Well, this is awkward.
When Kevin Sumlin was hired a little less than two years ago, he had a reputation that preceded him. It wasn’t one of being a master tactician, but instead he was billed as a superior recruiter.
The believe was that while he likely would not be able to recruit at the level he did while leading Texas A&M, his arrival would lead to a bump in what the Arizona Wildcats are used to.
His first recruiting class ranked 61st overall and 11th in the Pac-12, according to 247Sports, though that could be excused given Sumlin’s late hire date.
His second class, 2019, was 55th in the nation and again 11th in the conference. There are certainly some bright spots within it, but it was still not what anyone was expecting from the coach who brought us the “Swagcopter.”
As for the 2020 class, with the early signing period having come to a close Arizona ranks 70th in the nation and, you may have guessed it, 11th in the Pac-12.
Now, a number of last season’s recruits have shown promise, and it’s important to note that every recruiting class has guys that are hilariously under-ranked and coaching staffs — including this one — have found some gems. Along with that, there are still more players left to sign this go-round and the addition of grad transfer Brendan Schooler is a very good thing.
But the fact remains what was supposedly Sumlin’s greatest attribute has yet to manifest itself in a way that substantially helps the Wildcats.
Likely not helping matters this offseason was the drawn out search for a defensive coordinator, with the team likely losing out in some recruiting battles due to players because of it. Now, it was imperative that Sumlin make the right hire no matter what, and Paul Rhoads is about as solid a coach as could have been hoped for, but it’s a real shame the process could not have moved along any quicker.
So, unless Arizona manages to lure all of the best remaining talent to Tucson, odds are this recruiting class is not going to finish up high in the rankings.
Of course, rankings are not the end all and don’t be surprised when some of this year’s lower-ranked recruits end up outperforming their ranking.
Yet, whether you feel like Sumlin and Co. are capable of getting the job done or not, the fact of the matter is it will have to start not only with their ability to evaluate talent, but also their coaching.
Until Arizona starts winning, the best players are not likely to commit, and it’s tough to start winning until they do. With that as the backdrop, the question then becomes whether or not the team has enough talent to turn things around, and you know what? It just might.
The most important position on the field, quarterback, features promising sophomore Grant Gunnell. He acquitted himself well as a true freshman and it’s reasonable to think he will be even better as a sophomore. The rest of the QB room is talented, if not proven, especially with the addition of Will Plummer.
The running back room will once again be loaded, even without the departing J.J. Taylor, and the team will have no shortage of talent at receiver. Assuming the offensive line can stay healthy, it should at least be solid, too.
In fact, we all know the offense, which is not seeing any changes on the coaching staff, should be the least of the team’s problems next season. No, it’s the defense that will need to improve, and the first step toward doing exactly that may have been the addition of Rhoads, whose pedigree is pretty impressive.
None of that will matter if the talent is not there and again, the delay in Rhoads’ hire along with the team’s struggles may have prevented more from coming.
It helps that there isn’t much room to go anywhere but up, with Arizona allowing a conference-worst 35.3 points per game last season and collecting league lows in sacks (15) and fumble recoveries (3). Oh, and they surrendered 179.8 rushing yards per game, which was also worst in the Pac-12.
Much of the group that produced those numbers will return, which can be good or bad depending on your perspective. Maybe reinforcements will arrive courtesy of this recruiting class, which is not yet finished.
Will the addition of Rhoads give Sumlin the boost he needs on the recruiting trail? You know, the extra oomph that was not supposed to be necessary but appears to be?
It should, though there’s only so much that can be done at this point in the recruiting cycle.
As it stands, what was supposed to be Sumlin’s strength has not brought the recruiting stars to Tucson, meaning there will be only one thing left for the head coach and his staff to do if things are to improve in 2020: