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BYU: The 10 best recruits that got away. Did they matter?

By John Ahlander, Contributor   |  Posted Feb 1st, 2012 @ 1:59pm



PROVO -- It is Wednesday, February 1, National Signing Day for high school football players. BYU fans will inevitably laud the recruits the Cougars land and lament the recruits they miss on -- especially the "big-time" recruits with 4 or 5 stars.

In the last 10 years, BYU football has offered scholarships to 29 recruits rated 4 or 5 stars by both and While 11 of those recruits chose BYU, 18 chose other schools. Where did they go and how did they do?

4 & 5 star recruits lost to:

USC- 5
Oregon- 3
Utah- 2
8 schools- 1

If you follow recruiting, it won't come as a surprise that BYU has lost more top recruits to USC and Oregon than any other school, starting the trend with Haloti Ngata's stunner on signing day in 2002. It's interesting to note that during this time span, BYU landed 11 big recruits, but only lost 2 to rival Utah.

So, how did these "missed" recruits do? Here are the top 10 recruits BYU missed out on in the last 10 years, and what they've done in their careers. I've excluded recent recruits that don't have at least a couple years of college complete.

Top 10 recruits BYU missed out on in the last 10 years

Year Pos. Name Avg. Stars College Career Notes
2002 DE Jonathan Mapu 5 Tennessee Part-time starter as Senior
2002 DT Haloti Ngata 5 Oregon All-American, NFL Pro-Bowler
2004 OL Taitusi Lutui 5 USC All-American, NFL starter
2004 LB Ryan Powdrell 5 USC Part-time starter, NFL free agent
2005 TE Anthony Moeaki 4.5 Iowa All conference, NFL draftee
2005 WR Marquis Wilson 4 Utah Part-time starter, suspended multiple times
2006 RB Stanley Havili 4 USC All-conference, NFL draftee
2006 DB Justin Tryon 4 Arizona State All-conference, NFL draftee
2006 OL Fenuki Tupou 4 Oregon All-conference, NFL draftee
2008 LB Uona Kavienga 4 USC Backup at USC, starter at BYU
2009 LB Manti Te'o 5 Notre Dame Starter, predicted future NFL draftee

A couple things stand out here. First, if Rivals and Scout both rate a player 4+ stars, there is a very high likelihood of that player making it to the NFL.

Second, BYU is no longer the destination of choice for top-flight polynesian high school players. The "polynesian pipeline" that BYU enjoyed in the 80s and 90s has found outlets at many other schools. Oregon and USC have made concerted efforts to woo the best polynesian players to their campuses. Having the ocean within minutes of their campus certainly didn't hurt their cause.

Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott (28) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata (92) and linebacker Jarret Johnson (95). (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

If BYU had landed all these players, would it have made a difference? No doubt. Haloti Ngata was the biggest miss in the last 10 years. He was an absolute one-man wrecking crew in college and continues that in the NFL today. There's no question that having Ngata on the defensive line in the early 2000s would have improved BYU's defense. Do you know who BYU's defensive tackles were in 2004? Exactly. Gary Crowton may still be coaching at BYU today. OK, let's not go that far. With Lutui and Tupou both on the offensive line together in 2006, the two close losses to Arizona and Boston College may have gone the other way, and we'd be talking about BYU's BCS bowl game run.

Having an NFL-bound player always makes a difference. Why didn't they choose BYU? Certainly, the allure of big-time college football programs like USC and Oregon played a part, but it's interesting to note that of the LDS recruits shown above that were drafted in the NFL, none of them chose to serve an LDS mission. Maybe they felt BYU wasn't the right place for them, if they didn't plan to serve a mission.

The reality is that BYU, or any other team, will never sign all the recruits they offer scholarships to. However, BYU has an amazing "win rate" for the recruits they targeted. As mentioned earlier, BYU signed 11 of 29 "4+ stars" recruits they offered, for a win rate of 38%. Compare that with Utah, which offered 26 "4+ star" recruits in just one recruiting year (2011). They signed 2 of them.

Star rankings are far from accurate, but there is much better chance for success with bigger recruits, and if BYU hopes to ever make it to a BCS bowl game, it will need to land a few more 4 & 5 star recruits.

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