Kevin Sumlin is compiling his first true recruiting class for the Arizona Wildcats, and so far he has secured four commitments. The class is currently ranked 66th in the nation, and seventh in the Pac-12.
For many, aside from four-star quarterback Grant Gunnell, this class looks underwhelming and that’s extremely fair.
Even with Gunnell, some might not be as impressed as they once were. He was ranked No. 47 in the nation a few months ago, he now sits at 134th in the nation and the sixth-best pro-style quarterback. He had a poor showing at the Elite 11, which was largely due to a knee injury that he had been dealing with.
Still, Gunnell remains one of the top quarterbacks in the class in a very down year for quarterbacks, making it a solid win for Arizona. On top of that, his commitment opens up the floodgates for top-tier Texas recruits.
But the remaining commits are understandably not generating much excitement, especially considering the lofty recruiting expectations that Sumlin comes with given his track record at A&M.
So now on to Michael Wiley, a three-star running back out of Houston. This is a commitment that I was very disappointed with. There’s not too much upside on film that makes you think that Arizona can’t do better. However, he can catch out of the backfield, a specialty in Mazzone’s offense.
Kyle Ostendorp is a two-star prospect out of Desert Vista High School who jumped on his first offer, which was from Arizona. I applaud Sumlin and the staff for at least addressing the special teams issue, something Rich Rodriguez took for granted when he had Casey Skowron and Drew Riggleman.
But I can’t help but think that Arizona could have waited on Ostendorp, and still pursued Highland (Gilbert, AZ) punter Austin McNamara, the No. 1 punter in the nation, according to 247Sports composite rankings, and No. 2 by Chris Sailer. Ostendorp ranks 66th in Chris Sailers’ books. McNamara’s other offers are Arizona State and Missouri, along with a preferred walk-on offer to Nebraska.
With that group, you would have liked Arizona’s chances to get one of the best kickers in the nation.
Then comes Jordan Morgan, a hometown three-star offensive lineman with offers to NAU and South Dakota State. This is probably a head-scratching commitment for most, but it’s one I can fully get behind.
At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Morgan is really lean and athletic. He didn’t have much film as a junior, but is now projected to start as a senior. He seems like a late blooming project that has a lot of upside.
The offensive line is easily Arizona’s worst position group right now. So the initial reaction would be to say that Arizona can’t afford to be taking in projects, and needs someone ready to go. But realistically, an offensive lineman isn’t going to be playing for the first year or two, maybe three.
Coming from Southern Arizona it’s hard to get noticed to begin with, but I think Morgan has a fairly high ceiling and will begin to get some stronger offers — like from Boise State, Utah, Washington State — once the season rolls around.
Arizona has already lost a commitment in this cycle too, as three-star corner Logan Wilson suddenly decommitted from the program, despite recently helping the recruiting efforts for Texas based players.
He will still consider Arizona, but wants to open up his process to see what else is out there. Wilson would shape up to be one of my favorite recruits of the class, no matter how it finishes, and corner is a position of need, making it a big loss for now.
Kevin Sumlin’s recruiting expectations coming in
Overall, the way the class looks now, it’s going to take a lot of development to get this class going — not necessarily what you would have expected from Sumlin. I feel like most fans automatically expect top-30 recruiting classes, a handful of four-stars and guys ready to go as true freshmen.
His staff was offering some big time, top 600 recruits on a regular basis. While there would be more misses because of this approach, it seemed as if the recruiting floor would be much higher under Sumlin.
Now we’re starting to get into my recruiting ranking philosophy, where I try to look past a lot of it outside the top 800 recruits or so. After that, it just starts to get arbitrary, and the recruiting class rankings are mainly driven by quantity and not necessarily quality. There are also just so many recruits to watch across the country, that a guy can go from unranked to three-star prospect ranked inside the top 1500 in a matter of minutes.
Rich Rodriguez’ recruits
This now leads into my thoughts about Rich Rodriguez’ recruiting. Rodriguez took a lot of heat for the level at which he recruited. Realistically, it was his inability to recruit positions adequately, maintain depth, and develop his players.
You can point at the recruiting rankings that pegged his classes around 40th just about every year. But the ones that actually stuck with the program and ended up contributing, were not top 1000 recruits with Power Five offers.
Will Parks ranked outside the top 1300 with offers to Buffalo, UConn, Pitt and Temple. Everyone points to Scooby Wright as the two-star poster child with no Power Five offers. Nate Phillips had Air Force, North Dakota and NAU on his tail as a top 1100 recruit. Jacob Alsadek was outside the top 1000 with ASU, Colorado and Oregon State.
The 2014 class was ranked 31st, and it was actually loaded with highly ranked recruits, and while a lot of them didn’t pan out, the ones who actually became big time contributors like those mentioned above, were inside the top 1000.
Heading into 2016, Justin Belknap was a walk-on, who has now become a legitimate starter. Nathan Eldridge, ranked 1201st, had Air Force and NAU offers. Dane Cruikshank, a junior college transfer had BYU, Iowa State Utah and Utah State
The 2017 class has already proven to be his strongest class, ranked 45th in the nation, and 10th in the Pac-12. While a lot of these members were ranked inside the 1000, they didn’t came away with a loaded offer sheet.
Colin Schooler was a top-500 recruit, but only had Buffalo, College of Charleston, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico and UNLV knocking on his door. Tony Fields had Boise State, BYU, Cal, Illinois and Missouri offers. Bryce Wolma’s only Power Five offer was Northwestern. And of course another two-star Scoob type guy is Kylan Wilborn, ranked 1342nd in the nation with Hawaii and Idaho offers.
Kevin Sumlin’s to-do list
I don’t think it’s fair to panic just about Sumlin’s initial recruiting class. For now, I’ll reserve judgement as a whole until I actually see that this doesn’t work out.
But what’s important to remember is his recruiting and development success at A&M. He was surrounded by five-star caliber talent and NFL Draft picks, playing in the SEC. I trust that he knows all of the right attributes in a player that he wants to build up. Also, I trust his staff more than I do the previous staff to coach and develop players.
There are plenty of programs who do more with less in recruiting. You think of programs like Boise State, Cal, FAU, UCF, Washington State, Western Michigan and Wisconsin, who don’t pull in top 35 classes reguarly, most of which are outside the top 50, but have the right guys leading, motivating and developing their talent internally.
Rodriguez failed to do that at Arizona and still managed to pull off five winning seasons, albeit the weak non-conference certainly helped quite a bit. If Sumlin can just develop his talent and build depth, Arizona is already in a much better spot.
In three Crystal Ball predictions, Arizona is projected to land inside linebacker Derrion Clark, receiver Don Champan and corner Devyn Butler. All are low-end three-star prospects. Butler is a head-scratching recruit, one I don’t think is Power Five material. The others seem to have a solid base.
But there are still a handful of high-end three-stars that seem to be on the radar for Sumlin, and he will have to start to focus higher in the rankings to please the fans and continue to build on this #EraZona movement in Tucson.