A torrid finish to the 2014 recruiting cycle netted USC the top-rated signing class in the Pac-12 per 247Sports.com, but don't let the last-minute additions of three highly touted prospects to the Trojans' ranks distract from the job head coach David Shaw did to restock Stanford.
The two-time defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal demonstrate the life cycle of a top-tier college football program, replenishing a roster that loses numerous NFL-bound players with a new crop of unique talents.
Wednesday was the coup de grace for Shaw's No. 15 nationally ranked class, starting with the reveal of 4-star defensive end Solomon Thomas from Coppell (Texas), who produced a miniature pine tree and sported a pair of the "Nerd Nation" glasses Stanford predecessors like Shayne Skov popularized last season.
Skov, Stanford players postgame costume pic.twitter.com/bsWDzxgxY6— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 8, 2013
Donning the taped glasses is just one very small way in which Thomas promises to continue the Cardinal's recent tradition of competing at the nation's highest level. His pass-rushing ability earned him a nine-point rating from 247Sports.com at the point-of-attack and made him one of the most hotly pursued defensive ends in the class.
Those are traits that fit in well with the defensive style Stanford rode to its two straight Pac-12 championships, notably from hybrid linebacker Trent Murphy and end Ben Gardner. But Shaw emphasized Thomas' qualities as a leader when talking to Cardinal Sports Report on Wednesday.
Shaw on Solomon Thomas: "(Thomas is) very very mature. The thing you get from talking to (him) for five minutes is (that he's a) leader."— Andy Drukarev (@StanfordRivals) February 5, 2014
Thomas may be the face of this Cardinal class, but he is certainly not the only impact addition. Stanford led the Pac-12 with 12 4-star signees in a broad range of positions and with an even split of six on offense and six on defense.
The most highly rated of the offensive prospects is quarterback Keller Chryst, an early commit and local talent. Chryst passed for more than 2,600 yards and scored 28 touchdowns at Palo Alto (Calif.) High School last season per MaxPreps.com. At 6'4", 220 pounds, Chryst has prototypical NFL quarterback size, which is one quality that might elicit an Andrew Luck comparison or two at some point in his career.
Keeping with comparisons to recent Stanford greats, Brandon Simmons has an opportunity to take up the mantle that Ed Reynolds and Richard Sherman carried at safety.
Missing from Stanford's offensive repertoire in 2013 were standout, pass-catching tight ends, one of the Cardinal's hallmarks over last half-decade.
The addition of 4-star tight end Dalton Schultz from South Jordan (Utah) Bingham brings depth to the position with Luke Kaumatule and other recent recruits expected to fill the void by the time the 2014 season kicks off.
The opportunity to grow under the recruits that came before them—before they are expected to carry on the program's success—might be the most important facet of the 2014 signees' first year in the program.
Much like the No. 7-ranked 2012 class, which largely spent the last two seasons in reserve roles, the true potential of Stanford's 2014 recruits may not be revealed for some time.
Consider it an exercise in delayed gratification. Whereas a USC team that had its depth ravaged by NCAA sanctions will likely play several talents from its stellar class right away out of necessity, Shaw will be able to mold this class over time, continuing in another direction that has been a Stanford hallmark.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Recruiting rankings obtained via 247Sports.com.