Pac-12 recruiting: As signing day approaches, conference struggles to overcome coaching chaos



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

One month from college football's early signing window, which quickly has become the primary signing window, the Pac-12's coaching chaos is exacting a massive toll on recruiting efforts.

Three teams are currently without head coaches (USC, Washington and Washington State); a fourth potentially could cut ties with its coach next month (UCLA); and a fifth coaching staff is under NCAA investigation (Arizona State).

As a result, the conference is facing the increasing possibility of its worst recruiting season in eons.

Prospects who decline to sign letters of intent during the early window, Dec. 15-17, have a second option, in early February.

"It doesn't look good," 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman, who's based in Washington.

Only two Pac-12 teams currently rank among the top 25 nationally in the 247Sports database: No. 9 Oregon, of course, and No. 15 Stanford, which has lined up its best class in years.

Nobody else is close to making the top-25 cut.

Meanwhile, the SEC has nine teams in the 247Sports top 25.

"I can't remember the last time this has happened to the Pac-12," added Greg Biggins, a Southern California-based analyst for 247Sports.

It happened last year, but COVID restrictions at the state and local levels played a major role.

The last time the Pac-12 produced just two top-25 recruiting classes in a non-pandemic year? Actually, we don't know.

The Hotline scoured the 247Sports database dating to its inception in 1999 and found no instances in which the Pac-12 had fewer than three programs in the final top 25. Often, there were four or five.

It's not difficult to explain the current downturn: Many of the programs best positioned to produce elite recruiting classes — because of their tradition, resources or location — are the very programs mired in uncertainty.

That list starts with USC, which fired Clay Helton in September. But Washington, UCLA and ASU are perfectly capable of compiling high-end classes when they have success on the field and clarity with the coaching.

All credit to the likes of Oregon State, Colorado and Utah for their stability during the 2021-22 recruiting cycle. But that's like the Big Ten leaning on Purdue and Iowa to lead the charge on the recruiting trail. Or the SEC asking South Carolina and Arkansas to carry the load.

If there are hot or vacant seats in Los Angeles and Seattle, the Pac-12's potential for collective success is limited.

That situation could change if USC and Washington make the right hires, if ASU avoids the NCAA's hammer and if Chip Kelly's situation in Westwood solidifies.

But without positive outcomes, the 2021-22 recruiting cycle could, like the regular season itself, become memorable for all the wrong reasons.

"A lot of players are leaving the Pac-12 footprint," Huffman said. "We've seen it. We've talked about it. The conference is bleeding because, top to bottom, it's kind of a cluster right now."

The evidence:

— Only five Pac-12 teams have compiled top-50 classes: No. 9 Oregon, No. 15 Stanford, No. 37 UCLA, No. 39 Arizona and No. 42 Colorado.

Meanwhile, all 14 teams in the SEC claim top-50 classes. The Big Ten has 12, the ACC has nine, and the Big 12 has six.

— The Pac-12 has one commitment from a five-star prospect: offensive tackle Kelvin Banks, who's headed to Oregon.

By comparison, 11 five-star recruits are headed to SEC teams.

— The Pac-12 has secured commitments from just two of the top 10 prospects in California — the same total as Notre Dame.

Both are bound for Oregon: receiver Tetairoa McMillan and cornerback Jalil Tucker.

The Trojans had the state's No. 1 player in their grasp, cornerback Domani Jackson, but he recently de-committed and is strongly considering Alabama.

— Only one of the nation's top 25 linemen (offensive and defensive) has committed to the Pac-12: Oregon's Banks, who's from Texas.

The top lineman within the conference footprint, offensive tackle Josh Conerly, from Seattle, is considering both Washington and Michigan.

But Conerly's situation isn't the problem so much as a symptom. Once again, there's a distinct paucity of elite linemen this side of the Rockies.

Only three of the top 25 offensive linemen in the 247Sports national database, and just four of the top 25 defensive linemen, are from the Pac-12 footprint.

"It's not even a trend anymore," Biggins said. "It's just what it is."


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.


Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Jon Wilner

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