Alabama, Texas A&M headline post-spring Top 25
Though many of these teams were in similar spots when I wrote the Way-Too-Early Top 25 in January, I didn't notice how nerdy the rankings had become until putting together this post-spring edition. But that's OK. As any
I have Vanderbilt and Northwestern just inside the Top 25, but considering how little respect those programs usually get -- especially Vanderbilt -- that's a major step forward. Meanwhile, I have Stanford at No. 3 and Notre Dame at No. 5. The Cardinal showed this spring that the renaissance started by Jim Harbaugh and continued by David Shaw can extend indefinitely if Stanford keeps recruiting at a high level. That's certainly possible, and here's why.
While a large segment of the pool of blue-chip recruits will make strictly a football decision when choosing a school, a not-insignificant number will seriously consider academics. At the moment, the Cardinal can offer recruits the top-ranked education in the FBS and a legitimate chance to compete for the national title. That last part is the key, but that first part is really tough to recruit against. This is an incredibly appealing package -- one that a player who qualifies for admission to Stanford would have a difficult time turning down. Notre Dame, another highly ranked academic institution, just played for the national title, giving the Fighting Irish a similar cachet. (Notre Dame can still trade on its tradition somewhat, but today's elite recruits are a different breed than the ones who flocked to South Bend when last the Irish were perennial contenders. Now Brian Kelly can really sell.)
Meanwhile, Pat Fitzgerald has quietly built Northwestern into a program that in no way resembles the Big Ten doormat it used to be. James Franklin seems to be doing the same thing at Vanderbilt in spite of the ferocity of the SEC. If these coaches can string together a few more successful seasons, the academics/athletics combo becomes a more potent recruiting tool. Elite players do want a great degree, but not at the expense of winning. If Northwestern and Vandy keep proving they can win, they could join Stanford and Notre Dame in the upper reaches of the rankings.
So to the nerds taking over the Top 25, we serenade you and ask that you remember this kindness when you inevitably become our bosses.