Jim McElwain and the Florida Gators are off to a slow start in the new recruiting cycle
The ink is barely dry on the 2016 recruiting class but college football is a year-round affair for coaches, their staff, and the next group of seniors ready to fill empty spots on various rosters nationwide. Some teams have embraced the recruiting process, seeing fantastic early returns on efforts while others, for whatever the reason, have not been able to kick start the process ,falling way behind their peer group.
Ohio State is among the early teams to jump out to a great start with 13 verbal commitments including two 5-star recruits in defensive back Shaun Wade (Jacksonville, Fla.) and offensive lineman Josh Myers (Miamisburg, Ohio). The Sooners, typically a late bloomer in recruiting efforts, have jumped all over top players within Oklahoma and in Texas landing an early haul of 11 commits with all but one considered a 4-star talent.
College Football’s Toughest Predictions in 2016
While still very early in the process, a tell-tale sign of how a class could end up is predicated on how recruits are responding to the numerous events being held on college campuses for Junior Day, spring practices and spring games during the offseason. Other upcoming events, like one-day college camps, will typically help net players that might not be able to make it on campus during the school year, allowing family members time off work to travel here, there, and everywhere seeking next-level opportunities for their child.
The following is a list of Power Five Conference programs under-performing for one reason or another thus far.
Hovering Between Success and Mediocrity
It’s tough to draw the line at where to give a pass and where not to give a pass. Some schools could get a pass on a low census like TCU, which only has three commitments but has two 4-star recruits and one 3-star player, and is sure to benefit over time from being in the fertile recruiting grounds of the Lone Star State.
The Florida Gators are another team that should be doing better than they are with just three commitments, albeit all three are of a 4-star caliber. Auburn falls into a similar gray area with three recruits comprised of 5-star offensive lineman Calvin Ashley (Orlando, Fla.), 4-star athlete Alaric Williams, and 3-star defensive back Carlito Gonzalez (Stone Mountain, Ga.). TCU, Florida and Auburn always end up in the top 30, if not in the top 10 for Auburn and Florida, so rest assured all those programs will make up ground given time.
The Middle Ground
Texas Tech (3 verbal commitments), Arizona State (2), Pitt (2), and Cal (2) are in great recruiting areas and should have more commits than what each is showing. Juxtapose the position, SMU already has four commitments including 4-star offensive lineman Alan Ali (Keller, Texas) and two 3-stars in wide receivers Trestan Ebner (Henderson, Texas) and Tyquez Hampton (El Paso, Texas). Adding to the pile, Wake Forest, a team that does not historically get high recruiting rankings, already has four commits.
Other middle ground programs at this point include Ole Miss (3), with just one 4-star, and Tennessee, with three commits, two of them being 3-stars.
Pick It Up Already
Oregon is always slow out of the box, which has to be really annoying for the Ducks’ fan base. Oregon has two 4-star recruits in quarterback Ryan Kelley (Chandler, Ariz.) and defensive end Langi Tuifua (South Jordan, Utah). Another recruiting tool Oregon has over all other schools, the Nike Opening. Every summer, top recruits from around the nation are flown into the area and get a chance to see the Ducks’ top-notch facilities with Nike picking up the tab. Fair or unfair, it’s a great recruiting tool for Oregon.
Another Pac-12 team flying low is Arizona. The Wildcats have two verbal commits and one of them is Rich Rodriguez’s son, Rhett Rodriguez. Greg Johnson, a 4-star athlete out of Los Angeles, is a big “get” for any team.
Performing Under the Radar But...
Missouri (2), Kansas State (2), Syracuse (2), Maryland (2), Washington (2), and Illinois (2) could all be doing a little bit better... but each school has some difficulties to overcome for one reason or another. Barry Odom has taken over for Gary Pinkel in Columbia which could keep some recruits holding back from committing to the Tigers until they see the new product on the field.
Bill Snyder has always been slow and steady on the recruiting trail, picking up needed pieces from the Kansas junior college level as needed. There is more talent along the eastern U.S. coastline than many realize. Maryland, being in the Big Ten, should be showing progress every year in terms of its standing on recruiting boards. The state of Washington has great talent within but a lot of it ends up going out of state, forcing both the Huskies and Cougars to spend a lot of time in California to fill in National Signing Day spots.
It’s tough to figure out where to put the Fighting Illini. New head coach Lovie Smith seems like an instant magnet for recruits. Smith has a college coaching background with previous stops at Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio State and led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl appearance. One would think recruits would flock to Champaign to get coached by a former NFL head coach. Maybe over time the trend will start to lean in Smith’s favor?
Immediate Help is Needed
West Virginia may not have the most fertile of areas to work with when it comes to its own backyard, but having just one recruit committed to the 2017 class has to be scary for Mountaineer fans. WVU has been a winning program for so long, more is expected. Since 2002, as a member of the Big East, the Mountaineers have had just one losing season and that was in 2013 when they went 4-8 in Dana Holgorsen’s second season in Morgantown.
Georgia Tech is another head scratcher. Paul Johnson has a lot of top players close to home to recruit and enough of a reputation and brand name to make inroads with in Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. Being in Atlanta and at a great academic school, Georgia Tech’s low performance year after year on the recruiting trail may have fans at the end of their rope.
Since 2006, Virginia has posted two winning seasons, 2007 (9-4) and 2011 (8-5), making this ACC member a basketball school with a football problem.
End of the Line
Rutgers (2), Louisville (1), Purdue (1), Oregon State (1), Vanderbilt (0), and Minnesota (0) are each off to slow starts, especially when you compare them to Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have not had a winning season since Mark Mangino was stomping the sidelines in 2008, has four verbal commitments. Making matters worse, second-year head coach David Beaty went 0-12 in 2015. What’s the excuse for the other under-performers?
A pass can be given to Oregon State, Vanderbilt and Minnesota, to a certain extent, but the states of New Jersey and Kentucky produce a lot of great talent every year. Kentucky even borders seven states, which should make for an easier pitch to out-of-state kids. So what gives Bobby Petrino?
Minnesota has no other in-state rival, making this a bitter pill for Golden Gopher fans. Oregon State has big brother Oregon to compete against plus any other Pac-12 school that might want the upper-crust talent within the state. Vanderbilt had an easier time recruiting with James Franklin calling the shots. Recruiting under Derek Mason has dropped off, as he’s been unable to sell an academics-first program in the SEC the way he could at Stanford.
For the fan bases of the affected, time will tell if the coaching staffs needing help can sell your team over a regional rival. Great coaching is only great with the right players to run the system, making recruiting an all too important part of college football.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.