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Four coaches in need of bounceback year on recruiting trail

Clay Helton
Clay Helton (Getty Images)

With the 2020 recruiting cycle in the books and the Rrivals.com team rankings mostly set in stone, the winners and losers of the year that was are clear. Below, we focus on a handful of coaches that had a less-than-stellar time on the trail this time out and need a bounceback cycle this time around.

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CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLAY HELTON - USC

Recruiting is probably the last of Helton’s worries, as the USC head coach won’t get a chance to sign a 2021 class if things don’t come together on the field this fall. That’s where the problem lies. The Trojans finished 65th in the Rivals.com team rankings in part because of Helton’s limited job security. Nobody wants to sign on to play for a coach that could be dismissed in the coming year, making a bounce-back class in 2021 seem unlikely at best.

Now, should Helton win a Pac-12 title or something of the sort, all may be well. Still, that’s a big ask for a guy that is 40-22 in his tenure as head coach. USC simply cannot finish below schools such as Tulane, Wake Forest and Duke, which is exactly what it did this cycle.

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JUSTIN FUENTE - Virginia Tech

On Wednesday, Fuente said he hopes to sign “an elite class” in 2021, and he’ll need to in order to offset the small and mediocre haul he assembled in 2020. Part of Virginia Tech’s 81st-place finish was the small size of it’s class (just 15 members), but it’s average star ranking of 2.67 ranked 12th in the ACC, above only Syracuse and Wake Forest. Fuente knows the 2021 cycle is huge for the Hokies, as the head coach called it “the most important class in some time” at his signing day press conference.

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CHIP KELLY - UCLA

Kelly, like his counterpart at USC, needs to do something drastic to turn the tide as selling a program that has gone 7-17 in two seasons under his watch is becoming difficult. Should the Bruins bounce back on the field this fall, however, things could start to fall into place on the recruiting trail. Kelly’s name still carries some semblance of cachet with people in the football community out west, after all. The Kelly-led Bruins have the ability to sign top-25 classes, so landing at 36 and 44 as they have the last two cycles respectively is problematic.

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LOVIE SMITH - Illinois

Last season, Smith coached the Illini to the program's first six-win season since 2014, so things seem to be headed in the right direction. That’s why it’s a bit shocking that Illinois signed the Power Five’s lowest ranked class. Six wins is a nice accomplishment and certainly a sign of progress, but things will have to get better on the recruiting trail if Smith hopes to take the next step in Champaign. Illinois only took 13 players this cycle, so its low finish is partly due to numbers. Still, a 2.69 average star ranking is less than ideal.

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