Recruiting rankings matter.
They are not a guarantee of future success but they are the foundation every national championship has been built upon. It takes great coaching, development and luck to win a title, but having better players is the only way to start.
In fact, the data backing up the value of recruiting rankings is impenetrable. For example, look at last year’s rosters. According to the rankings, three of the four best rosters in America belonged to Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.
These rankings do not take into account attrition but that should be a constant for all teams and conferences equally. So strictly based on recruiting evaluations from 247Sports, here is how the rosters in the Pac-12 rank.
Steve Sarkisian landed the No. 2 class in the nation in his first full recruiting cycle at USC, and, enters 2015 with the No. 5-ranked roster in the nation. With scholarship numbers higher than they’ve been since NCAA sanctions, USC will enter Sark’s second season on the field with the best collection of players in the Pac-12. For all of Lane Kiffin’s weaknesses, luring talent to Los Angeles wasn’t one of them. Look for Cody Kessler and Coach Sark to make a strong run at a South Division crown.
Tier two talent
Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Washington form the second tier of talent behind USC and ahead of everyone else. Those four teams rank between 15th and 23rd nationally in terms of talent heading into 2015 and have been four of the best teams in the league over the last four seasons. The Ducks have a slight edge here as the most talented team in the North and the most successful on the field, but the Bruins, Cardinal and Huskies aren’t too far behind. Pop in a tape of January's national championship game to see the difference between "tier one" and "tier two" talent.
Tight Wad turnaround
Sonny Dykes showed marked improvement in his second season in Berkeley, taking Cal from one win to five. With a roster ranked in the top half of the league (sixth), the Golden Bears could continue to improve under Dykes. Granted, the Bears aren’t on the same tier as Oregon, UCLA, Stanford or Washington, but California heads up the third tier of talent in the Pac-12.
The Grand Canyon State
Much like the state of Mississippi in the SEC, both Arizona schools will enter the season in the bottom half of the league in terms of talent but with high expectations. Both Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez have proven to be miracle workers on the field. Arizona State has won 23 Pac-12 games in the last four years but is 19-8 since Graham took over three years ago. In fact, ASU is one of only three teams in the league have won at least 10 games in each of the last two seasons (Oregon, UCLA). RichRod is coming off of a division crown with a young roster and a proven system for success despite the perceived lack of talent.
Stay the course
Kyle Whittingham has done as good a job as should be expected from a coach elevating a program from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. His 14-22 mark in Pac-12 play isn’t near the 73 percent clip he won at in the Mountain West (35-13). But the Utes went from one of the top two rosters in their conference to ninth-best entering 2015 and still managed to win nine games last year. Kudos are well-deserved.
Careful what you wish for
Gary Andersen left a top-tier job for a job with major obstacles when he departed Wisconsin for Oregon State. It might fit his personality better, he might like the region better and his family may be happier. But it’s much tougher to win in Corvallis than in Madison. The North Division is stacked with talent (and coaching) and Andersen enters his first season at OSU with a new quarterback, a team that has won just six of its last 18 Pac-12 games and the 10th-best roster in the 12-team league.