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Wednesday, November 13, 2013
How USC and Stanford were built

By Erik McKinney

Stanford football has a long and storied history, but the foundation for the 2013 version of the Cardinal needs only to be traced to the 2008 recruiting class. Though none of those signees remain on the roster, that group included Andrew Luck, Chase Thomas, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro and others -- players who would go on to set the tone offensively and defensively for the Cardinal, turning a program that went 4-8 in 2007 to the No. 4 team in the country three years later.

The seeds for the team USC will take into the Coliseum on Saturday night were planted several years ago, as well, and plenty of credit for the talent level and roster size goes to former Trojans tailback Reggie Bush. Not only is Bush the first name many USC players mention when recounting their first introduction to USC football, he's also the biggest reason the Trojans were able to send just 49 available scholarship players to Oregon State two weeks ago, as NCAA sanctions centered around Bush decimated the USC roster.

Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh
Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh are gone, but Stanford has kept rolling based on the foundation they built.
Stanford's rise toward the top of college football has been fairly smooth since Jim Harbaugh took the reins following a 1-11 season in 2006. While he left for the NFL after the 2010 season, a seamless transition was made thanks to Andrew Luck and David Shaw, who took over as head coach. Because of the success they shared in that first season, Stanford became a school that could grab the attention of any recruit in the country, quickly erasing the thought that there would be a performance dip after Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers.

Luck and Bush are similar in their representation of Stanford and USC, respectively. Both were high-profile players who connected with young athletes across the country. And both programs receive a similar, no-brainer brand-name response -- "Stanford is Stanford" or "USC is USC" -- from recruits who are asked if they have interest in the schools and respond positively.

Similarly, the Trojans and Cardinal were both able to withstand coaching transitions in the early part of this decade. While USC became a recruiting juggernaut under Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin continued that trend when he took over before the 2010 season, largely with the help of recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron.

The 2011 recruiting class was pivotal for the Trojans. It was the product of Kiffin's first full season as the head coach at USC and was the last full class the Trojans could take before facing three years of scholarship restrictions.

That year, the Trojans pulled in Marqise Lee, Cody Kessler, Javorius Allen, Andre Heidari, Aundrey Walker, Tre Madden, Marcus Martin, Anthony Sarao, J.R. Tavai, Antwaun Woods and Soma Vainuku. All have made an impact at USC. It was another example of USC doing all it could to wrap up local talent while plucking a few top targets from out of state.

Up the coast, the Cardinal reached out in the 2011 class to grab James Vaughters and Wayne Lyons out of SEC country -- one of the first signs that Stanford was on a path toward the recruiting elite. That class also produced in-state standout Jordan Richards as well as receivers Ty Montgomery of Texas and Devon Cajuste of New York.

While both schools recruit California as hard as possible, Stanford has always been forced to recruit nationally because of its academic requirements. USC built its recent reputation around locking down Southern California and cherry-picking out-of-state recruits.

In the 2009 class, the Cardinal landed commitments from 11 states, including four that produced pivotal members of this year's team: Tyler Gaffney from California, Shane Skov from New York, Trent Murphy from Arizona and Ben Gardner from Wisconsin (Gardner is out for the season with an arm injury). Stepfan Taylor, the star of last year's Stanford victory over USC, was in that class and is from Texas; Taylor is now in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. In 2010, only four of Stanford's 22 signees were from California.

The lure of Stanford's combination of academics and athletics has spread to high-profile recruits across the country, and Stanford is able to get in the door on virtually every recruit it targets.

The 2012 class might not have as much impact on the game for Stanford as for USC, but it was an impactful haul for both programs, with several recruiting battles that all decidedly favored the Cardinal. Andrus Peat, Noor Davis, Kyle Murphy, Josh Garnett and Aziz Shittu were all important USC targets who signed with Stanford, giving the Cardinal depth at several positions and helping Stanford sign the best offensive line class in recent memory. In 2012, Stanford arrived on the national scene as far as class rankings and bragging rights.

On the other side of the ledger, USC in 2012 stuck to what worked on the trail, pulling together in-state prospects who turned into early starters or contributors -- Max Tuerk, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Kevon Seymour, Darreus Rogers, Jahleel Pinner, Chad Wheeler and Morgan Breslin -- and hitting home runs with two Florida standouts, Nelson Agholor and Leonard Williams.

While the 2012 season and the early part of 2013 brought some skepticism regarding the USC roster, the last few weeks under interim coach Ed Orgeron proved that the Trojans can still play with plenty of Pac-12 teams thanks to the recruiting exploits of the past few years. As a result, USC appears to be moving steadily forward, prepared to break out from the darkness of NCAA sanctions. Meanwhile, Stanford keeps chugging along at the top of the conference.