also remember this very important point. It’s only April! A lot can happen between now and next February. Stanford could decide to offer Rosen after all and he might swing back. UCLA could win the national championship and Rosen could be the Bruins QB of the future. Jim Mora, Steve Sarkisian and David Shaw might all quit the business and form a middle-aged boy band called West Coast Pro $tyle (their first single, "TempOh," is gonna be huge). A lot can change between now and signing day -- especially when we’re talking about fickle teens. So while it’s nice to have feathers in your cap in April. It’s better to put ink to quill in February.


TNT in Los Angeles writes: WSU QB recruiting. I would have thought it would be easier to get a quality QB to commit to the Cougs, considering Leach's air-raid system being so stat friendly. We were on two four-star guys and one committed to UW and the other then went to BSU. People are trying to write it off as no problem. When Jake Browning committed to UW, they said we would rather have Brett Rypien. When Rypien committed to BSU, they said he was afraid of the depth we have. Is any of that true?

Kevin Gemmell: Again, because coaches can’t talk about it, we’ll never really know the whole story.

As for depth, after incumbent Connor Halliday, you’ve got a pair of redshirt freshmen in Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk. And Peyton Bender is set to arrive in the fall. Then you’ve got a few other quarterbacks behind them jockeying for a seat at the table. Bruggman and Bender were both rated as top-30 pocket passers nationally. I would think Leach could work with that.

Nick Nordi of All Coug’d Up had a good summary on the QB situation this morning which you can check out here. His take: Don’t stress about it. I tend to agree.

And I’ll go back to what I said in the previous mailbag. It’s April, folks. Suppose Washington State goes 9-4 with a bowl in win in Las Vegas or San Diego? That would make a lot of QBs think twice about their commitments. Let’s not stress too much about commitments in the spring. As with most things in life, it matters how you finish.
STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford coach David Shaw knew for two days that four-star defensive end Solomon Thomas would give a pledge to Stanford on ESPNU to open national signing day coverage.

He didn't know Thomas, the No. 4-ranked defensive end in the country, would do it by pulling a tree out from under a table and then conduct the rest of the interview in nerd glasses. It was a pleasant surprise and a fitting start to a day in which the Cardinal signed the country's No. 15 class, which ranked only behind USC in the Pac-12.

"The fact that nerd is not necessarily a negative word anymore," Shaw said. "It says a lot about our kids that are bright, that our kids are smart. Our kids want to accomplish something also in the classroom and beyond Stanford and beyond football. It says a lot about who those guys are and what they want to accomplish."

[+] EnlargeSolomon Thomas
ESPNSolomon Thomas brought some style to his Stanford announcement.
In Thomas' opening statement there was no mention of spending the next three, four or five years on the Farm. Instead, he chose to focus on what Shaw and his staff have made a priority.

"I'll be playing college football and I'll be graduating from Stanford University," Thomas said.

Key word: graduating.

Of Stanford's 20 commits, seven were ranked in the ESPN 300 and 11 were given four-star grades. Quarterback Keller Chryst, offensive tackle Casey Tucker, tight end Dalton Schultz and Thomas were the headliners, while running back Christian McCaffrey, offensive tackle Reilly Gibbons and safety Brandon Simmons were also in the ESPN 300.

Shaw wouldn't specify which players had the best chances to earn early playing time, but Schultz, the nation's top-ranked tight end, figures to be the best bet. After sending four tight ends to the NFL over the previous three seasons, the Cardinal were largely without a tight end in the receiving game this past season.

“[Schultz] is a kid that all the recruiting services had as the No. 1 tight end in America,” offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “When we evaluate kids and put them on our board, we are going to agree with them and sometimes we are not. In Dalton’s case, we absolutely did.”

Stanford's recruiting efforts took a big hit in late December when it was announced recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford would leave to become the offensive coordinator at Boise State following the Rose Bowl. A few weeks later, defensive coordinator Derek Mason took over at Vanderbilt and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski went with him to become the defensive coordinator.

"We talk about being a national recruiter," Shaw said. "Well, we felt it after those guys left because you're starting with 10 and you're busy then you have seven guys to canvas the nation. It was taxing.

"It was for the first time really in my career here at Stanford that I was gone for eight days straight. We all had to cover a lot of ground."

The class is made up of players from 12 states, with California (5), Arizona (3), Florida (2) and Texas (2) providing multiple players.

However, not everyone required a plane trip. In fact, in the case of Chryst, there was no need for a vehicle at all. The son of 49ers quarterback coach Geep Chryst literally has the arm strength to throw a football from his Palo Alto High campus to the Stanford campus, which are located across the street from each other.

Chryst's addition should make for an interesting competition down the line. Starter Kevin Hogan still has two years left of eligibility and Ryan Burns was one of the prizes of Stanford's recruiting class a year ago.

On Chryst's ability, Shaw said: "There are things you can teach playing the quarterback position and things you can't. You can't teach 6-4, 235 and athleticism that can throw the ball 70 yards. You just can't teach that stuff. You see a young man with ability and physical tools and toughness. Best thing for us is that we don't feel the need to rush his development."

Shaw said he had met the elder Chryst a few times while coaching in the NFL, but didn't develop a real relationship with him until the recruiting process began.
Though the season ended on a sour note, with a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, 2013 was another tremendously successful season for the Cardinal. Stanford posted an 11-win season and defended its Pac-12 crown. Heading toward signing day, it's doubtful this loss will damage any of the momentum the Cardinal have built on the recruiting trail. On the heels of a small recruiting class in 2013 -- Stanford signed just a dozen prospects -- Shaw and his assistants will be able to go after more recruits in the 2014 class, though this group still likely won't approach the maximum allowable limit of 25. At this point, Stanford's 2014 class ranks No. 28 in the nation and No. 4 in the Pac-12.

Pac-12 weekend recruiting wrap 

December, 23, 2013
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All eyes were on the California state bowl games this past weekend, as five contests pitted teams from Southern California against Northern California. And although recruiting took something of a backseat to the final games of the season, there was some noise made in the Pac-12 conference, including a quarterback shakeup that could continue to play out down the line.


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Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013
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Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the Big Ten, check out our conference rankings:

1. Arizona, 24 commits: The Wildcats check in at No. 23 in the RecruitingNation class rankings with a class that includes four ESPN300 commitments, including No. 120 overall Marquis Ware and No. 185 Jamardre Cobb of Salesian High in Los Angeles. Arizona will take its shot with No. 17 overall Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy), and teammate Dae'Juan Funderburk (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy) in December.


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Pac-12 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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This week's list offers a look through the Pac-12 at the potential best-case and worst-case scenarios that the 2014 recruiting cycle could bring for various programs. While a few of the best-case scenarios might be close to within reach for some programs, many of the worst-case scenarios would take a special brand of bad luck.

Arizona
Best-case scenario: Arizona doesn't hold onto all of its 24 verbal commits, but keeps all of its priority recruits in the fold. In exchange for some of the decommitments, the Wildcats are rewarded with a big splash from either ESPN 300 prospect John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) or Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure). A strong finish to the season also helps Arizona clean up in its home state, landing commitments from offensive linemen Natrell Curtis (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe), Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino), Layth Friekh (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial) and junior college defensive lineman Claudeson Pelon (Mesa, Ariz./Mesa College).

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Top Pac-12 recruiting rivalries 

October, 1, 2013
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The Pac-12 is the only conference in the country with so many natural rivalries, as Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington are split in half -- or quarters in California's case -- when home state teams take the field. It's only natural those rivalries would spill over onto the recruiting trail, although there are some interstate battles as well that make this list of top recruiting rivalries in the Pac-12.


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Pac-12's 2014 impact freshmen 

September, 25, 2013
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We've barely hit the quarter pole of the 2013 season, but with true and redshirt freshmen making impacts all over the country, attention turns this week to those recruits in the 2014 class who could generate the same kind of press early in their careers and affect the conference.

Current 2014 QB prospect who could start immediately

Arizona and Washington are the only Pac-12 programs scheduled to lose their starting quarterbacks after this season, but with seven quarterbacks already slated to compete for the job next year, it's going to be extremely difficult for Brandon Dawkins (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) to truly put himself in the mix. The same is true at Washington -- though the Huskies have yet to receive a commitment from a quarterback in the 2014 class -- as redshirt freshmen, who will then be redshirt sophomores, Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles will likely battle for the spot. So at this point -- leaving aside speculation on whether quarterbacks such as UCLA's Brett Hundley or Oregon's Marcus Marriota could make themselves available for the NFL draft -- this question becomes about the possibility of a true freshman supplanting a returning starter, and while it would be tough to bet on anybody actually getting it done, the easy answer is Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) at Stanford. The No. 19 overall recruit is a polished pocket passer and seems to fit perfectly into the Stanford offense. If it clicks early for him, he could give Kevin Hogan a serious run next fall.

Program-changing 2014 recruiting class: USC

This could be a make-or-break recruiting class for the Trojans. When USC begins practices next spring, just 26 players on the roster will come from the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes, combined. That means tons of opportunity for what could be 19 signees in a class still limited by NCAA sanctions. Right now, recruits want a clear picture of what will happen going forward at USC. If the Trojans make a decisive move at the top -- either with Lane Kiffin finishing the season in a strong manner and earning the full trust of the fans and his bosses, or with athletics director Pat Haden moving swiftly to replace Kiffin with an impressive hire -- USC could close with a monster class, as a number of high-profile prospects are intrigued by the idea of playing for USC and understand the playing time situation. If things break well for the Trojans, it's not impossible to think this class could be the best group in the Pac-12 and eventually form some of the nucleus that takes USC back to the top of the conference.

Current 2014 prospect with Heisman potential

Since the Heisman Trophy has become about quarterbacks and running backs, that narrows this category a bit. Again, Chryst is the easy answer because he'll likely put up good numbers for a national power. But a bit farther down the West region prospects list sits tailback Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), who possesses just about everything you look for in a potential Heisman contender. He'll likely be suiting up for a national power -- Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon are three of his finalists -- a running back's dream -- Wisconsin is another finalists -- or a program in Cal where he'd have the ability to put up silly numbers both rushing and receiving. Mixon has also said UCLA is still in the running, which would put him in a major media market. His ability to catch out of the backfield and perhaps even return kicks will help his statistics, and the fact that he brings some personality to the table -- nearly 6,500 twitter followers at last count -- helps his cause as well.


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Best Pac-12 classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
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Arizona’s haul of 24 verbal commitments is nine more than any other Pac-12 team, while only one BCS program has fewer than USC’s seven -- Minnesota, with six. Oregon, UCLA, Utah and Washington have all yet to reach double digits. But this week, we take a look at which program has put together the best class at each position at this point in the recruiting process.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Stanford

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Two secondary additions were the primary reason UCLA was the talk of Pac-12 recruiting this week, though several programs will have opportunities to make a recruiting impact with important home games this weekend. Several more might have to wait a few weeks before they get the same chance.
Bruins pick up big commitments

ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) looked ticketed for USC when good friend and teammate D.J. Calhoun committed to the Trojans over the summer and head coach Lane Kiffin and staff seemed to make him a priority at cornerback. But Pickett made a surprise announcement on Tuesday, when he committed to UCLA. Pickett said a big reason was the fact that he felt at home with the Bruins -- additionally, USC wouldn’t let him take an in-season official visit, which was something Pickett felt he needed to do. Whatever the reasons, Pickett’s commitment to UCLA sends a message that the Bruins will again be a program of strength during this recruiting season. UCLA backed up Pickett’s commitment by landing fellow cornerback Denzel Fisher (Compton, Calif./Centennial) later that evening. Now, at a position where USC is in desperate need of bodies in this recruiting class, the Bruins have three solid options, including two from in-state standouts.

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While all recruits have the same opportunity to make an impact after signing day, that’s not always the case in the days and months leading up to it. Some verbal commitments are bigger than others, whether it’s from a top target on the board, a nationally prominent standout who can shine a spotlight on the program or a local legend that continues a pipeline.

This week, we take a look through the Pac-12 at the most important verbal commitments in each class.

Arizona
ATH Cameron Denson (Tucson, Ariz./Salpointe Catholic)
6-1, 175

ESPN 300 rank: 147

Denson hits every requirement for this list. He was the first commitment in Arizona’s 2014 class, the top-rated player in the class and a local standout that Rich Rodriguez had to have if he was going to build momentum for 2014.


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Video: Stanford lands QB Keller Chryst

June, 29, 2013
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The nation's top pocket-passer, Keller Chryst, ranked No. 21 in the ESPN 300, committed late in the week to Stanford. Chryst, a senior at Palo Alto (Calif.), picked the Cardinal over USC, Alabama and Pitt. He talked about the decision with Phil Murphy.
video
Quarterback Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) has picked Texas A&M over UCLA, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, and his reasons why won't make any Pac-12 coaches or fans happy.

Allen wanted to play in the SEC.

"That played a big part," Allen said. "If you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. A lot of quarterbacks come out of the Pac-12 and Big 12, where they throw the ball around, but they don't play against as good of defenses. A&M does the same thing those programs do on offense but they do it against the best defenses in the country. My dream is to someday become an NFL quarterback, and I want the best training and the best preparation for that. That's in the SEC."

Allen obviously views himself as stepping in for quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Allen, the No. 2 quarterback in the West behind Keller Chryst of Palo Alto, Calif., is the seventh of the West's top-30 players to commit, and just three of those committed players are staying in the Pac-12.

So far. As we know, oral commitments are non-binding and guys can change their minds.

What we might be seeing, however, is seven consecutive national titles cementing in young athletes' minds the supremacy of the SEC. Understand that the average 18-year-old probably doesn't remember the epic USC-Texas national title game following the 2005 season. For this year's crew of young prospects, the SEC has been atop college football since they stopped watching "Yo Gabba Gabba!" on television.

Five or so years ago, there also was constant chatter about SEC supremacy, but it was mostly just fan talk. Pete Carroll and Mack Brown would smirk at it. Now it's a concrete aspect of the recruiting scene that other conferences must specifically address.

A good way to do that would be for a team from a conference outside the SEC to win the title this fall.

Paging Stanford and Oregon. Heck, even Ohio State.

Video: Pac-12 official visit

May, 24, 2013
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Erik McKinney and Phil Murphy recap Keller Chryst's performance at the San Francisco Elite 11 and break down the impact of Adoree' Jackson's track career on his football decision. And how would Cal recruiting success affect the Pac-12?

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