Will Pac-12 Continue to Hang with SEC Despite Lack of 5-Star Recruits in 2014?

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor IJanuary 21, 2014

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Six Pac-12 recruiting classes are No. 26 or better in the current 247Sports.com rankings, solidly the second most of any conference. Yet, the Pac-12 is still a distant No. 2 behind the SEC, both in number of teams represented and in top-tier prospects committed.

College football's behemoth conference is home to nine recruiting classes ranked in the Top 25, seven of which appear in the Top 10. The SEC also has 15 5-star commitments to six teams, which is exactly 15 more 5-star recruits than the Pac-12's combined membership has landed.

The disparity threatens to detour the inroads the Pac-12 made toward catching its SEC counterpart—and indeed, there was measurable ground made.

Half of the SEC landed in the final Associated Press Top 25. Likewise, six Pac-12 teams—half the conference—finished ranked in the last poll.

Six players from the Pac-12 were named 1st Team All-Americans by the Associated Press, the same number selected from the SEC.

1st Pac-12 & SEC Team All-Americans (AP)
PlayerSchoolConferenceRecruiting Star Rating/Signing Year
LB Anthony BarrUCLAPac-124 (2010)
S Deone BucannonWashington StatePac-123 (2010)
RB Ka'Deem CareyArizonaPac-123 (2011)
WR Brandin CooksOregon StatePac-123 (2011)
WR Mike EvansTexas A&MSEC3 (2011)
OT Cyrus KouandjioAlabamaSEC5 (2011)
OT Jake MatthewsTexas A&MSEC4 (2010)
LB C.J. MosleyAlabamaSEC4 (2010)
S Cody PrewittOle MissSEC3 (2011)
DE Michael SamMissouriSEC2 (2009)
DT Will SuttonArizona StatePac-123 (2009)
OG David YankeyStanfordPac-123 (2010)

Pac-12 teams can take some solace from the conference's individual stars not necessarily being the most highly coveted recruits. After all, five of the conference's six All-Americans were 3-star prospects. And the lone 4-star recruit, Anthony Barr, changed positions during his UCLA run.

In an interesting twist, just one of the SEC's six 2013 1st Team All-Americans was a former 5-star recruit, and three of the league's honorees initially signed with programs still playing in the Big 12.

This is a small sample size, but it's telling of one of the Pac-12's strengths nonetheless. Plenty of Pac-12 stars have outperformed their prep rankings, and these individual stars were central to the teams', and thus the conference's, breakout season.

Certainly, the Pac-12 can still make up further ground on the SEC, but the recruiting process is key to that process. Referring back to the AP All-America Team, the SEC landed far more players on the 2nd and 3rd teams—12—whereas the Pac-12 had eight. The Pac-12 was the second most well-represented conference but, much like its current standing in the recruiting ratings, was distantly so.

The SEC's impressive All-American representation of 18 players from eight teams is indicative of the depth that competitive recruiting has fostered. Aside from its depth, the SEC has also been top-heavy in recent years, which again coincides with the conference's aggressive recruiting.

While the Pac-12 matched its five teams with at least 10 wins, this was the first season the Pac-12 has had such success. Five or more SEC teams have posted 10 wins in each of the last campaigns, and these are routinely teams that close national signing day near the top of the rankings.

While 3-star and even 2-star recruits can mature into the cream of the college football crop, there's something to be said for starting the process with elite prospects.

Take Alabama, which leads 247Sports.com's national ranking for 2014 and has verbal commitments from an astounding four 5-star prospects. Such recruiting trail prosperity is old hat for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, which have had Top-5 signing classes every year since 2008. Not coincidentally, they have won three national championships in that time.

Simply bringing in talent isn't enough to reach college football's mountaintop. Unlocking a talented recruit's potential is crucial, and part of that is getting players to buy into a system, as former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy told The Wall Street Journal in 2012. 

He's incredibly honest in the recruiting process. He tells kids, "Hey, you're going to come in and redshirt. Look, you're going to do this. You're going to do that." He tells them exactly what he thinks. I think a lot of people respect that because so much of the recruiting process is an unknown.

The process of signing then preparing highly touted prospects has benefited other programs in recent years, as well. This month's BCS Championship Game, for example, featured teams in Auburn and Florida State that finished every national signing day from 2010 through 2013 ranked no worse than No. 11 nationally.

Both the Seminoles and Tigers are stocked to make another run next season when the College Football Playoff begins. 

The Pac-12 can also testify to the significance of star-powered signing classes. It's been eight years since the conference last produced a national-championship-game participant and nine since the league's last title.

USC was responsible for both, bringing the potential of highly touted recruiting classes to fruition via the program's own system. The 2004 and 2005 Trojans went a combined 25-1 with rosters built from 4- and 5-star recruits like Reggie Bush, Winston Justice, Sam Baker, Steve Smith and Sedrick Ellis.

The complete lack of 5-star commitments has the Pac-12 looking up not only at the SEC, but at the rest of the other power conferences, as well. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 all have 5-star recruits verbally committed.

With two weeks remaining until national signing day, the Pac-12 can make some ground. USC is in the hunt for 5-star athlete John "JuJu" Smith, a local product from Long Beach Poly. There are also plenty of 4-star recruits in the conference's mix: Pac-12 leaders Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC have 42 such commitments combined.

Still, the Pac-12 is left playing some catch-up with the front-running SEC.  


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All recruiting information is obtained via 247Sports.com


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