Strong recruiting classes by Cal and Stanford this week make it seem that the road to the Rose Bowl will soon run through the Bay Area.
Of course, there’s still the USC monster and the Trojans had the best class in the conference. No surprise. Lane Kiffin was the recruiting coordinator before he started his coaching odyssey through the Raiders and Tennessee, but Kiffin has yet to show he can coach as well as he can recruit.
USC is still under investigation in the Reggie Bush case, which hopefully will be decided before Bush finishes his NFL career, and rumors of recruiting violations surfaced when Kiffin was in Tennessee.
Cal’s rating jumped almost 20 points in the Rivals.com ratings, from No. 30 nationally to 11 with some big late signings. It also jumped from 20 to 15 in updated ESPN rankings.
Stanford’s class was called his best yet by coach Jim Harbaugh, who boldly predicted that it would help the Cardinal compete not just for the conference title, but the national championship.
Last year’s late showing, when the Cardinal beat both USC and Oregon, showed that football has become important again at Stanford. Admissions standards are still by far the highest in the conference, but the admissions office is more cooperative with Harbaugh than with his immediate predecessors, Walt Harris and Buddy Teevens. Athletic director Bob Bowlsby has tried to alleviate a longstanding problem by increasing housing allowances for assistant coaches on the high-priced Peninsula.
The key to Cal’s surge was getting two five-star recruits who had tentatively committed to other schools. Linebacker Chris Martin had committed to Notre Dame but changed his mind when coach Charlie Weis was fired. Keenan Allen, rated as the No. 1 safety nationally but likely to play wide receiver for the Bears, had committed to Alabama but came to Cal because his half brother, quarterback Zach Maynard, was coming to Berkeley.
Martin and four-star defensive end Gabe King are expected to be a serious upgrade for the Bears’ pass rush, which was mostly MIA last season. Asked if Martin could contribute as a freshman, Tedford said, “Absolutely! He’ll be a high-impact player.”
Tedford expects Martin to play like Zach Follett, who was a fearsome pass rusher off the edge, the type of player the Bears conspicuously lacked last year.
A linebacker also tops the Stanford list, four-star Blake Lueders, a 6-foot-5, 245-pounder whom Harbaugh compared to Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears.
“He’s by far the most physical of the linebackers we signed,” he said.
Defense was a problem for the Cardinal, so Lueders is a very important addition.
Stanford got no five-star recruits, but did have two other four-star prospects, QB Brett Nottingham and running back Anthony Wilkerson. Nottingham will likely redshirt because Andrew Luck will be only a sophomore next season, but Wilkerson will join returning backs Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney as Harbaugh attempts to replace Toby Gerhart with a cumulative effort.
With both coaches having their best recruiting years — Tedford said only that it was among his best, but two five-star prospects shoves it to the top — the outlook is bright at both schools. Rose Bowl, anyone?