Over the past month FishDuck.com contributor Chris Charbonnier broke down Pac-12 recruiting classes and overall talent utilizing a specialty formula he developed, counting down the Pac-12 from #12 to #1.
The introduction of this series is located here: http://fishduck.com/2012/02/fishduck-recruiting-special-pac-12-talent-introduction/
The countdown of #12 – 10 is located here: http://fishduck.com/2012/02/fishduck-recruiting-special-pac-12-talent-12-10/
The countdown of #9 – 7 is located here: http://fishduck.com/2012/02/fishduck-recruiting-special-pac-12-talent-9-7/
The countdown of #6 – 4 is located here: http://fishduck.com/2012/03/7342/
The countdown of #3 – 1 is located here: http://fishduck.com/2012/03/fishduck-recruiting-special-pac-12-talent-countdown-3-1/
Just to recap in case you missed the series, we started by looking at the importance of talent and the best way to measure that. Then we jumped into the rankings and broke down each team’s overall talent level. Here’s how the rankings shaped up:
- Tier-E: 5-star rating by at least one service
- Tier-1: 4-star rating by at least two services
- Tier-2: 4-star rating by one service
- Tier-3: 3-star rating by at least two services
- Tier-4: 3-star rating by one service
- Tier-5: No 3-star rating by any service
(In parentheses are the # of Tier E-2 players/ # of Tier 4-5 players expected to be on each team’s 2012 roster)
#12 – Washington State (7/48)
#11 – Oregon State (7/41)
#10 – Colorado (8/39)
#9 – Arizona (10/31)
#8 – Arizona State (14/28)
#7 – Utah (18/28)
#6 – Washington (21/22)
#5 – California (35/12)
#4 – Stanford (38/9)
#3 – UCLA (41/12)
#2 – Oregon (44/8)
#1 – USC (56/8)
While overall talent was judged based on more than just these two figures, nothing would have changed had they been the only barometers. When looking at this data, I see four talent divisions:
Division 4: Washington St., Oregon St., Colorado, Arizona, Arizona St.
Division 3: Utah, Washington
Division 2: California, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon
Division 1: USC
Notice that almost half of the conference sits in division 4. That’s not surprising considering the on-field parity among the PAC’s lower half. Washington and Utah sit alone in division 3. Cal, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon look like they’ll be in the ultra-talented 2nd division for a while, and don’t expect USC to give up that top spot anytime soon. While the disparity increases gradually down the rankings, the difference between Washington State and USC is monstrous. Seeing the numbers side-by-side is pretty eye opening.
The most intriguing aspect of this study was looking into the PAC12’s increasingly bright future. Not only do USC and Oregon look to be BCS-level teams in 2012 and beyond, but Stanford and UCLA should join them soon. Those four teams all look capable of continuing to increase their talent in the coming years. That’s impressive when you consider that these are already four of the fifteen most talented teams in the entire country. And it doesn’t stop there. Look at the rest of the conference.
Washington’s recent coaching additions might mean they’re primed to be a great #5 and a perennial top-25 team. After them, every team in the conference except for Oregon State and Colorado could end up being a eight-win bowl team (don’t sleep on the Mad Hatter). Cal already has more talent than most realize. The same can be said about Utah. Arizona State will always be a solid team because of their location. Rich Rod could do great things for Arizona. Even the cellar dwellers in Pullman have a reason to be excited (see: Hatter, Mad). From top to bottom this conference is improving. I fully expect the PAC to continue closing in on the SEC and solidify itself as the undisputed “second best conference” in college football.
Now, let’s fall back down to earth for a minute. There is a ceiling on conference potential that’s directly correlated to the talent pool in the western United States. While coaching (and specifically, system) can play a factor, look no farther than the first article of this series to be reminded of how important talent is. Also keep in mind that very, very few high school recruits play their college football across the country, especially if they’re good enough to be earning offers from big-time programs in their region. This won’t change, so it’s unrealistic to assume that PAC12 teams can start cherry picking more talent than they already are from the Midwest, Southeast and Northeastern States. At the same time, don’t expect the SEC or any other conference to see increasing returns on their west-coast recruiting investments either.
That leaves us with the west coast talent pool. Whether or not that pool is really increasing in quality and/or quantity like many have recently suggested is up for debate. It might be, but I’m skeptical. More than likely the talent in any given class is randomly distributed, with some classes being better than others. If the west coast talent is improving, it’s more than likely incremental. There are only so many quality players available. If one team is getting better, it’s at the expense of another. Should Oregon, Arizona and Washington start pulling all of the top players out of southern California (which will never actually happen outside of this hypothetical example), USC and UCLA will suffer because of it.
A conference can only be as good as the talent pool in the region where it’s located. This is why the SEC is and will continue to be the best conference in the nation. The fact is, a significant and meaningful percentage of the top high school recruits in the nation come from the Southeastern United States. You might not like it, you might hate the SEC fan-boys so prominent in the national media, and you might have no interest in watching 16-13 slugfests, but there’s a reason that the SEC keeps winning national championships and producing more NFL talent than any other conference. Don’t get me wrong, I love PAC12 football. I’d rather be a fan of this conference than any other and I can’t wait for the future to unfold, but not even my bias can blind me from the truth.
At first, I wanted to end this series on a different note. For some reason, it felt a little dirty for my last argument to speak of SEC supremacy. Now that I think about it though, it’s fitting. The introduction started by presenting evidence that many fans didn’t (and never will) want to hear or accept. Why should the conclusion end any differently?