It’s time for the annual look at each Mountain West team's 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 recruits by looking at the teams in the same range as each of the twelve Mountain West members. 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 three compositive points above or below their own.
Note: All rankings are taken from 247 sports composite recruiting rankings (meaning transfers do not factor in) and are accurate as of 2/7/23.
2023 Ranking: 99th
Closest Comparisons: Georgia Southern, Nothern Illinois, Toledo, Miami (OH), Western Michigan, Troy
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. In many ways, this was one of their better classes in recent years, although it remains to be seen which signees will make it to the active roster. But Air Force has put themselves in a good starting position.
2023 Ranking: 68th
Closest Comparisons: Purdue, BYU, Indiana, SMU, Colorado State
Bottom Line: The Broncos again find themselves ranked among Power 5 teams when it comes to recruiting. The ceiling of their class is as high as many teams who play in more prestigious conferences, but the floor of the class is not as strong as what P5 teams are accustomed to securing. Other conference members have made big strides over the years, but the Broncos still set the standard when it comes to recruiting. This year is no different, although their ranking is a bit lower, and the gap between them and a few conference mates it smaller.
2023 Ranking: 70th
Closest Comparisons: Boise State, SMU, Tulane
Bottom Line: The Rams are in some nice company in their comparisons. They are in the mix with some of the top Group of 5 recruiting teams, which is a testament to the hard work the coaching staff has done this cycle. Their ability to recruit talent high school players should pay off for them down the line.
2023 Ranking: 88th
Closest Comparisons: Cal, San Diego State, Southern Miss
Bottom Line: The Bulldogs dropped off in their rankings from last season, but still are one of the higher teams in the Mountain West this time around. Even so, they are in good company here, measuring up against some of the bigger recruiters in their own state. Fresno State continues to recruit well and it’s showing up here.
2023 Ranking: 114th
Closest Comparisons: Tulsa, Middle Tennessee State
Bottom Line: It isn’t easy to recruit to the Islands, as can be seen in the rankings and comparisons above. Hawaii took a big step forward in their recruiting this year and while they still have a long way to go, they are doing a nice job recruiting locally and in some areas of the mainland. Plus, recent history suggests they do better in recruiting when they feature the Run-and-Shoot offense. But for now, they are ranked in near the bottom of the FBS.
2023 Ranking: 109th
Closest Comparisons: Bowling Green
Bottom Line: The Wolf Pack put together a pretty nice class, although they still fall on the wrong side of 100 this season. Although they ranked in the upper half of the conference, their overall rankings are in the lower third of FBS schools. While the goal is not to be in the company of a MAC school, it is likely a stepping stone on the way to better comparisons in the future. For this season, they are regulated to being on the lower end of Group of 5 schools.
2023 Ranking: 136th
Closest Comparisons: Western Carolina
Bottom Line: Coach Gonzales stated the Lobos shifted their recruiting philosophy this year, focusing on more junior college and transfer players. They still recruited a high number of high school players, but they were mostly local. This new strategy ended their streak of top 100 classes and put them in bottom of the barrel territory. However, it is a somewhat understandable given their priority of non-high school players this cycle.
San Diego State
2023 Ranking: 89th
Closest Comparisons: Fresno State, Southern Miss
Bottom Line: The Aztecs continue to recruit at a high level under Coach Hoke, although that isn’t reflected in their ranking as much due to a smaller class. They are still in pretty good company and have been able to recruit southern California to much success once again this year. Winning a few recruiting battles against Power 5 schools in their own backyard is huge, even if it didn’t fully show up in the rankings in 2023.
San Jose State
2023 Ranking: 107th
Closest Comparisons: Bowling Green
Bottom Line: San Jose State has made a habit of recruiting better at least half of the conference, but it doesn’t seem like that was the case this year. They still had a handful of very good players they were able to secure, but the bottom of their class seemed like it had taken a step back, and the rankings would seem to suggest that. With that being said, few teams do a better job of finding under-the-radar recruits in California and prioritizing local recruits in the bay area.
2023 Ranking: 131st
Closest Comparisons: Princeton, Western Kentucky, Florida A&M
Bottom Line: Every year, there is at least one team who has skewed rankings due to a coaching change, and this year, it was the Rebels. They weren’t doing much at all in their 2023 class when Coach Arroyo was still at the helm and there wasn’t much time for Coach Odom to put together a class in December. He and his staff did an admirable job between then and February but the deck was stacked against them and they were on the low end of rankings, putting them in some unwelcome comparison company. Next year will provide a more realistic measuring stick for UNLV.
2023 Ranking: 112th
Closest Comparisons: North Texas
Bottom Line: Utah State is a team that probably recruits better than what their rankings would indicate, but they end up in the lower of the conference rankings and the lower end of Group of 5 teams. It is difficult to get an accurate read on what is “normal” for the Aggies with their recruiting rankings and comparisons, but it’s safe to say they are aiming to be better than this and seem capable of being better.
2023 Ranking: 126th
Closest Comparisons: Jackson State, Navy, Charlotte
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 they start this low. This year, although there was some talent at the top, overall, the class was ranked even lower than their usual standards and that can be seen from the teams that they are compared with.
Let’s summarize and reorder a bit by putting the 12 teams into some groupings. These are groupings that are more or less made up, but they serve the purpose of providing context to each team’s recruiting efforts. Keep in mind there are 129 FBS teams.
Recruits at a lower Power 5 level (in the top 65): None
Recruits at a high Group of 5 level (66-80): Boise State, Colorado State
Recruits at a middle Group of 5 level (80-100): Fresno State, San Diego State, Air Force
Recruits at a lower Group of 5 level (101-120): Hawaii, Nevada, San Jose State, Utah State
Recruits near the bottom of the FBS (120-130): Wyoming
Recruits at an FCS level (131 or below): UNLV, New Mexico
In the 2023 cycle, the 12 Mountain West teams ranged all over the place. The most concerning aspect was no team recruited at a Power 5 level. In fact, only two teams were in the highest group of 5 tier. One team was bringing up the rear at the FBS level and they weren’t even at the bottom of the conference. It is extremely problematic that two teams were considered to be at the FCS level, no matter what their circumstances were. Every team was still able to bring in some talent to their rosters in this class, but the conference as a whole needs to find a way to consistently recruit better.
With all of that being said, 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.