Today’s column and all the Wednesday columns for this month will be recruiting themed.
Traditional recruiting rankings are nice, but they don’t come close to telling the entire story. Even if a team recruits better the next year, their ranking may actually be lower if enough teams also recruit better. What makes the most sense is comparing teams to themselves year to year or setting recruiting expectations over a cycle to see if teams can reach them. Standards are given in an attempt to be attainable goals, based on what they have done in recent years and what is projected for their current coaching staff. This is far from an exact science, but it’s the start of a worthwhile experiment to identify how programs are doing in the recruiting world.
See below for the four-year recruiting cycle expectations of each team.
For the purposes of this article, 247 composite recruiting rankings are used (not transfer or overall rankings). Also, the number of 3 and 4 star recruits refers to high school and junior college recruits only. While some programs may strategically use the transfer portal at a higher rate than others, this post will focus on traditional recruiting.
Note: All stats and numbers are current as of 1-31-23 at 10pm (CST) and do not account for any signing day surprises after that time. Due to this, the numbers will not be completely accurate and will be adjusted at the end of February to be as accurate as possible for future years.
Bold indicates progress or updates as teams
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 110 (114) (94)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 98 (94)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 45 (7) (14) (keep in mind they have more total commits than other teams)
- Bottom Line: It’s been stated many times before, but the Falcons care less about recruiting rankings than anyone. With their academic standard requirements and the focus on the talent fitting the system, it’s a different recruiting approach. Still, finding the best talent within those limitations is vital to maintaining the success they have built.
- Year 1 Summary: The Falcons are more or less in line with their usual recruiting expectations. They loaded up in the trenches and with defensive backs. On one hand, they are about a step behind last year’s class and a step ahead of two years ago, so they are in good shape. On the other hand, recruiting rankings matter less for Air Force than they do for nearly any other team in the country.
- Year 2 Summary: The Falcons are always the hardest team to evaluate. This year represents a step forward compared to the previous recruiting cycle, at least according to the 247 rankings. They broke new ground on their four-year high in the rankings and doubled the number of three stars from last year. It remains to be seen how this talent will translate to the field.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 60 (60) (66)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 50 (60)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 6 (3) (1)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 75 (17) (18)
- Bottom Line: The Broncos regularly battle with Power 5 teams for recruits, and their standards should reflect that. They get at least one four-star prospect for most years, and the vast majority of their class are rated as three-stars. For Boise State, they should also regularly have classes rated somewhere in the 50s, given how they secure well-rounded classes from top to bottom. Doing it consistently is a challenging but achievable standard for them.
- Year 1 Summary: Boise State seemed to check off all of their boxes in this recruiting class. They filled primary needs, secured signings of a few four-stars and even more high-three stars, and also found some under-the-radar players who may or may not pan out after some development. According to the rankings, it is one of their best-recruiting classes ever. The new coaching staff showed no signs of dropping off from the previous one in terms of recruiting top-end talent. The only difference is the floor of the class is lower than the classes from the past year or two.
- Year 2 Summary: Andy Avalos and his staff put together another solid class, even if it’s a bit short on star-potential compared to last year. The headliners are still there, with another four-star recruit and a few high three-stars to be excited about. While this class might produce more future starters than future stars, it still has a high floor, as the influx of three-stars would indicate. Their recruiting ranking brings down their average a bit, though they are on pace to hit their number of stars. They continue to be one of, if not the strongest recruiting team in the conference.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 90 (84) (68)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 75 (68)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 1 (1)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 55 (11) (20)
- Bottom Line: The Rams are a tricky team to project expectations on. They recruited very well under Bobo, and although it isn’t quite the same under Addazio, they found a handful of talented players in this class. While not a certainty, one could imagine Colorado State being able to land a top conference player or two in each class. They are a safe bet to out-recruit their on the field performances, but the sample size is a bit too small to make too many inferences.
- Year 1 Summary: After some lean years in recruiting under Coach Addazio, the Rams may be in for a rebound with Coach Norvell. At least they are in this class. Some of the best talent in the Mountain West can be found in Colorado State’s 2022 recruiting class. Norvell had to put this class together on the fly and brought some former Nevada commits with him. However, he also flipped some recruits from Power 5 schools, which is impressive. This class is at the top of the conference. Now the question is, is it an anomaly or the start of a pattern?
- Year 2 Summary: Two recruiting classes into the Norvell era, he and his staff continue to bring in some of the conference’s top talent. The Rams have turned in another huge class and though they have taken a lot of transfers, the high school players they do take contain many talented recruits. The coaching staff does a great job targeting specific types of players at each position and do a great job blending high-quality players with under-the-radar recruits who fit the system well. Once again, Colorado State turns in a recruiting class at the top of the Mountain West.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 88 (72) (83)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 75 (72)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 1 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 58 (16) (14)
- Bottom Line: Fresno State’s recruiting efforts under DeBoer are dwarfing those of his predecessor, Jeff Tedford. In the old regime, they also seemed capable of more on the recruiting trail. They lived up to their potential in the 2021 class. Their four-year standards find common ground somewhere in the middle, with a lean towards DeBoer and what he seems likely to continue to do. It’s very possible the Bulldogs eclipse these numbers fairly easily, but a larger sample size is needed before too high of expectations are placed on them.
- Year 1 Summary: Fresno State did not maintain their lofty 2021 heights, but still turned in a solid class this year. This is impressive considering they had to weather a coaching change shortly before signing day. The top of this Bulldog class could rival almost any other class in the Mountain West Conference. There is a bit of a drop-off in the lower two-thirds but Fresno State also has a good track record of player development that it can fall-back on to balance things out.
- Year 2 Summary: It is clear that Coach Tedford has a different approach to recruiting than Coach DeBoer did. That isn’t to say he doesn’t bring in good classes, but in the past two classes, he has been unable to reach the same level of rankings as his predecessor. In this class specifically, there was a concentration on securing junior college players in hopes of reloading the roster. Coach Tedford also seems to bet more on the player development abilities of him and his staff more than highly-rated players. Neither approach is necessarily a bad approach, but they are different, and due to that, it may cause them to fall short of the expectations listed above.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 123 (126) (112)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 112 (112)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 38 (5) (6)
- Bottom Line: Hawaii is a tough place to recruit, and Coach Graham is either realizing that or is still in the early stages of a long-term recruiting plan, as the Rainbow Warriors have been near the bottom of the conference recruiting rankings. Considering the challenges Hawaii faces, as well as their past recruiting rankings, expectations are reasonably low. Still, they need to be met and surpassed if they want any chance to make more of an impact in recruiting.
- Year 1 Summary: Hawaii had a lot going against them this year in recruiting and that was even before the coaching change less than three weeks before signing day. Due to the last-minute nature of Coach Chang’s recruiting efforts, and the need to rebuild, this class has very few high school players entering in this cycle. It has put them behind their four-year expectations but there is still time to balance things out in the years to come.
- Year 2 Summary: The approach for the Rainbow Warriors in this class was to load up on transfers, and that’s exactly what they did. The trade-off is the program could not bring in as many high school players and that is reflected in their updated numbers. Coach Chang and his staff are prioritizing talent on the islands and that figures to pay off down the line. In addition to that, history has they can recruit a higher level of talent when running the run-and-shoot, so expect to see a bit of a jump next year.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 100 (115) (108)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 80 (108)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 50 (7) (9)
- Bottom Line: Nevada has recruited more or less around the middle of the conference, which is pretty much proportional with their success of being a bowl team. However, they seem to have plateaued and need to find a way to take the next step. The Wolf Pack seem capable of more, but until they demonstrate what that is, their expectations will basically be set at maintaining the status quo.
- Year 1 Summary: The Wolf Pack were another program that was forced to basically start from scratch with their class after the coaching change. They had a bit more of a head start than others, signing a few players in December. The bulk of their class was built following the first signing period and due to this, it features fewer high school players than it likely would otherwise. This, and an entirely new coaching staff means their recruiting output will not be as predictable as it was when these expectations were made last year.
- Year 2 Summary: Nevada’s coaching staff is still trying to find their recruiting identity. For now, they are focused on transfers, which makes sense to rebuild the team after losing so many players. When they have recruited high school players, the Wolf Pack have been able to find some talented players, although that hasn’t quite shown up in the recruiting rankings at this point. They have improved from year one to year two and should keep improving, but it remains to be seen how they will measure up with their expectations.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 97 (89) (132)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 93 (89)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 45 (11) (3)
- Bottom Line: The Lobos are pretty new to recruiting intentionally, and due to this, they are still largely an unknown. Over the past two cycles, their recruiting efforts have been steady, although unspectacular (which is spectacular considering what their classes looked like previously). Two cycles is still a small sample size, and their potential is still high, but as they are already obliterating their old expectations, New Mexico can afford to go at a slow and steady pace for now.
- Year 1 Summary: New Mexico is sticking to the recruiting strategy they have employed under Coach Gonzales. Prioritizing local players as well as those in Arizona, Texas, and California. Recruiting the players overlooked by other programs but love the game of football and buy into being part of building the program from the ground up. They have no problem finding those kinds of players, It is still an uphill climb in recruiting but one the Lobos are making slow and steady progress in.
- Year 2 Summary: Once again, New Mexico stuck to the strategy mentioned above, although it was tweaked a bit this cycle to include more junior college and transfer players. They have secured many of the top players in the state of New Mexico, although that hasn’t moved the needle in terms of the rankings. Expectations are low for the Lobos, but the team still may have a challenging time meeting them based on their current projection.
San Diego State
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 80 (69) (82)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 65 (69)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 2 (2)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 60 (14) (13)
- Bottom Line: After being a middle-of-the-conference team when it comes to recruiting, the Aztecs have kicked it up a notch under Hoke. Their 2021 class seems more in line with the success on the field as one of the perennial top teams in the Mountain West. There is no reason they can’t grab a four-star or two every few years while piling up on three-stars. While the numbers are still relatively modest, they would also represent a productive increase in the program’s recruiting efforts.
- Year 1 Summary: San Diego State continues to reach new heights in recruiting under Coach Hoke. They have firmly entrenched themselves as one of the top recruiting teams in the Mountain West. This is especially true when it comes to positions they are well known for; running back, offensive line, and defensive back. The Aztecs' recruiting efforts are turning into a consistent pattern. Furthermore, they reached their number of four-star expectations in just this first class.
- Year 2 Summary: Under Brady Hoke, the Aztecs continue to be one of the best teams in the conference when it comes to recruiting efforts. They built this class by securing some of the top players in the conference, most notably at quarterback, running back, offensive line, and defensive back. San Diego State is on pace to eclipse its recruiting expectations with little issue, even if they didn’t secure any four-star players this cycle. Instead, they bolstered their number of three-stars and continue to stay ahead of their average recruiting ranking, despite having a smaller class that was dragged down at the bottom.
San Jose State
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 105 (81) (106)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 90 (81)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 47 (14) (10)
- Bottom Line: San Jose State has long been a team that recruited better than they should have based on their (lack of) success on the field. Now that they have had success, the recruiting needs to be taken up a notch. Expectations aren’t drastically increased here yet because it is staying proportional to their recent sample size, but the Spartans do need to raise the bar to sustain their success, as recruiting is the foundation of a program. Given their coaching staff, the area they are in, and now their success on the field, it will be interesting to see how quickly they can reach and move past these benchmarks.
- Year 1 Summary: After having modest success on the recruiting trail thus far under Coach Brennan, the Spartans appeared to hit another tier in the rankings this year. While they may not have landed a true headliner, the top third of their class or so is solid. It’s some positive momentum for a program located in the bay area and only a season removed from a conference championship.
- Year 2 Summary: After seemingly taking a step forward in recruiting last year, this current class appears to be a step (or two) backward, at least when it comes to ratings. The Spartans landed on the wrong side of the top 100 this year, and while it isn’t a bad class, it doesn’t come close to staying on pace with the expectations set for them above. They only had a modest addition of three-stars, although they are still in line with their rankings average, but they are going about it in an extreme way.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 75 (97) (128)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 65 (97)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 4 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 63 (9) (4)
- Bottom Line: The Rebels look like a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail under Arroyo. They have put together back to back classes in the top ranks of the conference, and they have also landed some of the best individual recruits in the entire conference. As UNLV rebuilds, it is essential they continue their strong recruiting efforts, as it gives them an edge amongst their conference peers. Even if they simply continue their 2020/2021 efforts, they would meet these standards with little issue.
- Year 1 Summary: UNLV took a step (or two) back in recruiting this year. After being in the top tier of the team recruiting rankings in the previous two years under Coach Arroryo, they will likely end up in the bottom half of the conference in this year’s rankings. The Rebels were still able to secure some of the top-end talent coming into the league but not at the same rate as before. It will be worth watching to see if this was a one-year blip or a sign the novelty has worn off the new staff if they can’t produce more wins.
- Year 2 Summary: The Rebel’s recruiting efforts had to endure a last-minute coaching change, but it seems like they are emerging from it in pretty good shape. When this exercise was created, Coach Arroyo had put together back-to-back strong recruiting classes, but that quickly faded and Coach Odom likely won’t recruit in the same fashion. Due to that, UNLV probably won’t meet the expectations for four-stars or four-year high for recruiting rankings laid out above. However, they can still build towards gathering three-stars and raising the bar on their four-year average for rankings.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 120 (76) (110)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 110 (76)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (0)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 40 (15) (7)
- Bottom Line: Recruiting is much more challenging to be consistent with when facing a coaching changing just two years after the last coaching change. That’s the struggle Coach Anderson faces now, and since he wasn’t given much time to build the 2021 class, he can’t start to be evaluated in recruiting until the class of 2022. For the Aggies, their first step is (re)establishing recruiting ties and filling out classes with their needs. Due to those needs, their recruiting expectations are set lower. They should be able to meet those expectations, and it is essential that they do.
- Year 1 Summary: Similar to New Mexico, Utah State relies heavily on in-state recruiting when it comes to its efforts to find high school talent. They succeed in securing a good amount of talent in their 2022 cycle, adding a number of solid players to their ranks as the Aggies keep trying to inject new players into the program to create some sustained success. They were able to accomplish that this year.
- Year 2 Summary: After going transfer-heavy the past two years, Coach Anderson and his staff focused on junior college players to go along with their high school recruits in this class. While their final ratings may not compare to last year’s numbers, this class is solid at the top, with several intriguing recruits. Utah State continues to take a step forward in their recruiting efforts in terms of rankings, although they will fall off track with three stars players.
- Average Recruiting Ranking: 115 (96) (121)
- 4 Year High Recruiting Ranking: 95 (96)
- Total Number of 4 stars: 0 (1)
- Total Number of 3 stars: 48 (8) (3)
- Bottom Line: The Cowboys have employed a methodical recruiting approach under Bohl, one focused on player development. It has worked for them, but it is far from flashy. They appeared to be taking a step forward in their 2020 class, but it didn’t necessarily carry over in 2021. Currently, there isn’t a wide gap between their best and worst classes over a four-year cycle. That should be Wyoming’s focus and the next step in their efforts, which seems attainable.
- Year 1 Summary: Wyoming has shown a tendency to recruit their type of players above all else but they had to divert from that a bit this year. They still found players who fit their system and will likely benefit from developing for a few years, but they also found players who can contribute immediately. There are a handful of players who have a chance to play right away and it will be worth seeing if they do. On signing day, they landed a huge surprise in the form of a four-star offensive lineman.
- Year 2 Summary: The Cowboys have long focused on their type of players over recruiting rankings, and this year is no exception. They only had a quarter of the three-star recruits that they managed to sign last year and dropped a few dozen spots in the rankings. While some of their players may be underrated this cycle, this class may have undone the gains they made in the last one. Last year may end up being their four-year high when the cycle is done.
These are the current recruiting expectations for each of the twelve Mountain West Conference teams. Each year, they will be reviewed and perhaps tweaked and adjusted as each team’s data changes. Follow along from year to year as patterns are established and teams improve or diminish the quality of their recruiting classes.