Five recruiting trends across the Pac-12
There are always interesting recruiting trends when one takes a bigger-picture look across the college football landscape rather than just the busy day-to-day recruiting news. Today, we continue the weeklong series breaking down each conference and we move to the Pac-12.
RELATED: Five recruiting trends developing across the Big Ten | SEC | ACC
CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State
CLASS OF 2022: Top 100
MORE: Rivals Transfer Tracker
OREGON DOMINANCE IN CALIFORNIA
Under coach Mario Cristobal, Oregon has dominated Pac-12 recruiting and one of the biggest influences in that is how the Ducks have come into California for many top prospects in recent years.
In the 2021 recruiting cycle so far, Oregon has landed California’s top receiver in Troy Franklin and the third-best receiver in Kyron Ware-Hudson as the Ducks continue to do well at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. They’ve also gotten a commitment from four-star cornerback Jaylin Davies, another Mater Dei standout who picked Oregon over Ohio State, Arizona State and others.
In 2020, Oregon came in late to steal five-star linebacker Justin Flowe away from Clemson, USC and others along with four-star quarterback Jay Butterfield, who might have some long-term comparisons to Justin Herbert. The 2019 class was also rich with California recruits that have already paid dividends with five-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, four-star Mykael Wright along with Mase Funa, Mycah Pittman and Jonah Tauanu’u, a huge haul.
Oregon’s success in California does not look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Farrell’s take: Cristobal has done an amazing job since arriving in Eugene and it started right when he got the job. Over the last few years, the Ducks have been performing on the field and getting into California for many of the top recruits in that state. It definitely helps that USC has underperformed and there have been questions about Clay Helton’s job status, but Oregon deserves a lot of credit for going in there and being aggressive.
ONE-YEAR GLITCH FOR USC?
Based solely on team recruiting rankings, USC has drastically underperformed on the field since, well, the inception of the Rivals era in 2002.
Since that first recruiting class, the Trojans have had the top-ranked class in the Pac-12 a total of 14 times. They finished second three other times - and then the last two recruiting cycles came, the two worst for USC in Rivals history. The 2019 class was not all that disappointing as USC finished third in the conference and although on signing day it missed out on five-stars Bru McCoy and Chris Steele. Interestingly, both players transferred to USC.
And then the 2020 class happened, an unmitigated disaster where the Trojans finished dead last in the Pac-12 team recruiting rankings with only two four-star prospects. With questions around coach Helton’s future, a slip was understandable, but USC tanked last cycle.
The Trojans seem back with a flurry in 2021 not only landing some top prospects but also bringing in some excellent assistant coaches who can recruit like Donte Williams and things seem to be back to normal on the recruiting trail. Now, if the Trojans could only deliver on the field.
Farrell’s take: Last year was such a strange anomaly and a missed opportunity since the class in California was loaded and the Trojans missed out on a lot of them. And, yes, USC has underperformed on the field compared to its team recruiting ranking throughout Rivals history but the 2021 class is coming together well. If Helton can win more games, keep Graham Harrell, Donte Williams and others on staff, though, USC could return to the top of the Pac-12.
A troubling trend continues in the state of Arizona: The top prospects there just don’t want to play at Arizona or Arizona State and it is becoming an even bigger problem for those programs that are looking to become bigger conference contenders.
Nine of the top 10 players in the state are currently committed, none to in-state programs. None of the top 18 recruits in the 2020 class went to play for the Wildcats and Sun Devils, including five-stars Kelee Ringo and Bijan Robinson. None of the top 17 in the 2019 class went to Arizona or Arizona State, including Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) and Jake Smith (Texas).
One of the top 10 in 2018 (Jamarye Joiner to Arizona) stayed home. But this might be a recent issue that could be fixed. In 2017, six of the top nine prospects stayed in-state and in 2016, five-star receiver N’Keal Harry played for the Sun Devils and had a huge career in Tempe before becoming a first-round NFL Draft pick.
Farrell’s take: This is such a head-scratcher because Herm Edwards has done a great job early on at Arizona State and he has an excellent staff around him filled with NFL experience. And Kevin Sumlin did a solid job of recruiting at Texas A&M. But for one reason or another, the top prospects in Arizona leave for other higher-profile programs. If the Sun Devils and the Wildcats can just get one or two top guys to stay home, it could open the floodgates.
TOP CALIFORNIA PLAYERS GOING, TOO
One of the reasons a Pac-12 program has not won a national championship in about 15 years, it could be argued, is because a lot of the top prospects in the West head elsewhere or disperse across schools in the region.
In 2021, three of the top 10 players in the region are headed elsewhere with receiver Beaux Collins going to Clemson, quarterback Tyler Buchner heading to Notre Dame and linebacker Raesjon Davis going to LSU. In 2020, there were significant departures led by quarterbacks Bryce Young (Alabama), D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson) and C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) along with five-star running back Kendall Milton to Georgia.
Five of the top eight in 2019 left the region although McCoy and Steele have come back to USC. In 2018, USC dominated at the highest level but since then quarterback JT Daniels has transferred to Georgia, five-star defensive back Jaiden Woodbey went to Florida State, quarterback Matt Corral was off to Ole Miss and others left as well. Two big misses in 2017 were five-stars running back Najee Harris (Alabama) and offensive lineman Wyatt Davis (Ohio State).
If the Pac-12 is going to compete for titles, keeping elite players home more is a must.
Farrell’s take: Those big-time departures, whether to Oregon, Washington or to top program across the country, are a big reason why USC has struggled recently and why other teams in the state - UCLA, Cal and Stanford - have not exactly thrived. Not keeping Young, who had been committed to USC, was a huge loss. So was letting Uiagalalei leave for Clemson as Trevor Lawrence’s expected successor. It’s tough to say no to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and others, but the California programs have to find a way.
WASHINGTON IS STATE TO WATCH
Tucked away in the Pacific Northwest is the state of Washington, easily forgettable in the national recruiting landscape but a state that has produced a strong number of elite prospects in recent years - and 2021 could be its best haul yet.
For the first time in Rivals history, there are three five-stars in the state with defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and Washington quarterback commit Sam Huard leading the way. Last recruiting cycle was also strong led by four-star defensive end Sav’ell Smalls (Washington) and receiver Gee Scott Jr. (Ohio State).
There were some lean years, but in 2017, Foster Sarell (Stanford) was so impressive in high school and Hunter Bryant at Washington was a top tight end. Five-star quarterback Jacob Eason was the cream of the 2016 crop and then in 2014 it was Budda Baker and Kaleb McGary, a second- and first-round NFL Draft pick, respectively.
More could be coming soon.
Farrell’s take: There are not a ton of high-level players coming out of Washington every year, but the ones who succeed do so in a big way. The 2021 class could be the best yet as Tuimoloau is fantastic and versatile, Egbuka can do a whole lot at receiver and Huard is a five-star quarterback, although I’m not sure about that ranking just yet. The state is getting better and better and people better take notice.