What do teams like Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma and LSU have in common? They are always contenders for national championships and they always have highly-ranked recruiting classes. In college football, recruiting can make or break your team.
Now more than ever coaches are being hired for their recruiting skills. Athletic directors realize that the most important part of today’s game is surrounding yourself with the best talent possible.
The Pac-10 Conference is moving to a new beginning, becoming the Pac-12 Conference. Teams want to make a statement this season. No bigger statement may be made than that of recruiting.
In this list I will rank the head coaches in the Pac-12 based solely on how they recruit. All class rankings used in this list are from Scout.com.
It is not fair to include the two new Pac-12 coaches in this ranking. Neither of them have any previous head coaching experience and they were both hired late in the recruiting process. Most of their recruits for 2011 were inherited from the prior coaches.
David Shaw: Stanford Cardinal
A Stanford alum himself, Shaw was a popular choice to be the next head coach at Stanford. Although most of the credit for his recruiting class should go to Harbaugh, Shaw has been impressive in the earliest stages of his career.
The Cardinal recruiting class ranks 21st nationally and fourth in the Pac-12. His average recruit is rated as having 3.37 stars. This is a great way for Shaw to start off his career as head coach.
Jon Embree: Colorado Buffaloes
Embree was not quite as lucky as Shaw. He did not inherit an impressive class and will need to improve if he wishes to be successful in the Pac-12.
Embree only brought in a single 4-star recruit in a class that ranked 61st in the nation and 10th in the Pac-12. If the Buffaloes don’t improve, they might become good friends with Washington State at the bottom of the conference.
Wulff and his staff have had poor recruiting classes in each of his four years at Washington State. He has never had a class ranked higher than seventh in the Pac-10/12. The key reason is that Washington has been strong in recruiting as of late.
Wulff tends to rely heavily on bringing in junior college transfers. In his past two classes, Wulff has signed a total of 13 junior college prospects. This can be looked at as a bad thing or a good thing.
The Washington State Cougars have not had a .500 season since 2006. If they ever want to get out of this slump, they are going to need to recruit some program-changing high school athletes.
Despite not getting the best recruits, Mike Riley always seems to field a tough team. Last season's 5-7 record may have been an indication that his consistently-poor recruiting is finally catching up with him.
Mike Riley has never had a class ranked higher than sixth in the Pac-10/12 in any of his 10 years. His average recruit is usually around 2.5 stars.
The Oregon State football program once endured 28 straight losing seasons from 1971-1998. With programs like Oregon and Stanford stepping up when it comes to recruiting, Oregon State must do the same. If they don’t, Oregon State might go through another long and painful stretch of losing seasons.
For a mid-major school, Utah has recruited well under Kyle Whittingham. In the Mountain West, Utah almost always finished second (to BYU) in the recruiting rankings.
In his first offseason in the Pac-12, Whittingham had his best recruiting class ever. It ranked 45th nationally and the average player in the class had 2.95 stars. They may only be seventh in the Pac-12, but it is a good start.
If Utah wants to be a major player in the Pac-12, Whittingham will have to continue to improve his recruiting. This season he won in-conference battles to sign recruits like WR Quinton Pedroza and RB Harvey Langi.
I see Whittingham climbing this list in the next few seasons. If he can win some games and continue to improve, Utah might gain a lot of notoriety as a big-time Pac-12 player.
In 2005 and 2006, Mike Stoops had top 20 recruiting classes. Since then he has not been quite as lucky. Now that most of those players have graduated, recent sub-par recruiting might begin to hurt the Wildcats.
This season Stoops did not manage to recruit a single player rated as a 4-star or better. That is a bad thing because Arizona lost 20 seniors this last season, including four of five offensive linemen.
In 2011, Arizona had the worst-rated class in the Pac-12, and it ranked 69th nationally. Stoops better hope he found a few diamonds in the rough in this class because, as of right now, it is less than impressive.
Erickson just brought in his worst class of his tenure at Arizona State, although his 2011 class is very deceiving. It is rated 68th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12, mostly due to only signing 15 players. But those 15 players have an average star rating of 2.80, good enough for eighth in the Pac-12.
Although Erickson’s recruiting class rankings have never been impressive at Arizona State, he has managed to sign a few gems along the way. In 2009 he signed LB Vontaze Burfict and DT Corey Adams, two stars on defense that were 5-star recruits coming out of high school.
When Erickson wins games, he tends to get big recruiting classes. So if Erickson wants to have a big class in 2012, he needs to have a big season in 2011. It may be vital to the future of the program and to his career.
Sarkisian’s past two classes at Washington have been amazing. In 2010 his classed ranked 11th in the nation and this last class ranked 23rd in the nation. This recent recruiting success is the main reason why many people think that Washington is a program on the rise.
Having just lost star QB Jake Locker to the NFL Draft, this season is a great chance to prove that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12.
Sarkisian has improved his average recruits' rating every season thus far. If he can continue this trend over the next four years, Washington may start to challenge Oregon and USC for the best recruits in the Pac-12.
Since 2005 Tedford has never averaged worse than three stars per recruit. He has also had a national recruiting ranking of 34th or better every season since 2003.
This last season shows how well Tedford can recruit, even despite his team’s 5-7 season. His 2011 class is ranked 14th nationally and third in the Pac-12. He brought in eight 4-star recruits and a 5-star recruit as well.
After Cal’s first losing season under Tedford, they need to bounce back in the inaugural year of the Pac-12. Luckily for them, Tedford has consistently recruited more than enough talent to make Cal football relevant again.
Under Chip Kelly, Oregon has arguably had the best two recruiting classes in school history in 2010 and 2011. Classes like these are what is transforming Oregon into one of the best programs in college football.
The most recent Oregon class ranks ninth nationally, second in the Pac-12, with an average recruit rating of 3.54 stars. It is obvious that Kelly understands the importance of recruiting.
It is scary how good Kelly and Oregon can be when it comes to recruiting. They have so many aspects of their program that they can sell to recruits. Whether it is their exciting offense, Nike sponsorship or the Autzen Zoo, there are numerous reasons why a young player would love to go to play for the Ducks.
Despite UCLA only having the 54th best recruiting in the nation in 2011, it's hard to argue that Neuheisel isn’t a great recruiter. In his previous three classes at UCLA, Neuheisel has brought in three top 10 classes.
In 2009, Neuheisel made UCLA the only Pac-10/12 team to have a higher rated recruiting class than USC since 2002. In 2011 he may not have had the best overall class, but he did get highly sought-after quarterback Brett Hundley to commit to UCLA.
I find it baffling how Neuheisel cannot win with such amazing talent on his team. He better start winning ball games now or UCLA will be forced to fire him from his beloved alma mater.
Love him or hate him, Kiffin can recruit. In his three years as a head coach in college, Kiffin has never had a recruiting class worse than eighth in the nation.
In 2010 Kiffin had his best class of his coaching career. It ranked fifth nationally, first in the Pac-10 and his average recruit was 4.15 stars. USC, under Kiffin, has just dominated West Coast recruiting.
The most amazing thing about Kiffin’s 2011 class is that he recruited such a great class despite the sanctions his program received from the NCAA. Sanctions like the loss of scholarships and a postseason ban for two years.
It has got to be hard to sell your program to a young recruit when you have so much controversy surrounding your program. Somehow, like always, Kiffin got the job the done. That is why he is the best recruiter in the Pac-12, if not all of college football.