Take a look at the most recent AP Top 25 and you’ll see Stanford is sitting comfortably at No. 8 in the country. Now take a look at the 247Sports team recruiting rankings and you’ll see Stanford sitting at No. 85 – and equally as comfortable.
Ryan Burns is Stanford's highest rated commitment in the 2013 class.
How - you may ask - is the Pac-12 champion and Rose Bowl representative rated last in the conference in recruiting? How is the team that produced the top overall NFL Draft pick and four of the top 42 picks in the 2012 draft trailing the likes of South Alabama, Central Michigan and Florida Atlantic in the recruiting rankings? In a way, it’s a reflection of just how well the program has been playing.
The direct answer as to why Stanford is rated so low is that the Cardinal only has 10 verbal commitments while many programs nationally have 20+ commitments at this point in the process. With Stanford, don’t expect that number to rise too drastically heading towards National Signing Day.
Currently Stanford only has room for a select few additions. Even if head coach David Shaw bids farewell to a few early entrees to the NFL draft and frees up some roster space, don’t expect Stanford to get as high as even 15 signees in the class of 2013.
Limited attrition from the Stanford program and an admissions process that weeds out academic casualties keeps Stanford steadily on pace from a numbers perspective.
Over the last five years, Stanford has signed a total of 102 prospects. Compare that to defending national champion Alabama who has signed 135 prospects in that same span. That is a 33-player margin for error that Nick Saban has had over David Shaw and Jim Harbaugh over the last five years.
While low attrition may be a huge point of pride for university presidents, 100 percent attrition can be a disadvantage in recruiting. That’s not the way Stanford sees it though. Stanford recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Mike Sanford sees the situation in simple terms.
“It’s a disadvantage if you don’t like your roster,” Sanford said. “But we really like our roster.”
And he should.
Francis Owusu is a legacy commitment for Stanford.
Over the last five years, Stanford has not missed on many players that they’ve signed. Look at the class of 2009 as a great representation. Of that 22-man class, 12 prospects earned Pac-12 all conference honors for their performances this season. Six more were meaningful contributors. Even among the four remaining signees, one (Tyler Gaffney) was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and one more (Jordan Najvar) earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors at Baylor in 2012 – hardly busts themselves.
That sort of rundown is quite a testament to the identification, development and retention of talent. Not many players that sign with Stanford want to transfer. Suddenly the program is pairing a world-class education with regular Rose Bowl contention. When you add the ability to find and develop elite players, low attrition becomes a major advantage.
“We’ve got a great culture right now,” Sanford said. “It’s a place that kids don’t want to leave. It’s a great degree and the locker room after games right now is a great atmosphere.”
While the Cardinal has steadily operated under low roster turnover, the way in which that roster is managed has evolved some as the success of the program has risen.
At the beginning of the Stanford rise, redshirting was the norm. Even Andrew Luck sat his first season in Palo Alto. With the success that Stanford has had of late, the program has attracted a different brand of athlete, a more college-ready prototype. While players like Zach Ertz, Ben Gardner and Levine Toilolo have all benefited from redshirt seasons out of the class of 2009, 11 of the 22 signees in 2012 played as true freshmen.
That ability to recruit more Rose Bowl-ready players is a product of success, a product of a growing national brand and a product of a proactive developmental approach.
The recruiting net is cast nationally by Stanford. In the class of 2013, the staff has reeled in commitments from one each of Virginia, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana as well as three Californians.
Despite the national approach, an offer from Stanford is a tough get and a commitment is not easily accepted. The academic standards limit both and so does the evaluation process.
After Wednesday's decommitment from Texas, Smythe could be a strong candidate to land at Stanford.
Like any school, Stanford is anxious to see prospects in a camp setting and evaluate in person but David Shaw’s staff looks at the camp setting as an opportunity to develop as well.
“We have guys that camp with us for two or three years,” Sanford said. “If they’re in camp three days each year, that’s almost a full spring practice by the time they get on campus.”
It’s all part of a plan, a plan that calls for sacrificing perennial Pac-12 recruiting championships for contending annually for Pac-12 championships where it counts.
The 2013 class
Ryan Burns, QB, Stone Bridge (Va.) – One of the elite arm talents in the country in 2013, Burns also possesses a college body at 6-5, 225 pounds.
Eric Cotton, TE, Nampa (Idaho) – Credit Stanford for finding a gem in a place where not many take the time to look. At 6-6, 230 pounds, Cotton is the No. 9 tight end in the country on 247Sports.
Sean Barton, ATH, Woods Cross (Utah) – A versatile, hard-hitting, do-it-all type player, Barton is play-maker on film no matter where you put him.
Francis Owusu, WR, Oaks Christian (Calif.) – His brother Chris was a standout for Stanford and now plays in the NFL but Francis may have more upside and is the missing piece to the Cardinal offense.
The finishing pieces
Durham Smythe, TE, Belton (Texas) – A recent decommitment from Texas, Smythe is a big-time receiving threat at the tight end position and Stanford may now lead for his commitment.
Thomas Oser, OT, Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) – Oser could play any position on the offensive line and has whittled his list down to Stanford, Oregon and Vanderbilt.
Isaac Savaiinaea, LB, Punahou (Haw.) – Previously a Stanford commit, Savaiinaea has since decommitted and is currently locked in what looks like a Stanford-Texas A&M battle.
Devon Allen, WR, Brophy Prep (Ariz.) – One of the fastest wide receivers in the 2013 class, Allen could add some big-play potential to the Stanford offense.