I’d like to thank Coach Rodriguez for allowing us to pick him apart in our initial assessment of the state of Arizona football. He’s a quality fella. And while I believe it was the right call to begin the conversation with the man at the top, the head coach is but one of many aspects which determine the overall quality of a program. So where should we go from here?
In my mind it would be prudent to build upon the ongoing discussing of what many consider to be the backbone of any program – recruiting. While securing highly-ranked classes will not guarantee results, it is generally considered to be an accurate barometer of the direction of your program and an indication of your future success. Consistently elite programs attract top talent and effectively translate it into a winning product on the field.
Consider Alabama, that frustratingly dependable juggernaut who keeps SEC coaches up at night. Benjamin Franklin once said that three things in life were certain: death, taxes, and quality Alabama football. OK, the third item may or may not have been an addition of my own, but we’re unfortunately getting to the point of plausibility.
According to 247sports, the Crimson Tide have had the No. 1 recruiting class every year for the last six years. That is such an astonishing figure that it’s hard to imagine them not winning since pretty much every time the players take the field they are bigger, stronger, and faster than their opponent. And while I have no intention of taking credit from Nick Saban and co. for their coaching prowess (which is undoubtedly elite), for our purposes today it’s worth mentioning that his silver tongue is winning championships years ahead of time in the living rooms of high schoolers.
So yeah, recruiting is kind of a big deal. And if you have been following along, you know this is a particularly exciting time for Arizona fans. The 2017 class is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation (the highest of any Pac-12 school), which would easily end up being the best in the last decade:
- 2008: 30
- 2009: 54
- 2010: 48
- 2011: 48
- 2012: 41
- 2013: 44
- 2014: 30
- 2015: 43
- 2016: 44
- 2017: 17
So why the sudden leap? While recruiting is an inexact science, we can identify a few things that seem to be having a positive effect on the allure of spending your college years in the desert.
The first of which is the off-season shake-up of the coaching staff, in particular the additions of Marcel Yates and Donte’ Williams. Rich Rod publicly alluded to the fact that the coaching changes were largely attributable to Jeff Casteel’s inability to pull in the type of defensive recruits needed to be successful in a Power Five conference. Early indications suggest the changes were the right call (247sports ranks Williams as the 4th best recruiter in the Pac-12).
Speaking of Williams, he was the primary recruiter of Greg Johnson, the No. 1 ranked athlete in the country, who currently headlines the Wildcats’ 2017 class. Johnson grew up a few blocks away from USC and was long considered to be a slam-dunk Trojan (which he admittedly may still end up being), but Mr. Williams and the Wildcats swooped in and secured his commitment in early March. This raised some eyebrows and likely had an effect on the rest of the class; if you're able land a few big commitments early, it has a tendency to snowball as more and more players see it as a chance to be part of something special.
While it’s understandable to get excited, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a few caveats. These rankings are in constant flux and it’s probable that from this point forward Arizona will fall (they were ranked 14th just a few weeks ago). U of A already has 24 commitments, more than any other team ranked in the top 50. As other schools acquire more players, some will leapfrog Arizona in the rankings. Also, these "commitments" are essentially non-binding oral agreements from which players can walk away at any time until National Signing Day next February, so it would be prudent to maintain a healthy level of skepticism throughout this long, unpredictable process (just like you hopefully never fully allowed yourself believe that Terrance Ferguson would make it to campus).
But don’t hold yourself back either – the coaching staff currently has four of the top nine recruiters in the conference, and early indications are that the state of Arizona Wildcats recruiting is very much on the upswing. It will likely be a few years before it has any effect on the win-loss record, but a few more top-20 classes will give the Wildcats an excellent shot of becoming a force in the Pac-12 South.
The arrow is pointing up.