Take a look at the current ranking of the 2016 classes in the Pac-12:
* Rankings as of 8/7/2015 2:00 PM ET
Of course, this is just a snapshot in time, in early August, and so much will change before National Signing Day in February. Heck, it will all change in a week. But just to give you an idea, if you closely compare and contrast recruiting classes among the Pac-12 teams, even though it’s just a snapshot, it’s still interesting and provides some insight.
-- While the Pac-12 has five programs currently in the top 25 of Scout’s Team Recruiting Rankings, the classes, if you look at them player by player, really aren’t that overwhelmingly impressive. Right now, Stanford has four top-100 prospects, UCLA three (Linebacker/defensive end Breland Brandt, pictured above, being one of them for UCLA) and Oregon and USC have two each. Arizona, the other program currently in the top 25, respectively, has none. UCLA and USC each have a five-star commitment (with the commitment of defensive end Oluwole Betiku to UCLA), and no one else in the conference does. The SEC, meanwhile, has five five-star prospects and four teams in the top ten of the rankings – all higher than any Pac-12 program. The Big Ten has four in the top ten, all higher than any Pac-12 program.
Five-star UCLA commitment Oluwole Betiku
-- Of course, the Pac-12 rich get richer but the poor really are getting poorer. The doormats in the conference standings for several years – Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado – are the doormats of the recruiting rankings. They have a combined 26 commitments, and not one is a four-star prospect. In fact, WSU and Oregon State are averaging 2.44 stars per commit, and Colorado 2.5, while Utah averages 2.71. So that’s four programs whose commitments aren’t even averaging 3 stars. For their 2015 recruiting classes, those four programs also didn’t average a three-star ranking. It’s easy to conclude that these programs are struggling to bring in difference-making talent, and are going to continue to struggle on the field against the rest of the conference.
-- Even though Arizona and Arizona State have done well on the field in recent years, they’re not seeing a particularly significant jump in recruiting results. Arizona won the Pac-12 South in 2014, and that’s helped, but they only have one commitment from a player in the 2016 class so far that UCLA would covet, offensive lineman Michael Eletise (possibly quarterback Devon Modster, but not that significantly). Arizona State did better in recruiting with the 2015 class, using the momentum of a good 2014 season, but that momentum has sputtered so far in recruiting the 2016 class. Even though they don’t necessarily have many scholarships to give in 2016, so far they’ve given out 11, with an average star ranking of 3.18. If you look at their list of commitments, you’d have to say there really isn’t a prospect on the list that UCLA would covet (possibly the quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, but also not that significantly). In other words, even though ASU and Arizona are doing better on the field because of good coaching, they’re not stepping up in recruiting, and bringing in the type of higher level of recruit that it would probably take to compete with UCLA, USC, Oregon and Stanford going forward.
It’s another example of how much easier it is to recruit at UCLA. You could arguably make the case that ASU under Todd Graham has done as well as UCLA under Jim Mora on the field, but not nearly as well in recruiting. Over the last three recruiting classes, UCLA has averaged a 3.78 star ranking per player, with ASU averaging 3.18. Now, with the 2016 class so far, UCLA is averaging 3.60 and ASU 3.18. Of course, we don’t want to diminish the recruiting job the UCLA staff has done, but you could make a case that ASU has a pretty good recruiting staff, too, and the difference is, really, where each staff is recruiting to.
-- Cal is currently ranked 6th in the Pac-12, which you might think is incongruously high, given its field performance. But Cal might be putting its best foot forward early and might not have much left in the tank for 2016, being #6 mostly because it has the most commitments of anyone in the conference, 20. Its per-star ranking is a pedestrian 2.65. There isn’t one commitment on Cal’s list that UCLA would absolutely covet.
-- The program that is currently in the lower-half of the rankings that perhaps has a chance to make a run is Washington. They have 10 commitments and have a solid 3.10 average, and definitely have a couple of players at this time that UCLA wouldn’t mind having – linebacker Camilo Eifler and running back Sean McGrew.
-- In looking at the schools in the upper tier besides UCLA, which would be Oregon, USC and Stanford, the classes so far are, well, unremarkable. Oregon, coming off a College Football Championship game appearance, currently has a marginal lead on UCLA (in fact, a commitment from one four-star for UCLA would probably alleviate that). The four schools are really close enough in terms of how good their recruiting classes are to date that any of the four could end up with the best 2016 recruiting class. How all four of these programs finish in recruiting will overwhelmingly be determined by how they fare this season. It’s still a very wide open race among those four, in other words.
UCLA’s class, as we’ve talked about, isn’t consistently elite and a bit uneven from prospect to prospect, but it’s interesting how there are so few prospects committed to the other big three that UCLA would actually want. Realistically, Oregon and USC might have four each that UCLA would take (among 14 and 16 commitments, respectively) and Stanford probably two (among 13 commitments).
USC, too, is going to be interesting to watch in recruiting this season. They finished the 2015 class ranked #1 in the nation, really exploiting the honeymoon bump you would naturally get with a first-year head coach at USC, despite finishing the 2014 season at 9-4. It’s not a stretch, however, to speculate that the recruiting honeymoon might be over for the 2016 class if USC doesn’t display marked improvement on the field, perhaps get to 11 wins, minimum. So far for 2016, USC has already taken commitments from some lower-ranked prospects that they normally wouldn’t at this stage, and would have to really make a big run at the end of this cycle to finish like it did with the 2015 class. They finished with just seven recruits that were three-stars or lower in 2015, but for 2016 they already have five committed.
The overall takeaway here is that Pac-12 recruiting as a conference for 2016 isn’t particularly great so far, and that UCLA’s class looks better when you compare it to the conference. As we said, there just aren’t many prospects committed to other Pac-12 schools that UCLA would want.
While you’d want UCLA to be competitive with the best programs in the country in recruiting, it’s primary arena of competition are the playing fields of the Pac-12, and the 2016 recruiting cycle, so far, makes it appear that UCLA is getting the talent to compete at a very high level in the conference.