Butter to BYU's Fresh Bread is Great Recruiting

I tip my hat to the BYU coaches for the work done in landing this past year's recruiting class, even in the face of two consecutive losing seasons.

My hypothesis that in the last five years (I'm using five for purposes of discussion), a number of things changed in the BYU football program that were previously not addressed by coaches during those years. As a result, in certain key areas, the recruiting cupboard was bare. Not all areas, just several.

No other college deals with the LDS mission issue as much as BYU. Moreover, it typically takes one year for an athlete to get their legs back and regain some semblance of pre-mission form. It's not a complaint; just a fact. Not right-thinking NCAA coach would change roles with Lavell Edwards or Gary Crowton if they fully understood the challenges and potential pitfalls of managing LDS missions at Cougardom.

It should be clearly noted that a much higher proportion of recruited BYU athletes are going to mission in the Crowton era than during Edwards' years.

Ironically, when BYU has its glory years under Edwards, media pundits like Rick O'Reilly from Sports Illustrated and many a rival coach pinpointed BYU's success on its unfair age advantage with its returned missionaries. Those campers are noticeably silent right now, but you can expect that chorus to sing aloud when BYU returns to its winning ways.

During the past 10 years, especially the last few, more Cougar athletes have gone on LDS missions than ever before. That is a unique part of the BYU's religious heritage that is more important than football wins or losses. Given this increase, Crowton and his coaches did not manage or anticipate this well for this reason: No one has a crystal ball to know which missionary athletes will lose interest in football or resume their game back at an elite Div. 1 level.

As much as I love the 2004 recruiting class, there is no way to judge its effectiveness until these athletes produce on the field. With BYU's high concentration of LDS athletes, it has the longest recruiting cycle of most colleges. It's a fact that needs to be managed by the coaches in who they recruit.

If it's a true principle that "by their fruits we shall know them," there are several striking examples of a previous recruiting process that was not managed well.

Why did BYU have an offensive line the past few years with so few high quality juniors and seniors? If the pipeline was not full in 2002 and 2003, that means that coaches from years before were responsible for poor recruiting choices or did not manage the LDS mission-factor well.

My current view is that judicious use of top junior college LDS and non-LDS talent should become a staple in trying to maintain a consistently strong and steady stable of athletes.

Why did BYU offer so many scholarships to high school wide receivers in the last 5-10 years who have produced so little in terms of breakaway production? The Cougars have paid the price for it the past few years.

In managing the scholarship pie of unequal portions the two years before this last recruiting class, Crowton and his staff were hampered by the very limited number scholarships available because of commitments given to athletes on LDS missions from a previous coach.

Clearly, the strength or weaknesses of Crowton's recruiting classes will begin to show this fall as more Crowton-era recruits take starting and leaderships roles.

The 2004 recruiting class would appear to have enlisted a higher caliber of talent across the board than in more recent years. Based on quotes from recruits, Crowton's staff has been effective in hustling for blue-chippers and opening new recruiting pipelines in Texas, Georgia and the east without impacting its strong California and Utah roots. The Polynesian pipeline has also been revived since the Edwards era.

It seems clear to me that Crowton's crew has done a better recruiting job than Edwards' staff did in their last five years. Time will shortly and surely tell. From various accounts, it seems that Crowton's staff has developed a more effective system to identify and maintain tracking of their "most wanted" list on an ongoing basis.

At one point before last season, Crowton said they had about 2,500 recruits they were tracking on their board.

An unusually nasty spate of injuries to the high-skill positions, Honor Code suspensions and transfers have also taken their toll on the Cougars. Last season, the top two quarterbacks went down with broken hand bones and all the key wide receivers except Toby Christensen had horrendous luck with much more than the normal occurrence of ankle and muscle injuries. Unfortunately, BYU did not have depth on its bench to plug those critical holes effectively – and that goes back to recruiting. What kind of plays are you going to run without a veteran offensive or receivers who can't get open or catch the ball?

I don't know everything that went wrong or what the reasons were. I do know any half-decent head coach can't produce yards with mirrors.

It's just my opinion, but an offensive line that blocked better, a few receivers who got open and caught passes and an uninjured Matt Berry or John Beck would likely have won a couple of more games last year – IF the offensive line and wide receivers were functionally above average. It got so bad the last couple of years on offense that BYU was starting to look like a lot of struggling Wyoming teams from years past.

Regardless, the last two seasons are in the record book and reason and rational don't mean a thing.

I'm just glad the current recruiting process shows that ALL the coaches have worked hard away from Utah valley, bringing in some amazing athletes. Notably, BYU has recruited more JC and non-LDS athletes of seemingly good character – a good thing.

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