Pac-12: Winners and losers from the 2020 recruiting cycle
With the second Signing Day now complete, it’s time to take stock of how each individual Power Five Conference fared in the 2020 class. Here’s an in-depth look at the Pac-12.
The last time Oregon won a Pac-12 team recruiting title was 2004 and now the Ducks have done it in back-to-back years in 2019 and 2020. And in convincing fashion. Mario Cristobal and his staff have come to the conference and owned recruiting in a big way and it’s already paid off with a Rose Bowl victory this season as Oregon was on the cusp of a run to the College Football Playoff. The 2020 class is loaded, especially at linebacker with five-star hard-hitters Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell. Four-star defensive back Dontae Manning was a late addition that showed the Ducks have national reach. Oregon was the only Pac-12 team to have more than one five-star signee and it’s clearly separating itself from other conference contenders on the recruiting trail.
Alabama came into California for the state’s top player in five-star quarterback Bryce Young. Clemson returned for another five-star after getting wide receiver Joe Ngata in 2019 for five-star quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei in the 2020 class. Georgia hit Central California for five-star running back Kendall Milton, Arizona for five-star cornerback Kelee Ringo and Las Vegas for five-star tight end Darnell Washington. Texas dipped back into Arizona for five-star all-purpose back Bijan Robinson.
That is just a sampling of the talent leaving the West and leaving the Pac-12 and there’s a very good chance it’s going to have negative effects down the road. The entire conference had just three five-star signees and Stanford’s Myles Hinton came from Atlanta. In comparison, there were eight teams in the SEC that had five-star signees. The talent gap is widening and that’s a problem for the Pac-12.
There has been a healthy amount of talk surrounding Oregon’s impressive recruiting class and the job new Washington coach Jimmy Lake did polishing up the Huskies’ class among other conference topics, but not many people are discussing Stanford’s class enough. Hinton leads the way as the lone five-star, but David Shaw and his staff also signed eight four-star recruits. Emmitt Smith’s son, EJ, defensive back Ayden Hector, wide receiver John Humphreys and many others are Stanford-bound. For a team that had its worst season since 2007 at 4-8, the Cardinal rebounded on the recruiting trail and finished with the second-best class in the Pac-12.
The Arizona State Model
Herm Edwards has re-energized the Arizona State program and one way he’s accomplished that is by putting together a phenomenal coaching staff around him filled with former NFL players and coaches. That has been a big selling point on the recruiting trail and it has resonated with a lot of top talent as the Sun Devils closed incredibly well on the offensive side of the ball with four-star receiver Lavon Bunkley-Shelton, by flipping four-star receiver Johnny Wilson from Oregon, by getting four-star back Daniyel Ngata, who is drawing some Eno Benjamin comparisons, and by getting his Folsom, Calif., teammate Elijhah Badger among others. Edwards’ play and style is working in Tempe and it helped ASU to a fourth-place finish, tied for its best class since 2014.
Utah's Late Surge
Throughout nearly the entire recruiting cycle, Utah languished near the bottom of the Pac-12 team recruiting rankings with only a handful of commits. Entering their season, the Utes had just four commits.
But then November hit and it was incredibly busy for the program and not only did the Utes land commitments, they were getting pledges from elite players in the state and elsewhere. From Nov. 23 on, Utah added 17 prospects to its class, including flipping high four-star cornerback Clark Phillips, getting top-notch in-state defensive linemen Xavier Carlton and Van Fillinger and in-state four-star defensive back Nate Ritchie, who has star potential. It was quiet for so long, but Kyle Whittingham and his staff struck late and hit it big.
It’s almost difficult to put into perspective USC’s recruiting class, the program's worst one by far in Rivals history dating back to 2002. The Trojans finished dead-last in the Pac-12 team recruiting rankings. They signed no five-stars and only two four-stars in receiver Gary Bryant and offensive lineman Jonah Monheim. Maybe even more worrisome was that a lot of the elite talent in California and in the region wasn’t even talking about USC late in the recruiting process.
Nationally, USC finished No. 65 sandwiched between East Carolina and FAU. The good news? The Trojans already have four 2021 commitments including three four-stars, more than their entire total for the 2020 class.
Programs Chasing Five-Stars
There were 34 five-stars in the 2020 class with nine of them coming from the West region if Elias Ricks is counted since he is from California and played all but one year of high school ball at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, and only three of those players ended up in the Pac-12. Oregon got Flowe and Sewell and Stanford landed Hinton. Other than that, the conference teams weren’t even really involved in the recruitment of many of them and USC lost the pledge of Young, who flipped to Alabama. To make the conference more relevant and to get a team back in the College Football Playoff, more high-level players need to sign with Pac-12 schools. It really might be that simple.
One reason Kevin Sumlin was brought to Arizona was because he had a reputation as an excellent recruiter, especially in the state of Texas but this class can only be considered a disappointment. The Wildcats were the Pac-12’s only team without one four-star signee and they finished second-to-last in the conference rankings.
A continued issue is in-state recruiting where the Wildcats did not land any of the top 18 players in the state, including defensive end Jason Harris, whose brother plays on the team. It was a struggle and it needs to be reversed quickly since Sumlin is 9-15 in two seasons.