Friday, February 1, 2013
Take 2: Recruiting surprises
By Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell
With National Signing Day coming up next week, your Pac-12 bloggers are looking at what's surprised them so far in the recruiting season.
Ted Miller: It's too early to pass ultimate judgment on a recruiting class because we really don't know what that class is until the ink is dry on all the letters of intent, confirming the names and numbers. That said, I am a bit surprised that Stanford is lagging in recruiting.
The Cardinal currently ranks 38th in the ESPN.com rankings with just 12 commitments. That's seventh in the Pac-12 for a team that's played in three consecutive BCS bowl games.
Sure, Stanford will sign a small class because it doesn't have that many available roster spots. And there are some names out there that still might send this class into the top 25. A strong close, not unlike coach David Shaw produced last year, is still possible.
But Stanford made a recruiting surge last year that suggested it might be poised to take that next step as a perennial top 15 or so team in the recruiting rankings. It seemed that Shaw had found the formula: Within the pool of elite athletes who also are elite academically, Stanford would get first pick. Particularly among those who appreciated Stanford's smashmouth style on both sides of the ball.
At present, however, the Cardinal's class is solid but unspectacular. It features just one member of the ESPN 150, though half of the committed players have earned four stars. Recently Stanford lost out on receiver Devon Allen to Oregon. Receiver continues to be a need position for the program.
Stanford will be ranked in the preseason top 5 again next preseason. It, the premier academic institution playing FBS football, has the pieces in place for a national title run in 2013.
From the perspective of this humble scribe, that should be alluring to a number of top recruits -- regionally and nationally -- who apparently are looking elsewhere.
Perhaps the Cardinal will make a strong close. If it doesn't, it would be fair to term this recruiting class as fairly disappointing.
Kevin Gemmell: Of all the sticks and stones hurled at new UCLA coach Jim Mora when he was first hired -- he doesn't know the college game, he doesn't have the experience working with young players etc., etc. -- the stickiest stick and the rockiest rock was that he'd struggle in recruiting -- at least early on.
So staring down at a potential recruiting class that currently ranks 12th nationally and second in the Pac-12 has to be awfully satisfying for Mora and Co., which has assembled a very good group of (so far) 23 players. Among that group are 11 four-star players, three from the ESPN 150 list and seven from the ESPN 300 list.
As Ted says, we have to wait to see if there will be any last minute high jinks or switcharoos -- not totally uncommon in the days and hours leading up to National Signing Day. But if the class holds strong, it's a diverse group of seven offensive lineman , talented offensive skill players like Eldridge Massington and three defensive backs who could potentially contribute immediately.
Given the questions surrounding Mora when he took the job, yes, this comes as a bit of a surprise. He's surrounded himself with a great staff that knows how to recruit. But the head coach is usually the one who has to close the deal. Surely, it would have taken him a few recruiting cycles to get his in-home stump speech down. But it didn't, and now the Bruins are looking at quite the recruiting coup.
Of those 23 who have given verbal commitments, 14 come from California -- which is to be expected. But two of the three ESPN 150 players -- safety Priest Willis and outside linebacker Deon Hollins Jr. -- come from out of state. Willis is from Arizona. Hollins and Massington are from Texas. That means that Mora is not only expanding his reach as a recruiter, he's getting A-list players from other states.
One season a dynasty does not make. One division title (without an asterisk) doesn't officially constitute a power shift in Los Angles, nor does one very good recruiting class signify the arrival of a new sheriff. Because USC's recruiting class -- if you haven't noticed -- is ridiculously loaded with talent. Every player is either on the ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 lists. UCLA isn't there yet. But recruiting is just the first step. It takes time. It takes coaching and player development and it takes outstanding strength and conditioning to turn the stars on paper into stars on the field.
And the more high-profile players who don the Bruins' hat on signing day, the closer they inch toward re-taking Los Angeles. The fact that it's happened so quickly is somewhat surprising. And it's only going to make the South Division and the Pac-12 that much more exciting in years to come.