Outsiders might believe the loss of Andrew Luck will put the Cardinal right back in the Pac-12 cellar. The last few recruiting classes, however, should see to it that Stanford doesn't fall quite that far.
When Jim Harbaugh took over at Stanford, everything changed. Perhaps the most notable chance was in Stanford's recruiting approach, selling itself as an Ivy-type school that plays BCS football. The approach has been more successful than anyone, probably even Harbaugh, could have imagined.
Last year, according to at least one scouting service, Stanford signed 10 players rated as four-stars or better. That's an incredible number.
And with Harbaugh's, and now Luck's, departure to the NFL, the Cardinal keeps on rolling. And that's very impressive given the stringent academic standards players are held to on the farm.
Stanford already has commitments from several top prospects, including six players rated four-stars or higher.
Outside linebacker Noor Davis of Leesburg (Fla.) is perfect for the Cardinal's 3-4 scheme. The 6'4", 235-pound Davis is adept at getting upfield and rushing the passer. He should be able to do so from that position for the Cardinal. Davis is rated four-stars by most services and held offers from every major school in the country.
Defensive lineman Jordan Watkins of Atlanta's Woodward Academy is a quality player who committed to Stanford despite holding multiple SEC offers. Watkins will likely play the five-technique defensive end in Stanford's 3-4 defensive alignment.
Joining Watkins on the defensive line is Honolulu's Luke Kaumatule, a massive 6'8", 270-pound prospect with great length.
The Cardinal also have work to do on the other side of the ball, as they must replace offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. Their recruiting suggests they're well on their way to doing just that.
Stanford already had commitments from four offensive linemen, and could take as many as three more.
Guard Brandon Fanaika of Pleasant Grove (Utah) is
close to being ready to play immediately, should Stanford need him taking a Mormon mission and will not be able to play immediately. At 6'3" and 295 pounds, he has a powerful build, made for playing inside.
Linemen Graham Shuler of Brentwood (Tenn.) and Nick Davidson of Eden Prairie (Minn.) are developmental types with a lot of athleticism and very encouraging frames. With time and coaching, both have a chance to be excellent players. Johnny Caspers of Glen Ellyn (Ill.) is also in the fold.
And while the linemen currently committed to Stanford are good, the Cardinal has a chance at three truly elite kids in Kyle Murphy, Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat (pictured right).
San Cemente's (Calif.) Murphy has Stanford among his finalists, along with USC, Oregon, Florida and California. Murphy has excellent feet and a great build.
Garnett, an NFL legacy out of Puyallup, Wash., is a tremendous guard prospect. He's thought to be leaning toward Michigan, but he's definitely considering Stanford and Notre Dame.
And Stanford is still in it for Andrus Peat of Arizona. Peat is a massive 6'7" and 300 lean pounds. His three other finalists are USC, Nebraska and Florida State.
Stanford must also replace its starting safeties but is bringing in two strong prospects in Alex Carter of Ashburn, Va., and Drew Madhu of Tampa, Fla. Carter is regarded as a four-star player; Madhu, a three-star.
The question always arises of whether Stanford can get these kids into school. And it's a valid query, as verbal commitments or even signing day signatures mean nothing if the recruit is not admitted into the school come July. Ultimately, however, Stanford has done an excellent job of evaluating players off the field and has had very few recruits fail to qualify over the last few classes.
Will Stanford drop off without Luck? Probably. But the fall will not be as far as many think thanks to the great recruiting done in the last few classes.
For more on Stanford football recruiting, read Rule Of Tree.