Mario Cristobal has Oregon atop the Pac-12 once again, both on the field and the recruiting trail
The 2019 Pac-12 season culminated with a power shift back to Oregon after a brief period dipping from the apex. The Ducks' conference title and Rose Bowl Game win may be the start of sustained success, as recruiting rankings tab Oregon as the most talented roster in the conference.
Of course, basing championships exclusively on recruiting rankings would have yielded much better results for USC in the past decade. Will a historically low-rated recruiting class in 2020 mark the canary in the coal mine for the Trojans? And is USC's downturn in recruiting the opening Pac-12 South counterpart Arizona State needs to finally awaken the long-rumored "sleeping giant?"
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for Pac-12 schools over the last five (2015-20) classes according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings and each team's record over the last five (2015-19) seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Rosters in 2020
Oregon's first Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance in five years marked the culmination of a steady climb led by the program's seniors. Replacing Justin Herbert and Troy Dye is a tall task, but Oregon has stockpiled the talent on paper to produce continued results on the field.
What's more, the highly touted recruiting classes head coach Mario Cristobal and his staff have brought in the last three cycles give the program his almost full signature. In another cycle, Oregon will be made up almost entirely of Cristobal's recruits. Could that lead to the beginning of a new dynasty? Returning Ducks like Kayvon Thibodeaux seem to think so.
Pressure's on USC upperclassmen
More than enough words have been spoken and written about the disappointing recruiting class coming into USC in 2020. But with diminishing rankings bottoming out, the returning upperclassmen at USC face remarkable pressure this coming season.
The program's immediate future may hinge more on the returning seniors and juniors than at any other place in the country. Winning cures a lot of ills, as the old cliche goes, and a successful 2020 campaign should reinvigorate USC's recruiting prowess. Another middling campaign akin to the last two, with a combined 13-12 record, leaves USC facing a substantial rebuild.
Utah building on a solid foundation
The bevy of seniors on Utah's 2019 roster gave the past season something of a now-or-never feel. Indeed, the Utes have prominent holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but the program's tendency to overachieve under head coach Kyle Whittingham suggests one should not bank on a regression.
Further, the last two years' flirtations with a Pac-12 championship should not be aberrations.
Whittingham has himself said that the most critical facet of Utah's development from Pac-12 also-ran in its first few years after joining from the Mountain West and in contending for titles was improved recruiting. Utah's made its biggest jumps on the recruiting trail in the last few years, 2020 in particular. While next season's team may take a step back, look for another major Utah surge in the not-distant-future.
A well-built house by the Lake
Chris Petersen's surprising resignation as Washington head coach comes with loaded implications about the state of college football in general. However, he leaves behind a Washington program in position to continue jockeying with rival Oregon for Pac-12 supremacy.
Washington's solid position is due in no small part to Petersen's replacement, Jimmy Lake. As an assistant coach, Lake was renowned for his recruiting chops. Bringing in a run of top-20 classes should smooth the transition of a new Top Dog in Year 1.
A (Grand) Canyon between them
The first year of the Kevin Sumlin era at Arizona has not gone quite as some predicted. Likewise, but on the other end of the spectrum, Herm Edwards' first two at Arizona State have exceeded plenty of expectations. The Sun Devils have not reached the heights of predecessor Todd Graham's tenure, but recent success in recruiting positions Arizona State to make moves at a time when the Pac-12 South is shrouded in uncertainty (more than usual).
As for rival Arizona, the Wildcats' disappointments on the field extend beyond it. Sumlin and his staff have recruited lower-rated classes than predecessor Rich Rodriguez, despite having come into Tucson with a reputation for his recruiting chops at Texas A&M. A last-in-the-Pac-12 2020 class has the Wildcats in a tough spot barring some remarkable overachievement.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.