The 2017 Arizona State recruiting class has quietly become the most interesting such cycle in the Todd Graham era. With 100 days remaining until National Signing Day, there has never been as much uncertainty surrounding an ASU class under Graham as there is this year.
In each of Graham's earlier full classes at ASU (2013-2016), the Sun Devils were further along at this stage of the process in terms of number of commitments and achieving overall class completion.
Only in the 2013 class, Graham’s first full recruiting cycle at ASU, did the program not have half of its eventual class committed by this point. The 2013 class had just ten of the 26 signed recruits pledged at this point. In the 2014 cycle, ASU had 14 of its 27 eventual signees committed with 100 days left until NSD; in 2015, the Sun Devils had 13 of 25 already on board; in 2016, 11 of 22 were in the fold.
The Sun Devils currently have eight committed prospects in the 2017 class, and are likely to sign about 22 or 23 recruits. They have roughly as much work left to complete the 2017 class as they had in 2013 at this stage of the process, with about 15 more recruits to add.
In recent years, when ASU has been further along in the process of finishing its class at the 100 day mark, it has finished with a better rated haul. In 2013, ASU finished 30th nationally. In 2014 and 2015, when the Sun Devils were 50 percent toward completion, they finished 17th overall in each cycle, their best results ever.
In order to have its 2017 class compete in the Scout.com team recruiting rankings with the two best classes of the Graham era, ASU will need to have an atypically successful finish in the next few months.
That means they'll likely have to start generating significant momentum in the ensuing weeks, and they're absolutely overdue for a commitment based on historical norms. The last recruit to pledge ASU -- Mesa Mountain View receiver Curtis Hodges -- did so at the end of July, nearly three months ago. If the Sun Devils go another week without a commitment, they'll have done so about as long as the amount of time that remains in the cycle.
Last year, ASU had an unprecedented streak from mid-December -- after the start of the junior college signing period -- to NSD, when it failed to sign a recruit. That six week period, which occurred largely because of the departure of some of its key coaches and staffers -- was the largest gap between commitments that ASU had under Graham until this year.
A six week period that late in a cycle might be more noteworthy than the 85 day gap ASU is in right now, but it is also more explainable due to the losses of then-coaches Mike Norvell, Chip Long and Chris Ball to Memphis. While the Sun Devils got off to a relatively fast start in recruiting this year, they've now fallen behind their normal pace when they've had their best classes under Graham.
There also appears to be fewer five and four star prospects legitimately in play for the Sun Devils at this stage of the recruiting cycle than when ASU's signed its best recent classes. Outside of Las Vegas four-star defensive back Alex Perry there isn’t really a top out of state prospect whom ASU fans can look to as a likely member of the class. There are several in-state recruits such as Austin Jackson and Isaiah Pola-Mao who ASU is heavily involved with but for the most part it is hard to point to the recruits are whom ASU is truly leading for. That's another sign that the program won't sign as many Scout300 type national recruits in the 2017 class.
There are some of obvious reasons as to why ASU is where it is at with this class. Losing half of its staff from last year, including its on-campus recruiting coordinator, has certainly had a major impact. Recruiting is mainly about developing relationships with recruits, and increasingly, that happens over a multi-year period, not just in the final year of a cycle. When a program is forced to replace more than half of its key staff and recruiting personnel, it loses much of the established relationships.
After Graham, the three most important employees on the recruiting side for ASU prior to this season were arguably Norvell, recruiting coordinator Chip Long, and recruiting director Patrick Suddes. Both Norvell and Long were part of Graham’s original staff and were regularly recognized annually for their activity level and accomplishments with ASU's Top-20 classes in 2014 and 2015.
In Suddes, ASU had a person who had worked in the recruiting departments at Alabama and Texas and knew a lot of the new-age successful tactics and emerging technology very well. He gave the program a presence in recruiting, someone who brought an aggressive, forward thinking approach, and had connections in some of the best recruiting areas in the country.
It would be unfair to directly compare the results of ASU's replacements in this class. The group who left started slowly at ASU too. When you look at the replacements Graham brought in, there is definitely a lot of potential. First-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey would be the obvious replacement for Norvell. He has drawn high marks for his recruiting from coaches, parents and recruits since he has arrived in Tempe. What he lacks, as Norvell did, is west coach recruiting connections.
Wide receivers coach Jay Norvell seems the most apt replacement for Long. He comes to ASU with a much bigger resume than Long did and has more experience recruiting in the West than Long did when he got to ASU. His connections in Los Angeles are relatively extensive.
Norvell has already paid early dividends for his integral role in the Sun Devils landing wide receiver transfers John Humphrey and Ryan Newsome this summer. Wide receiver is not a major focus of this recruiting class but Norvell’s impact on recruiting over time should be at least comparable to what Long did while with the program.
New Associate Athletic Director for Recruiting Donnie Yantis was brought in as replacement for Suddes. Yantis, a former head coach at NAIA Arizona Christian, and before that at Phoenix Paradise Valley High School, is someone who has extensive local relationships. Five of ASU’s commits come from Arizona, where Yantis has deep roots. Improved local recruiting remains a priority of Graham, and especially so when going through such a staff overall. They simply did not enter this year with the relationships built up in areas like California and Texas like they had the previous three years to recruit those areas to the same level.
ASU’s online recruiting presence does seem a bit different this year than in the last several years. It is a difficult thing to truly measure, but as someone who does follow recruiting closely, it seems to be taking on a lower profile. That could be for different reasons, including the social media platforms used by recruits or an evolution in their posting habits, on balance.
The Sun Devils have only brought in a handful of official visitors thus far this yea,r and with only one home game left -- a Thursday night game which typically makes visits difficult for out of state recruits -- it is obvious that the plan is to be aggressive with official visits later in the cycle. That may be contributing to just how long its been since they've had a commitment, but it's also a risky approach because second-tier prospects may be harder to come by as interest heightens from other programs later in the process.
The bottom line for ASU is that with 100 days to go until NSD, their eight committed prospects currently ranks 11th the Pac-12 in Scout.com team recruiting rankings and 68th nationally. There is a lot of work to be done for the Sun Devils to finish with what would be publicly considered a successful recruiting class in 2017.
In the past I have personally made the mistake of underestimating how well Graham and ASU would finish in the overall rankings. As a result, I won't be quite as skeptical this year, but it's fair to say right now that it's unlikely ASU cracks the Top-30 nationally or finishes better than a middle-of-the-pack performance in the conference rankings. For that to happen ASU would most likely need to land Jackson, Perry and a few surprises between now and February 1.