New Washington head coach Chris Petersen has some work to do before signing day.
What happens on the field is more important than anything else in college football. Programs are defined by the amount of games won, and everything between early January and late August is simply preparation for the battle on the gridiron.
But recruiting will always remain a top priority for those hoping to continually achieve success, and distractions from the process, such as new head coaches, major decommits or embarrassing off-the-field incidents, can put a serious damper on what might have been a solid year.
Regardless of whether you're 11-2 or 4-8, it's always important to stay focused on getting the best recruiting class possible. But as we typically see, some schools aren't in the best shape to achieve that for a variety of reasons.
Teams dealing with recruiting issues in December can certainly turn things around and finish strong before national signing day, and a weak class now doesn't always spell doom. Some schools have a lot up in the air heading into the final stretch of recruiting, however, raising major questions about the next two months.
Here are five such programs who have more on their respective plates than they'd like at this juncture.
RB Jay Ajayi
What happens when a long-time head coach who's led a non-AQ team to multiple BCS bowl appearances bolts for another destination?
Just ask Boise State, which ranks 114th in the most recent edition of 247 Sports recruiting rankings. Now, rankings are just opinions, and the Broncos typically overachieve with classes that look average at best on paper. But having only seven verbal commits this late in the season isn't a very good sign.
Furthermore, the face of the program now wears purple and lives in Seattle. Chris Petersen took a Boise State team that had seen pretty decent success under Dan Hawkins and turned it into one that was regularly competing, and beating, BCS-conference teams.
He's gone, and even with the quick hire of former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, major questions loom. Fortunately, the program has built a solid reputation as one that grooms players and lays it all out on the field every game. A victory over Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl would answer a few questions about the future direction of the program.
With a new head coach and current class that ranks below powerhouses such as Akron, North Texas and Toledo, Boise State is in a potentially problematic situation heading into one of the most important stretches of the year for any football program.
The Texas defense swarms TCU
Recruiting is never really an issue for Texas. The Longhorns annually boast a wide array of the nation's top high school talent in their class, and what happens in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon probably won't change that.
What does matter is who the school selects as the next coach to lead the program, which will undoubtedly have an affect on many recruits considering donning the burnt orange.
Will it be someone who many targets already have a relationship with, or will it be a guy that fails to instill excitement in recruits? And while losing to the Ducks wouldn't be devastating, a blowout loss probably isn't the best image to leave everyone with heading into the offseason.
On the other hand, an upset victory coupled with a home-run hire could be huge before national signing day. It would show that Texas is immediately ready to compete for a national title, and it would likely lead to a wave of momentum in the recruiting world.
Again, Texas football has established itself over the past 100 years and isn't about to go away with a short rough stretch. But it could have an adverse affect on this year's recruiting class (which ranks 12th at the moment).
Nobody seems sure exactly which direction Texas will choose to go on, but one thing is for sure—the Longhorns better answer some questions before a critical stretch in recruiting.
QB Gary Nova
Rutgers began the 2013 season 4-1 with a close win over Arkansas. A strong recruiting class seemed to bode well for the direction of the program.
Then the wheels began to fall off and the Scarlet Knights lost five of their final seven games, which included blowout defeats to UCF, Houston and Cincinnati. Mixed in with the downward spiral was a slew of decommitments, as three top players retracted their verbal pledges in a span of two days.
The biggest blow came just several days later, when 4-star quarterback Tyler Wiegers decommitted. Coach Kyle Flood is now without a quarterback in the 2014 class, which has fallen to No. 42 in the nation.
The recruiting world is a fickle beast, and you never know whether a turn of events such as this one will ultimately prove to be good or bad, but it certainly doesn't look positive. Now Rutgers heads into its bowl game against Notre Dame in desperate need of a marquee victory. Its best win of the season came against a 5-7 Southern Methodist team, and it took overtime to do it.
With the upcoming jump to the Big Ten conference, the Scarlet Knights need to have a strong finish in recruiting to be ready to deal with life in a better conference.
A strong bowl game can erase many reservations recruits and fans have about what might be next for Rutgers, but there is a lot of work to do.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin talks to his quarterback
How can an eight-win season put a program in a tricky situation heading into the final stretch of recruiting? Well, as a byproduct of Vanderbilt's recent success, head coach James Franklin is being mentioned for nearly every major job opening in college football.
USC was an option before the Trojans hired Steve Sarkisian. There are some who believe he should be strongly considered for the Texas job. Finally, a recent report by fansided.com says that Franklin has inquired about a potential opening at Penn State should current Nittany Lions' head coach Bill O'Brien land an NFL gig. The Commodores' head man is being linked to jobs that aren't currently available!
If that's not the definition of "up in the air" heading into January and February, we're not sure what is.
Vandy fans could probably give a myriad of reasons why he'll stay, and they might be right. But with rumors swirling about several possible destinations that don't include his current home, recruiting is going to be difficult.
Of course, schools are more than just their head coach and the program is trending upward for a variety of reasons, not just Franklin. But recruits have to wonder who they'll be coached by if they commit to be a Commodore, and with Franklin's name being linked to so many other gigs, it puts the team in an interesting spot.
Finally, there's the tricky bowl game against Houston to deal with. A win over the Cougars will reaffirm what we saw from a Vanderbilt team that won its final four games of the year. But a loss to a team from the AAC conference will bring out the doubters, and it could make Franklin's decision even easier.
Steve Sarkisian bolted Los Angeles for the USC job.
Chris Petersen should be seen as a home-run hire for a Washington program struggling to get back to its glory days of the 80s and 90s. Even though Steve Sarkisian left to take the head coaching job at USC, Huskies' fans should be confident in Petersen given his track record at Boise State.
But Washington has some major issues to address in recruiting, none of which are easily solved without a complete coaching staff in place. Start by looking at the Dawgs' current class, which has just seven names and ranks 96th in the nation, last in the Pac-12. That number will climb over the the next month and a half, and may even jump above 50.
But Sarkisian's departure seems to have put doubt into the minds of many recruits, and it's showing.
The first step, as with every other school on this list, is to win the bowl game. After that, Petersen must hit the recruiting trail hard and try to salvage something from the current wreckage.
Fortunately for the Huskies, most of the damage is done. The current class can only get better, and with Petersen chosen as the man to lead Washington into the future, recruiting targets will at least know who they'll be playing for should they commit.
However, the recent whirlwind of coaching changes has created an unstable foundation in Seattle, and Petersen needs to get to work if he hopes to start his tenure strong next fall.