Mailbag: Gaffney, Hogan and more USC rage

Ted is sad, which is why I'm doing the mailbag today.

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Thomas in Palo Alto, Calif. writes: You called Tyler Gaffney a game-changer. Isn't that hyperbole considering he's been away from football for a year?

Kevin Gemmell: If you want to get picky, I said he could be a game-changer. But just for the sake of argument, I'm willing to drop the "could" and predict that he will in fact be a game-changer. There is no other running back on the Stanford roster right now that has Gaffney's skill set. Anthony Wilkerson rivals him in experience, but Wilkerson is yet to make a big impact in his career. His carries, and thus his production, have declined every year, culminating with a career-low 50 carries for 224 yards (4.5 average) and just one touchdown in 2012. There were some injuries involved there, as well.

I'm guessing the two of them slug it out (along with several others) for the starting gig -- the winner getting 12 to 15 carries per game -- and the runner-up getting 8-12. A few more carries will be sprinkled in to change-of-pace backs to be determined and a few to the fullback. Remember, David Shaw prefers to use as many as four or five different backs during a game. So the "starter" might only have 10 carries.

And Gaffney could even be a stop-gap until Barry Sanders, Remound Wright or Ricky Seale is able to emerge as the go-to back. (Kelsey Young likely stays in the hybrid WR/RB role.) Gaffney is a bona fide playmaker who could very easily shoulder the offensive load for the Cardinal -- be it for an entire season or six games until a youngster gets it all figured out. Either way, it's win-win for a Stanford offense that could use some veteran seasoning.

Ryan in New York writes: USC signed 13 guys. UCLA [24]. How can you even compare the two? It's absolutely [stupid]. Is it all about numbers? USC had more Top 150 and 300 guys. So it's about quantity? Keep hating [Lane] Kiffin. And remind me the last time UCLA played in a BCS bowl? Or better yet, won a Rose Bowl? Stanford has won seven, UCLA five. USC 24. No contest. You guys are so brutal it hurts. Peace.

Kevin Gemmell: OK, you sort of went in a lot of different directions here. Let's try to narrow the scope and start with recruiting. I'm not sure if you're referring to a specific article, or just the rankings in general, but I'm pretty sure the recruiting classes of UCLA and USC are comparable in terms of talent. If you're griping about the rankings -- it's not just the ESPN group that has UCLA's class ranked No. 1 in the conference. It's pretty consensus.

No, it's not just quantity -- because Arizona, ASU, Utah and Washington State all had larger classes. But UCLA had comparable quality to go with its quantity. USC had nine ESPN 150 guys, 12 ESPN 300 guys and all 13 were 4-star players. Anyone who doesn't think that's not an outstanding class is silly. Because it is.

UCLA had six ESPN 150, 10 ESPN 300 and 12 four-stars. But they also added 12 guys behind the 12 four-stars -- meaning UCLA has wiggle room with this class that adds depth and maybe one of those highly-ranked three-stars like Myles Jack (a four-star per Rivals and Scout) develops into an all-conference player. USC can't afford to swing-and-miss on its recruits, because depth is going to be an issue. As you yourself pointed out in last week's mailbag, USC couldn't go for the "low hanging fruit." That's where quantity comes into play and that's why the Bruins get the nod for top recruiting class.

Hating on Kiffin ... let's be honest here, he didn't exactly give us much reason to love him this year. But I'm on record saying I don't think things are as terrible as they appear. Maybe I'm wrong and the sky really is falling. I just don't see it. I think the Pac-12 blog has been harsh but fair considering the faceplant USC took this year.

And I don't remember either Ted or I disputing how many Rose Bowls USC won vs. UCLA (and since you asked me to remind you, it was the '86 Rose Bowl for UCLA). But since we're on the subject, how many of those Rose Bowls did Kiffin win as head coach? Tradition matters. But it's also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately game.

Newknox in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: In your opinion based on knowledge of what coaches think, is it possible to have too many 5 star recruits? Too many egos? Also, in the Pac-12, who has the best recruiting class based on needs? For example, USC has a few holes to fill. Did they do that?

Kevin Gemmell: I doubt it. Most five stars fall into line rather quickly -- because they end up going to schools that also have a bunch of former five stars. So a five-star true freshman who gets knocked on his keester by a former five-star who is now a junior understands his place. There are always exceptions, but having a bunch of ready-to-play guys who can all run 4.4 isn't a bad thing. In all my years in this business, I've never heard a coach complain about too much speed and too much athleticism. Woe is they.

Plus, there aren't that many five stars to go around. In this year's class, two went to Notre Dame and two went to Ole Miss. Last year, two went to Alabama and two went to Florida State. In 2011, two went to Clemson. It's not like five or six are all going to the same school and they are all wide receivers competing for two spots.

As for holes filled I think UCLA certainly solidified its defensive backfield for the next few years. Five of USC's top six signees are on the defensive side of the ball and at all three levels -- which is a spot they really needed to address. I would say each team filled at least one major hole it had to address in recruiting.

Brian in Denver writes: I am guessing that Kevin Hogan is not going to be one of your top seven Pac-12 performers from the past year, and I understand the logic -- he barely played in the first eight games of the year and didn't start until the tenth. But his ascension to the Stanford starting QB role was absolutely essential to the amazing run the team had to close out the year. No way [Josh] Nunes gets through OSU, Autzen, UCLA squared and then the Rose Bowl. He may not have been a top 25 performer for the year, but a case can be made that he was also the MVP of the league this year.

Kevin Gemmell: Don't think I'm giving away Pac-12 blog secrets here, so you're right, Hogan is not in the Top 25. That's not to say he wasn't discussed. Ted and I each started with about 35-40 players and we debated every one of them. He got about five minutes of back-and-forth and was eventually placed in the "no" pile. Don't be surprised, however, to see him ranked favorably on the preseason top 25 list.

No doubt his ascension was big for Stanford and their post Notre Dame run. But I think league MVP is pushing it. Don't get me wrong -- he was good. But he was good at what he was asked to do. He was 5-0 as a starter, but in those five games he had a 6-to-3 touchdown-interception ratio. He averaged 180.6 passing yards and completed 70 percent of his throws. You can tack on two more touchdowns on the ground.

He had the benefit of an outstanding running back, an elite tight end and a great offensive line working in front of him. And let's not forget the outstanding defense. So did Nunes, for that matter, but Hogan was just better. That's why the switch was made. Stanford's run this year truly was a "team" effort. Because as I pointed out in a top performances post Thursday, Stanford probably has three losses had it not been for Nunes' play against Arizona.

I'm curious to see how Hogan matures with an entire offseason as the starter and how he holds up over a full season. He's going to be asked to do a lot more next year than he was this year -- and Shaw wants him to do more. Shaw wants him to get to that point where he can suggest plays and even start doing some calling on the field. Certainly he qualifies as one of the bright, young quarterbacks in the league.

BeaverDan from "The Couv" writes: OK, reading your blog I have been turned on to Dexter and Alex Berenson's John Wells novels - both great suggestions. Anything further that I might have missed? I think we share similar tastes in entertainment.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, let me compliment you on your tastes. You must be a very handsome individual and the life of all social gatherings. Glad I could provide some offseason time-killers. Berenson's latest John Wells novel, "The Night Ranger," was released this week so I'm looking forward to cracking that open (rather, downloading) it this weekend. TV wise, I've been a fan so far of "The Americans" on F/X. Pretty solid start for the new series. If you like the spy/espionage genre, give it a try.