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Stanford football faces extraordinary recruiting challenges

but clearly not insurmountable ones

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Going to Stanford during the 1980s, my father never expected Stanford to be a good let alone a dominant football team in the PAC-12. He remembers going to the Big Game where the band stormed the field early and watching Stanford struggle throughout the 80s even with John Elway leading the way. There’s no easy way to put this, but the Stanford he remembers stunk. In 2011, Stanford made the Orange Bowl, and my dad thought it was the biggest thing to ever happen in the history of Stanford. He went to Miami with all his college friends leaving me at home, but I remember asking him, “Why are you going to the game? Stanford didn’t even make the Rose Bowl.” He told me that going to a BCS game was a once in a lifetime thing, and thankfully, he was wrong.

Stanford has the fifth best overall record in this decade, has gone to five BCS bowls, and won three PAC 12 Championships. They’ve dominated so far this decade, which is not typical for Stanford’s football program. Stanford showed superiority in the 20s and 30s, but honestly who cares. Stanford made the Rose Bowl in 2000 for the first time since 1972, and in the past, Stanford tended to have one good year at a time before having another one thirty years later. History shows that a solid Stanford football season is hard to come by, and Stanford has had outstanding seasons five of the last six seasons. It’s been incredible run, and hopefully, it doesn’t stop, but history is against Stanford. Stanford has impressed the nation with their dominance, but with a disadvantage in recruiting, Stanford is challenged more than any other team to compete with the best.

Stanford is one of the hardest universities to attend even for football players. With a 4.7 percent acceptance rate, only the best students in the world attend the university. To get into Stanford, students need to excel in AP classes, the SAT, the ACT, their overall GPA, and their five required essays. For Stanford athletes and football players, student-athletes have the same academic expectations to be accepted. Every year, Stanford fans are disappointed by someone decommiting when there’s nothing Coach Shaw and his staff could have done to convince the recruit to stay because ultimately, the admissions team decides who plays football for Stanford. Ryan Bartow, a 247Sports national recruiting insider, tells recruits that with a 26 on the ACT they might have a chance at Stanford. Scoring a 26 is difficult enough for regular students, but imagine those trying to manage playing top high school football while studying for the ACT. A 26 lands athletes in the 83rd percentile range, much higher than the typical student. To go to Stanford, athletes can’t be just a typical student. They need to excel. If a recruit scores a 26, at least they have a chance to be accepted into Stanford.

With high academic standards, Stanford has a limited pool of recruits, putting them at a disadvantage. David Shaw recently mentioned that only forty to fifty high school players are legitimate prospects. Shaw told CBS sports, “I’m not kidding. If we’re recruiting more than fifty guys, we’re kidding ourselves.” With twenty five spots to fill, Shaw probably aims at getting around twenty players per year, so he must convince about forty percent of his potential recruits to choose Stanford.

Meanwhile, schools like Alabama, Ohio State, and USC have a countless number of potential prospects compared to Stanford. They have lower academic standards, so almost any recruit might be a possibility. Big schools most likely target hundreds of recruits with hopes of signing five to ten percent of them. Those schools can fail in signing a high schooler. If they miss out on one, they can just move onto the next and still have a stellar recruiting class. However if Stanford loses a recruit, there is often no next one. They miss out on a commit, and suddenly, they’re missing a star receiver to round out their class. Stanford misses on a commit, and they’re dropping way down in the recruiting rankings.

My father and I attend every Stanford game we can. We go to every game in Los Angeles and try to make two up in Palo Alto. Since the Orange Bowl, he’s taken me to every bowl game. I’ve been a fortunate Stanford fan to see such a successful team. In 2014, 8-5 seemed like a failed season, yet some college teams are just happy making a bowl with a winning record. I don’t remember what it feels like to lose because I was too young in the 2000s to remember. To keep winning, Stanford coaches have barely any room for error in recruiting. It’s hard but not impossible. With no sign of slowing down, Stanford seems to have perfected their recruiting formula, and they’ll keep bullying their opponents throughout this decade.