Mario Cristobal has built Oregon into the Pac-12's best team both on the field and the recruiting trail
Oregon claimed its second consecutive Pac-12 championship to cap the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Whether you choose to acknowledge the asterisk that comes with that title or not, the Ducks' return to the top of the conference in terms of talent is undeniable.
The Pac-12 has taken some hits in national football media for the conference's lack of a College Football Playoff contender in recent years. The league isn't without talent capable of making the push, particularly at Oregon, USC and Washington. Perennial overachiever Utah seeing an uptick in its recruiting rankings in recent years could also forge the Utes into viable title contenders.
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for Pac-12 schools over the last five (2017-21) classes, according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings, and each team's record over the last five (2016-20) 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 2021
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal came to Eugene after a stint as an assistant at Alabama, and the Nick Saban recruiting influence is evident as the Ducks have become the pace-setters for Pac-12 recruiting. The 2021 signing class added another impressive crop, including offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia, who promises to maintain the program's outstanding play in the trenches.
After disappointing recruiting cycles in 2019, and especially 2020 under head coach Clay Helton, USC returned to the nation's upper echelon in 2021. The Trojans' pursuit of a Pac-12 championship hinges on developing young talent in a few key areas.
Chris Petersen's sudden retirement at Washington gave way to celebrated recruiter and standout defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake ascending to head coach. Despite a slight dip in the 2021 recruiting ranking, Lake's chops on the trails are undeniable.
Perhaps the most surprising ranking is that of Arizona State. Herm Edwards earned praise for his recruiting immediately after his hire, but the Sun Devils' initial class rankings were only marginally higher than under predecessor Todd Graham — and then dipped in 2021.
Meanwhile, Cal — a program that has overachieved under Justin Wilcox commensurate with recruiting rankings shot up to near the top 25 in the most recent class.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.