It’s time for the annual look at each Mountain West team recruiting level compared to the rest of the college football landscape. Here is last year’s post if you want a bit of a refresher. These posts aim to identify how each team does in recruiting by looking at the teams in the same range as them. That helps us determine which MWC teams are recruiting above, at, or below their conference affiliation.
Keep in mind this isn’t necessarily describing the quality of play each team has with the quality of players they recruit, as many teams in the Mountain West play above or below their level of recruiting. Instead, this attempts to give a range of comparisons for how each team recruited this past year. Each range is determined by looking at teams within two compositive points above or below their own.
Note: All rankings are taken from 247 sports composite rankings and accurate as of 2/14/21.
2021 Ranking: 90
Closest Comparisons: Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Colorado State, Northern Illinois, Georgia Southern
Bottom Line: As has been discussed many times, the Falcons’ recruiting is much different from the rest of the conference being an academy school. They are looking for specific types of players to fit their scheme, and the number of their commits can skew their rankings a bit. Still, they put together a stronger class this year than usual, including their third-highest ranked recruit ever.
2021 Ranking: 70
Closest Comparisons: Toledo, UNLV, Texas Tech, Appalachian State, UTSA, BYU, Purdue, Illinois, Fresno State
Bottom Line: The Broncos took a step back from their record-setting rankings, partly due to a smaller class size, but they still managed to settle into a pretty good spot and beat out or be comparable to some P5 teams. The ceiling in this class may not be as high as what has come to be expected, but from top to bottom, it’s difficult to find players who don’t project well at the college level. Other conference members may have caught up or passed them this year, but the Broncos still set the standard.
2021 Ranking: 89
Closest Comparisons: Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Air Force, Northern Illinois, Georgia Southern
Bottom Line: The Rams may not be the recruiting program they were a few years ago, but they still managed to be right in the middle of the conference, which isn’t a bad place to be. They are also around the middle of the Group of Five, which is good but not great. However, as with every team, all that matters at the end of the day is if there are results on the field.
2021 Ranking: 75
Closest Comparisons: Boise State, UTSA, BYU, Purdue, Illinois, Louisiana, Arizona, South Carolina
Bottom Line: The Bulldogs took a huge step forward in recruiting this year, and it shows here in the comparisons. Being on the same list as Boise State and three power five teams is quite an accomplishment and definitely accurate for their class this season. If this is the new norm for the Bulldogs, top of the conference recruiting pairs with player development, they could have something special brewing.
2021 Ranking: 123
Closest Comparisons: Louisiana Tech, South Alabama, Middle Tennesse
Bottom Line: It isn’t easy to recruit to the Islands, but it’s even more difficult when the program doesn’t seem to be prioritizing it. Hawaii is betting on transfers for now, but it is unknown if that’s a short or long-term plan. For now, they are ranked in proportion to their strategy, which is near the bottom of the FBS.
2021 Ranking: 85
Closest Comparisons: Coastal Carolina, FIU, Jackson State
Bottom Line: The Wolf Pack have done well but never too well in recruiting. This year is more of the same. They are in surprising company and not in a good way. However, that may be due more to the success of the other teams rather than a critique of Nevada. However, next year is time for the Wolf Pack to take the next step in their recruiting efforts, which may have been jump-started with the signing of a four-star QB.
2021 Ranking: 94
Closest Comparisons: Northern Illinois, Georgia Southern, Rice, Ball State, East Carolina, Western Michigan.
Bottom Line: A year into their first true recruiting efforts and the Lobos crack the top 100. It’s slow and steady progress for the Lobos, who are basically rebuilding their program. But they have some buzz around their recruiting and are looking local, so it does the job for the time being.
San Diego State
2021 Ranking: 62
Closest Comparisons: Washington State, TCU
Bottom Line: The Aztecs jump up a tier into unfamiliar territory in their recruiting comparisons this year. That’s what having the best class in the conference tends to do. SDSU is right in the middle of Power 5 teams. It’s crucial for at least one Mountain West team to be ranked in tier to demonstrate they can attract high-quality talent.
San Jose State
2021 Ranking: 120
Closest Comparisons: Akron
Bottom Line: San Jose State has made a habit of recruiting better than their record would suggest. This year, that pattern ended as their record dramatically increased while their recruiting took a step back. The Spartans are another team that put together a small class and brought back many seniors, which may be the reason they didn’t have a better class given they were conference champions. However, they are on notice for 2022.
2021 Ranking: 67
Closest Comparisons: Toldeo, Texas Tech, Appalachian State, Boise State
Bottom Line: UNLV continued their strong recruiting efforts from last year and now find themselves on par with some of the top Group of 5 teams and even a Power 5 team. If they can put together a few wins over the next year or two, the Rebels could even climb further in the rankings.
2021 Ranking: 136
Closest Comparisons: James Madison
Bottom Line: It was tough sledding for the Aggies this year, which often happens after a coaching change. To make matters worse, their recruiting efforts hadn’t recovered from the last coaching change, so Utah State’s spot is here around the bottom, in the company of FCS teams and Ivy League schools.
2021 Ranking: 111
Closest Comparisons: Arkansas State, Navy, Oregon State, Army, Liberty
Bottom Line: The thing to remember here is Bohl’s teams do more with less, as they consistently outplay their recruiting, which is a tribute to their coaching staff. However, no matter how good player development is, only so much can be done when starting from the wrong side of 100 in the recruiting rankings, and that has been playing out on the field with the Cowboys the past few years.
Let’s summarize and reorder a bit by putting the 12 teams into some groupings. Some groupings I just made up, but groupings nonetheless. Keep in mind there are 129 FBS teams.
Recruits at a lower Power 5 level (in the top 65): San Diego State
Recruits at a high Group of 5 level (66-80): UNLV, Boise State, Fresno State
Recruits at a middle Group of 5 level (80-100): Colorado State, Air Force, Nevada, New Mexico
Recruits at a lower Group of 5 level (101-120): Wyoming, San Jose State
Recruits near the bottom of the FBS (120-130): Hawaii
Recruits at an FCS level (131 or below): Utah State
This year, the conference as a whole did better in the rankings, with some teams taking minor steps up and other teams taking significant steps up. Last year, only two Mountain West teams cracked the top 100 in the 247 composite rankings. This year, eight accomplished that feat, which is a drastic improvement. However, the teams at the bottom of the rankings seemed to drop lower, which is a problem.
I’ll beat the commenters to the punch. Every year, there are lots of players who outperform their recruiting rankings. And there are highly rated prospects who don’t pan out. There is no denying that. Some teams outperform their rankings annually, achieving winning records despite not landing high on the rankings lists.
On the other hand, players play to their rankings more often than not. And it is certainly better to get better players (by whatever metric coaches use to recruits. It is understood that they don’t just look at recruiting lists). We will likely never know, but the important question to consider is where on the recruiting board are the players they are landing? Are teams getting players from their top few tiers or landing commits at lower points on the board?
For fans of teams who recruit to a specialized scheme or standard (Air Force) or the teams mentioned above who excel in player development, or who just don’t care about recruiting, this post may not carry much weight. At the end of the day, it is still interesting to know how teams measure up both in the conference and across the board. Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college program, and it bodes well for teams to recruit well. Then, of course, they have to develop the skills and the culture to produce winning. Consider this post an emphasis on step one of the process.