I’m not shy about saying this: I don’t follow college recruiting on anything more than a cursory level. I read some articles in the Seattle Times, I see things pop up on Twitter once in a while, and over time names start looking familiar as potential future stars for my beloved Huskies.
Since 2016, the Huskies have been the best program the Pac-12 has had to offer. Two conference titles in the last four seasons, with a College Football Playoff berth to boot (the last time a Pac-12 school made it into the final four in football). If you look at recruitment rankings, however, the Huskies have steadily rated behind Oregon. Of course, rankings aren’t everything; the Huskies’ program is proof enough that coaching and development have just as much – if not more – to do with how well your team performs on the field. Nevertheless, as we see with the SEC (and various other power programs around the United States), recruiting – over time – matters most. Consistently bringing in the very best players year-in and year-out will set your program up for indefinite greatness.
In both the 2019 and 2020 classes, it’s been Oregon and Washington (in that order) in the top two of conference recruitment rankings. That’s the primary reason why both schools are favored to win the Pac-12 North, in spite of the fact that both are replacing quarterbacks who left for the NFL. Since the Ducks are coming off of an overwhelmingly powerful 2019 season – where they went 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl – they’re the overwhelming favorites to repeat in that endeavor. The Huskies, on the other hand, feel like considerable long shots, not the least of which because we’re breaking in a brand new head coach.
All of this is preamble to my main concern: recruiting for the 2021 class. It’s by no means a done deal, of course; and as has been noted elsewhere, there could be even more movement as players opt to switch their commitments coming out of the pandemic. I’m not panicking – I’m confident we’ll find the Huskies in the top quartile in conference recruitment rankings when it’s all said and done – but as it stands now, we’re lagging WAY behind the likes of Oregon (yet again) as well as USC (another favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2020), with the primary bright spot being 5-star quarterback Sam Huard that’s keeping this class afloat.
Again, I don’t know all the names, but I keep seeing news items of Husky targets choosing to go elsewhere. I’m sure that’s normal, and I’m overreacting, but this feels different to me. It feels like a lot of highly-rated recruits are taking a Wait & See approach with the Huskies. Waiting to see if Jimmy Lake can keep the run of success going that we saw under Chris Petersen.
Which makes the 2020 season so very important. You could argue the next two years – in conjunction – will provide a more fair assessment, but regardless the time is now! We’re coming off of two recruiting classes in the Top Two in the conference; that needs to translate into a lot of success right out of the gate, or I’ll be worried about the state of the program going forward. Middle-of-the-road finishes, with expected growing pains from a new head coach, are not going to keep the momentum going in the right direction. Not with the steady progress we’re seeing down in Cal, the expected return to power of Stanford (who seemingly always manages to poach a top player or two from the state of Washington every year based on their high academic reputation), and the excitement of a new potentially-great coach over in WSU (a program that made great strides under Mike Leach and hopes to parlay that into perpetuating its own momentum).
There’s a great opportunity for the Huskies at the same time. If the concern is we’ll fall on our face and find the program lost in the woods during the 2020’s, the potential is that we’ll come out of the gate on fire and REALLY impress future recruits by showing out under a BRUTAL schedule. I still can’t get over how difficult this schedule is – with all of our most difficult games coming on the road – but that means any number of upsets could vault our esteem in the eyes of the college football nation up many levels. Jimmy Lake has the pressure of following a legend, of helming a premiere west coast football program, and a worldwide pandemic on his shoulders as he leads this team. If he does well, that could slingshot the Huskies into a whole new stratosphere for the next decade!