Assessing The Recruiting Day Winners And Losers

Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans were the clear winner in the west on National Signing Day, but there were other winners as well. - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As noted when evaluating the Oregon St. recruiting class, its impossible to fully assess recruiting day for a few years, until we see who exceeds expectations, who doesn't, and who makes good use of what they got. But there are indicators, and you have to start somewhere. Notably, 3 years ago, Florida St. had the highest rated recruiting class, and this year the Seminoles just happened to break the SEC's stranglehold on the National Championship.

Nationally, the SEC is still king, and Alabama, the undisputed #1. The Tide scored 7 5 star recruits alone (using Scout.com's ratings; others vary some, but not enough in the inexact science of evaluating high school players to change the point of it all). That's more than the entire Pac-12 combined.

6 of the top 9 are from the SEC, and half the conference is in the top 12. The main interlopers are Florida St., which is SEC-lite more than ACC, and Ohio St., which with Urban Meyer, is more SEC-north than Big Rust.

So those outside the southeast have their work cut out for them, but we knew that was going to be the case. Of greater importance to Pac-12 fans is who did how well in conference, and the region, and there are some clearly notable developments coming out of National Signing Day.

The Clear winner was USC, and Steve Sarkisian. Despite the multiple changes in coaching staff, and one last year of scholarship restrictions, Sarkisian and the Trojans still pulled together the highest rated class in the conference, and managed to edge into the top 10 according to Scout, and or near so at worst in others.

10th isn't normally up to USC's standards, but under the circumstances, it was more than could have been counted on. Landing 3 5 star commits, all on signing day, made the difference. Sarkisian is arguably the most polarizing figure in college football in the west, but there's no denying that he can recruit, and hire others who can.

That's bad news across town in Westwood, where UCLA wound up 20th, and only 4th in the conference. That's not bad, but in an era where the Bruins have clearly been on the rise, and talking about taking over both LA and the Pac-12 South, it's not quite what everyone was expecting. Jim Mora and crew lost some head-to-head battles for big name, big-star recruits, and is going to have his work cut out for him.

Stanford maybe didn't have quite the landmark class a couple of their recent ones were, but they did land a 5 star recruit on each line, and one of the best prospects out of the state of Oregon, winding up ahead of UCLA, and 18th nationally. The Cardinal maintained, in a year where they were more targeting certain situations and positions, and didn't do anything that won't keep them in the national conversation.

Despite getting handled in the Pac-12 title game and then a debacle in the Holiday Bowl, Arizona St. still had the second best recruiting class in the conference, and that's a clear win for coach Todd Graham. 7 4 star recruits, and most of the class being committed well before signing day signals that the Sun Devils are probably not a flash in the pan.

But Arizona may be as big a winner, given that the 'Cats came up 30th nationally, and with 5 4 star recruits. Rich Rodriguez landed a class in the top half of the conference, which doesn't always happen in Tucson, right behind Oregon.

The Ducks could have done better, barely making it into the top 25, and finding themselves behind Kentucky (!), who is an SEC team, but hardly a powerhouse. But they have recruited well enough to have class to class balance, and can focus on specifics rather than just trying to harvest stars. It was a lukewarm class in Eugene, only because of recent standards, and not because lots of others wouldn't be happy to be in their place.

Washington has to be considered a winner despite landing at #7 in the conference, and just outside the top 35 nationally. Coaching turnover, with the loss of Sarkisian, and questions about whether Chris Peterson could recruit at a higher level, especially with a relatively late start, were legitimate concerns, and when Peterson took over, the Huskies were in last place among the Pac-12 schools.

But Peterson delivered, and landed 4 4-star recruits. Importantly, 2 of them were won late when up against other northwest, conference, and national recruiting competitors. Getting Budda Baker and Kaleb McGary also had something to do with UCLA and Oregon St. & Washington St. not doing better than they did as well.

California falling all the way to 8th is both a loss, given that they historically have been better, and something of a win, in that after back to back disasters of seasons under different coaching staffs could well have made it even worse.

It was an opportunity for Oregon St. to move up a another slot, but the Beavers had a just average recruiting season. They still stayed solidly ahead of Utah, Colorado, and Washington St. though.

The Utes are still trying to leverage their membership in the Pac-12, and back to back seasons where they came up 1 win short of a bowl game hasn't helped them in that endeavor.

The Buffs are digging out of a very deep hole, and at this point, its probably going to take a run of Paul Richardson to the NFL stories to elevate them in a highly competitive recruiting environment.

Washington St., like Oregon St., always faces challenges in getting top recruits to small campuses in small towns in remote locations. But Coug fans were doubtless hoping for a little more in Mike Leach's 3rd year. Scout lists 17 3 star recruits, but no 4 stars. It doesn't mean the Pirate won't steal some wins, but it might take a little more creativity than originally expected to do so.

Beyond the Pac-12, Boise St. is about the extent of the recruiting battle in the west, although San Diego St. does get some solid recruits too, and the Aztecs were only 4 spots behind the Broncos.

Having to replace not only Peterson, but most of the staff, when Bryan Harsin took over hurt in Boise, though Harsin did land a 4 star recruit out of Texas. But Boise St. lost head to head battles for in-state major prospects to Oregon, Washington, Oregon St., and USC. And the Broncos got no one out of the states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, or Montana, and the only one out of Utah wasn't one that either BYU or Utah was targeting.

Boise St.'s rise to national prominence has been built on a steady diet of stealing prospects from their neighbors, and not losing much in-state talent. That didn't happen this year.

Time will tell, but the landscape did take on a different look in the west more than some places elsewhere in the country than it might have once the LOIs were all filed yesterday.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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