Something has happened over the past two seasons that has surprised college football fans across the state of Arizona.
See, back in the 2008 offseason, the Arizona State Sun Devils were a hot team. Coming off a 10-win season and competing in a BCS Bowl, the Sun Devils seemed to be a program on the rise and were able to land several highly touted recruits in the 2008 class.
Some of them were even committed to Arizona at some point (see: Gerell Robinson, Ryan Bass, and Jarrell Barbour), but switched to arch-rival ASU.
Arizona, on the other hand, was a program still struggling to shake its losing ways. Mike Stoops was on the hot seat and the program didn't have much optimism surrounding it. The Wildcats didn't seem to be ready to make that jump to Pac-10 contender and many wondered if that day would ever come.
Fast-forward just two years.
Arizona has participated in its first two bowl games in a decade while ASU has struggled to stay competitive at times. The majority of the highly-touted recruits have failed to adjust to the college game and the team has missed the last two postseasons.
The optimism around Dennis Erickson has turned into negativity and many wonder if 2010 will be Erickson's final season at ASU. If he can't get his team to a bowl game – and there is little to believe that he will – then Erickson could be looking for another job (or he could just simply retire) at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Stoops has gone from villain to hero in Tucson. It may not seem much to those that support a prestigious school like Texas or Oklahoma, but Stoops' 16 wins in two seasons means a whole lot to Arizona football. Back in the early 2000's, it took three years for UA to win eight games COMBINED (from 2003-2005).
A lot of fans outside of Tucson really don't understand the level of damage former head coach John Mackovic did to the football program. After years of success under Dick Tomey, Arizona failed miserably under Mackovic and alienated a lot of the players on the team as well as former Wildcats.
It would take too long to explain just how much damage was done to UA football, but let's just say it's hard to imagine any program coming back from that disaster – especially one located in a town like Tucson.
Stoops and Erickson are on completely different paths. After 2007, many thought ASU was headed for national prominence under Erickson, but the Sun Devils are most likely to be among the bottom-feeders in the Pac-10. Meanwhile the Wildcats could conceivably appear in their first Rose Bowl in school history.
It may finally be felt in recruiting now as well. Arizona has landed 10 commits for the 2010 class while ASU only has two and are commonly the second school of preference in Arizona among in-state talent.
Now there is still plenty of time left to go in this class and ASU has still shown the ability to land strong recruits. The problem is that the Sun Devils haven't been able to get the most out of their recruits on the filed. The talent is there on the field, the ASU staff has just gotten little out of it.
Arizona had that problem early in Stoops' tenure, but that issue has faded. Over the past few recruiting classes, the Wildcats have landed talent like Keola Antolin, Juron Criner, Trevin Wade, Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed and developed them into high-level Pac-10 players. Not only that, but the backups on the roster have become a strength as opposed to a weakness, while ASU has problems with depth on both sides of the ball.
It's hard to imagine that just two seasons ago ASU was considered one of the best up-and-coming programs in the country while UA was close to being knocked out once again. Now it's the other way around and there is little evidence to suggest that trend is heading in any other direction any time soon.
Now, ASU is finding it more difficult to recruit in its own backyard. After landing eight commits from Arizona in 2009, compared to just five for UA, ASU landed only four in 2009 (Arizona landed five again) and has yet to gain a commit from a single Arizona prospect for 2011 (Arizona has two already).
If it wants to grow as a program it will have to do a better job in-state. Arizona already holds pipelines to states like Texas, Oklahoma, California and Nevada and if it continues to gain more commits from in-state, it's going to be hard for the Sun Devils to catch up any time soon.
Recruiting in-state remains important
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