Pac-12 recruiting: Arizona's surprising success rooted in energy, stability and the sale of 'hope'

The Pac-12 logo is displayed on the field at Sun Devil Stadium during an NCAA college football game between Arizona State and Kent State in Tempe, Ariz.

The Pac-12 logo is displayed on the field at Sun Devil Stadium during an NCAA college football game between Arizona State and Kent State in Tempe, Ariz. (Ralph Freso, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

Two weeks from the early-signing window, disruption lurks within the Pac-12 hierarchy.

The team at the bottom of the division standings is not in last place in the recruiting rankings.

The team that was repeatedly blown off the playing field is more than holding its own on the recruiting trail.

The one-win team has two four-star commitments.

"I think Arizona has surprised everybody," said Brandon Huffman, a national recruiting editor for 247Sports. "They are selling hope."

The recruits, it appears, are buying.

These will be two long weeks for first-year coach Jedd Fisch and his staff as the Dec. 15-17 signing period approaches. He must retain the committed prospects who are coveted by others, build on the progress made and sort through the dizzying options in the transfer portal — all of it against the backdrop of the worst full-season record (1-11) in program history.

They lost to NAU for the first time in nine decades and to Arizona State for the fifth consecutive season.

If not for COVID walloping Cal's roster, the Wildcats likely would have finished 0-12 with the longest losing streak in major college football.

And yet here they are, surprisingly, remarkably, poised to disrupt the natural order.

Oregon sits atop the current Pac-12 recruiting rankings, according to the 247Sports database, followed by Stanford and UCLA.

And then, in fourth place (and No. 39 nationally), is Arizona.

Among the 15 committed recruits are four-star tight end Keyan Burnett, who originally pledged to USC, and four-star linebacker Sterling Lane. But the strength of the class relative to Pac-12 competition lies in the quantity of prospects corralled.

Maintaining the No. 4 position won't be easy now that USC has hired Lincoln Riley, but the Wildcats are on pace for their best performance on the recruiting trail in years.

They haven't ranked higher than ninth in the Pac-12 since 2014, when Rich Rodriguez had the program rolling and the Wildcats finished No. 6.

"It's their best class in a long time," said Greg Biggins, a Southern California-based recruiting analyst for the 247Sports. "The staff came in with a lot of energy, and they have strong ties to Northern and Southern California."

The coaches have done their part, but so has the administrative side of the football operation. Ryan Partridge, the coordinator of high school recruiting, has made a substantial impact.

"He's super connected," Huffman said.

Another reason for Arizona's recruiting uptick: stability.

Such is the nature of Pac-12 football in 2021 that a program with a rookie coach appears stable compared to the competition.

Up the road, Arizona State is immersed in an NCAA investigation that has crippled recruiting.

USC fired its coach in September.

Washington State fired its coach in October.

Washington fired its coach in November.

UCLA's boss, Chip Kelly, is forever on the warm seat. Cal has lost recruiting momentum. Colorado is recalibrating.

There's opportunity galore, even for a cellar-dweller.

Energy attracts and hope sells.

"The most shocking part of the recruiting class is they have a lot of older guys on the staff who I didn't think would be able to recharge recruiting," Huffman said.

"But they are in on (recruits) they don't have any business being in on."


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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