We’re now almost three weeks past the beginning of the early signing period, and over the last few weeks most of the few remaining uncommitted major recruits have at least made a commitment and probably signed their letter of intent. Excepting a few commits who probably aren’t destined for a Pac-12 school, 2020 recruiting classes for Pac-12 programs are largely done.
Which means enough time has passed that this non-expert who would prefer not to have to talk about recruiting can now talk about recruiting, which is more or less mandatory because it’s probably the single most important aspect of building a winning football program.
If you’ve ever read any of my previous articles on recruiting over the years, you probably know the following guidelines:
- I’m not a scout. I have reviewed zero seconds of tape. I’m very confident that if I tried, I’d be bad at it.
- I trust recruiting rankings. They are obviously not perfect, for a variety of obvious reasons, but recruiting is significantly more scientific, unbiased, comprehensive, and predictive than ever before, with significant consequences for the entire sport (more on that below). Recruiting rankings aren’t 100% predictive of team success, but they do establish a range of probable outcomes.
So, with those two items out of the way, let’s dive into the rankings:
As always, all of the data below comes from the 247 composite, which averages the recruiting rankings from Rivals, ESPN, and 247.
You might recall that Cal was rankings as high as 6th (and, in fact, is still 6th in the Rivals rankings). The shift came from Utah and especially ASU adding some high value signings a bit after the beginning of the early signing period. But what is less important than Cal’s ordinal rank is the points ranking - UCLA, Colorado, Utah, and Cal are virtually tied and there is little to distinguish 5th place from 8th place. It’s also worth noting that while UW and Oregon (and, to a lesser extent, Stanford) are still out-recruiting the rest of the conference, the middle class of the Pac-12 caught up a little bit this year, and Cal is part of that middle class.
Various points about 2020 recruiting:
A bizarre year for California recruiting - is this a fluke or part of a long term shift?
A major theme this year was high end recruits leaving the state of California. Our home state produced 30 four and five star recruits, and just FOUR of them signed with an in-state school. The beneficiaries of this shift? Oregon, Washington, Arizona State, and perhaps most of all - the recruiting behemoths that are tightening their grip on college football.
Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, and Clemson pulled 7 total high end CA recruits, including half of the top 10. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington pulled in 4 and 3 themselves.
Obviously, the big story here is the worst USC recruiting class in I don’t know how long. Somebody was going to take advantage, but perhaps it’s a small surprise that Cal and UCLA didn’t really get any attention from the 4 and 5 star guys who weren’t willing to consider a probably-lame-duck coaching staff.
Cal takes a large class, with fewer reach recruits
The “3-star-U” jokes are amusing, but obscure something important - there’s a big difference between a three star player ranked 375th in the country and a 3 star player ranked outside of the top 1,000. While Cal struggled (or didn’t even attempt to compete for) some of the higher end talent available, what they did do was quickly and decisively identify and secure high 3 star recruits, and hold onto them when programs that were initially aiming higher came calling. And while that’s not exactly sexy or headline grabbing, it’s a good way to build a high floor program.
The other key aspect of this class is its size. 26 recruits is a lot, the most in the Pac-12, and the most Cal has taken in since the 2016 recruiting class brought in 28. And that class is an interesting example of the value in numbers. On one hand, that 2016 class was a case study in how recruiting classes can under deliver. Of the top nine recruits from that class, seven ended up transferring at one time or another. But those who stayed ended up as the backbone of the early Wilcox years - Traveon Beck, Cam Bynum, Jake Curhan, Evan Weaver, Tevin Paul, Cam Goode, Jordan Kunaszyk . . . wow, quite a defensive recruiting class signed by Sonny Dykes.
As is always the case, it’s impossible-but-fun to try to analyze a recruiting class right when they’ve signed, because you don’t have a clue which players will actually be in Berkeley 4-5 years later, let alone how they will develop as football players.
A recruiting class that addresses problem skill sets
If you asked me to pick out consistent missing skill sets from Cal’s roster under Wilcox, I’d say the following:
- Serious size on the defensive line
- Attracting and retaining speed and athleticism at offensive skill positions
That 2nd item was addressed a bit last year with the additions of Kekoa Crawford, Makai Polk, and Trevon Clark, though Cal had to go to the Juco/transfer route, which was short term necessary but long term less ideal because you don’t have those players for a full 4 years.
Well, Cal managed to address both gaps this year, first by securing Ricky Correia, Ethan Saunders, Jaedon Roberts, and Stanley McKenzie at DT, then by getting D.J. Rogers, Jeremiah Hunter, Chris Street, and Justin Baker, among other potential long term targets in the passing game.
A word on the nationalization of recruiting
The 3rd best team in the country went undefeated with an average margin of victory of 36 points. The nationalization and accuracy of recruiting has led to an unprecedented concentration of talent and success at just a few schools. We’re in a historic era of non-parity— Nicolas Kranz (@NorCalNickCGB) December 8, 2019
Both this year and generally over the last few years, a small handful of teams have utterly dominated recruiting. You will be hard pressed to find a year in which Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, and Clemson are not all in the top 10, probably top 5, with an insane ratio of 4/5 stars to non-4/5 star recruits.
And there’s a reason that LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Alabama combined to lose just three games this season that weren’t against each other, and that two of those losses were insane bad-luck fluke-fest games. Quite frankly, the elite of college football aren’t touchable by the non-elite.
And that’s because, with each year, recruiting is getting more and more national, with fewer players not getting scouted and falling through the cracks, and with fewer players unwilling to leave home to play for the very best teams around the country. It’s true that college football has always been a sport of haves and have-nots, but I don’t think that the gap between the two has ever been quite so wide.
And while the Pac-12 has been a bit left behind by this trend, there’s a part of me that’s thankful for that. While I don’t harbor any delusions of national title contention for our Bears, it’s nice to not have an unbeatable juggernaut in the conference. Thankfully, USC’s internal incompetence has rendered them unable to take advantage of the rising tide of inequity in the sport, and so the Bears are left chasing teams like Oregon and Washington, who typically land recruiting classes ranked in the teens rather than the top 5. Cal can realistically imagine beating the most talented teams in the conference (it’s easy to ‘imagine’ something that you’ve done multiple times in the last few years) while peer programs in the SEC, ACC, and Big-10 can’t.
Does it sometimes get annoying to play in a conference that flies under the national radar? Sure. But I’m more than willing to accept that trade because it means a conference with some semblance of balance, week-to-week excitement, and genuine competition.