There have been many critics of UCLA's recruiting effort to date for the 2009 class. There has been criticism that Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, since being hired, has been slow to target certain recruits, and that the class, so far, doesn't have the high-end quality it needs for Neuheisel to turn around the program.
But looking at the other classes that the other Pac-10 schools have put together so far provides a relevant perspective.
Let's take a look from the bottom up.
Washington, given its winless season and its lame duck coach, you'd have to say is pulling up the rear. It currently has five commitments, and not what you would call a big-impact recruit among them. Even the ones that are considered fairly good are thought to be looking elsewhere. Of course, when the Huskies hire their new coach, there will be some natural recruiting buzz, but it's probably safe to project that Washington isn't going to take in an elite class this season.
Washington State could be next to the bottom, with eight commitments, and only one of those ranked among the top fifty at the recruit's position in the national class. After the Mike Price coattails, the Cougars have fallen back down to their natural level in the recruiting food chain and are finding it difficult to get recruits to come to the Palouse.
Oregon State is similar to WSU, with nine commitments, but with a few recruits that rank a bit higher. OSU is in a better recruiting position than UDub or Wazzu, with a solid coach and a program that's flirted with success in the last few years, but it's still one of the tougher sells in the conference.
Arizona State has eight commitments, and the overall rankings of those prospects might be slightly higher than that of OSU or ASU. This was the year that Head Coach Dennis Erickson needed to really put together a great product on the field to attract recruits, coming off the first-year buzz of a 10-3 season a year ago. Erickson needed to prove he could do it two years in a row and, as of right now, at 2-4, the bloom is off the flower.
Arizona has nine commitments, and probably gets ranked slight ahead of ASU since it seems be doing better with some impact recruits right now. In Mike Stoops' do-or-die season, he's pulling out a year that will save his job. Of course, that's barring any second-half collapse. But even with his best season to date, Stoops can't seem to get over the hump in recruiting. He tends to get a solid class of three-star, with some four-stars thrown in, but not enough to really inject the program with enough talent to consistently compete among the best teams in the conference.
In recruiting, remember, it's about quality, not quantity. Yes, it helps when you get 25 recruits in a class as opposed to 12. The sheer bodies on the practice field will help you and there's always a chance that one of those unsung bodies will develop into an impact player. But the impact of a class is more about how many impact recruits you bring in.
While we've said in the past that the star system can be a very random gauge of quality, for lack of a better quick device to judge recruits, we'll use it here: None of those five schools – Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington State or Washington -- have a commitment from even one four-star recruit.
Cal does have a couple of four-star recruits, and both of those are at key positions, quarterback and running back. But the Bears to date have just five commitments and have lost out on a number of recruits so far in the 2009 recruiting wars.
Those six schools appear to make up the lower tier in terms of recruiting classes so far in 2009, and the schools that are clearly recruiting at a higher level in the conference are Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and USC.
We don't count out Cal, though, to make a comeback and get into that upper tier.
Further thought on Cal: Interestingly, Cal's recruiting classes have only made it to a third-place finish in the conference once in the last several years. With 21 commitments in the 2008 class, it was still just ranked sixth in the conference. It's interesting to contemplate that, despite the unprecedented era of success at Cal under Jeff Tedford, the Bears still can't get consistently into the elite among programs in terms of recruiting. In fact, when Tedford first arrived and had immediate success, the initial buzz was stronger, with classes that were ranked 9th and 12th nationally, but the recruiting results have seemingly trailed off in the last few years. Just speculating: Is it that the Cal program can't inherently sustain elite status? Will it be a case, say, like with Oregon, that the program will have to sustain 12-15 years of relative success before it's accepted as a consitently year-in-and-year out force in recruiting? Or is Oregon an unreasonable model to expect Cal to emulate since the Ducks have Nike's Phil Knight to greatly enhance its recruiting efforts?
Oregon definitely deserves upper-tier status with its class so far this season, with 11 commitments, including from one five-star and one four-star, and with gnerally some very good recruits in the fold. It's doing well, too, with some elites recruits still available.
The two programs truly recruiting at the "magical level" right now are Stanford and USC.
The Cardinal, led by the enthusiasm and salesmanship of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, is putting together perhaps the best recruiting class in its history. Stanford currently has 16 commitments, with 1 top 100 national prospect and 10 four-star recruits already signed on. It's currently ranked the #13 class in the country.
USC, of course, is at another magical level, so far ranked the #2 class in the nation with 9 top 100 players and currently the highest ranking per recruit of any class in the nation.
You could make the case that USC and Stanford make up the upper tier and the rest fall into the lower tier. But even so, UCLA and Oregon are distinctly doing better so far than the other programs and, at the very least, have to be put in to a subset of the top tier.
Yes, for all of the criticism of UCLA's class, it clearly belongs in the upper tier. UCLA has ten commitments, with three four-star recruits among them. As of right now, it's an easy case to make that the Bruins are currently running third in the Pac-10 in terms of recruiting classes.
While you might not think it's particularly remarkable, but consider that the #1 determining factor of success in recruiting is success on the field, and UCLA's recruiting class so far, then, is impressive.
USC's on-field success over the last seven years is obvious. Stanford is currently 3-2, one of its best starts in recent memory, which it has parlayed with the impression of Harbaugh, along with arguably the biggest upset in college football history last season, into recruiting dividends.
Oregon is currently 5-2, and has been on a streak of successful seasons for a number of years.
UCLA, need we remind you, is currently 3-4, coming off one of the worst eras in its football history, going 60-50 in its last nine seasons.
It's a very distinct reflection of UCLA's potential power in recruiting. It's done so poorly lately on the field in recent years, and is currently struggling this year, while its staff has gotten criticized for not doing the recruiting job it could. And it still, so far this season, can easily be put among the top three programs in recruiting within the conference. Imagine if UCLA were merely 5-2?
In a year in which UCLA can only hope of going 6-6, or more realistically 5-7, if it could secure a top-three finish in recruiting in the conference and perhaps a top-25 national class, it would certainly be a coup. Without a clearly successful season to sell, finishing off the year looking improved and well-coached on the field could be good enough for UCLA to put together a very respectable recruiting class, one that keeps Neuheisel's re-building efforts on track.