Pac-12 Talent Rankings: Enough to Move Up?


Kevin Cline

Last week, we looked at the significance of talent and recruiting rankings. This week, we begin counting down to the most talented roster in the Pac-12. Below is an explanation of the tier-system used to compile the data:

  • 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

Let’s get started:

#12: Colorado Buffaloes

What I Said Last Summer

“The Buffs are in the exact same position as the Cougars and Beavers: a lack of talent leads to on-field struggles. These struggles, combined with an undesirable location leads to sub-par recruiting classes and inevitably, more losses. It’s a vicious cycle.”

“So, basically, the only two teams in the conference that are less-talented than the Buffaloes will still be favored to finish higher in the standings at the end of 2012. That’s not good.”

Colorado has a lot of work to do in catching Oregon

Kevin Cline

Colorado has a lot of work to do in catching Oregon

“The class of 2014 will go a long way towards shaping the future success of this team, but that’s still a couple of years away, and even if they strike gold, it’ll be two years before those players make a contribution big enough to matter. That puts us in 2016.”

2012 Season Recap

It’s safe to say that 2012 was a disaster for the Buffs. They went 1-11 with losses to Sacramento State and in-state rival CSU. Their lone win came against Washington State, and that was only by a point. On the season, they were outscored 552 – 214, which is shockingly bad. There weren’t a lot of moral victories either; Colorado lost eight different games by at least 25 points. Their lack of talent and depth was painfully evident all year.

2013 Colorado

2013 Colorado Talent

Talent Summary

Colorado has less E-2 talent and more tier-4 and 5 players on their roster than any other team in the conference. That means the Buffs lack talent AND depth, a combination that leads to seasons like the one they just had. Expect a small class in 2014 that won’t turn many heads.

What the Future Holds

Let’s start with the good: things can’t possibly get much worse. Wins over CSU and Central Arkansas would be a great way to start the 2013 season. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes still play in the Pac-12. A team that gets outscored 552 – 214 (!) doesn’t just come back the next year and tear it up. After their first two aforementioned match-ups, only games against Fresno State and Utah appear winnable. Without adding a considerable amount of talent, Colorado’s ceiling isn’t likely to rise anytime in the foreseeable future. Everything I wrote last summer still holds true, meaning that the 2014 class is significant. To find some success, Colorado will need to become the Beavers of the South and start developing lots of unheralded talent. Given the nature of the recruiting landscape, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to start pulling in much E-2 talent.

#11: Washington State Cougars

What I Said Last Summer

The Cougars had a rough year in 2012

Kevin Cline

The Cougars had a rough year in 2012

“They simply don’t have enough talent to compete at a high level in the Pac-12 right now.”

“Given the fact that the Cougs will never be able to attract enough E-2 talent to compete with the big dogs consistently, having a system coach in place is critical.”

“Although the ceiling is low due to location, the Cougars can only get better.”

2012 Season Recap

Cougars fans probably want me to skip this section. It was not a good year. Washington State went 3-9 overall and 1-8 in conference play to finish in the bottom two of the conference standings for the 6th consecutive year. The lone bright spot was a victory over Washington in the Apple Cup.

2013 Washington State

2013 Washington State Talent

Talent Summary

Thirty-three of Washington State’s scholarship players are tier 4 or 5 guys.  That’s too many, and signifies a real lack of depth. Additionally, the Cougars only have eight E-2 players on the roster, only one of which has been with the program for more than a year. With only 10 scholarship seniors, and 13 scholarship juniors, Mike Leach won’t be able to bring in another big class for at least a few more years, unless there’s a significant amount of attrition.

What the Future Holds

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be time to panic. Mike Leach has only been at the helm for a year and hasn’t had the time it takes to successfully build a program or implement a new system. That said, these are not normal circumstances. The Cougars are trapped in the Pac-12 North, which is probably the 2nd toughest division in college football. In addition, recruiting talent to Pullman is difficult; recruiting talent to Pullman when the on-field product has been poor, is impossible. Unless Washington State can start winning, which could possibly help recruiting, the future is bleak. And that’s the problem; the Cougars need talent to win but they need to start winning to attract talent. At this point, Leach should be considered a hero if he can get the Cougars back into a bowl game. In 2013, six wins would be a miracle.

#10: Oregon State Beavers

What I Said Last Summer

Can the Beavers continue to overachieve?

Gary Breedlove

Can the Beavers continue to overachieve?

“Last year (2011) was rough, but for most of the last decade Oregon State has been a tough team. They’ve never had elite talent, which makes some of their wins (USC twice) truly remarkable. They’ve always overachieved.”

“The Beavers are in dire need of explosive skill position players on offense. The North division is going to be brutal for the foreseeable future and recruiting isn’t likely to pick up.”

“I think Riley is one of the best coaches in the country… that said, his teams cannot compete at a high-level without improving their talent. ”

2012 Season Recap

Once again, the Beavers played considerably better than their talent-level would indicate possible. They finished 10-3 overall and 7-2 in conference, where their only losses came to Oregon (#2 AP Poll) and Stanford (#4 AP Poll). They also came remarkably close to beating Texas in the Holiday Bowl despite one of the worst offensive line performances in the history of modern football.

2013 Oregon State

2013 Oregon State Talent

Talent Summary

The Beavers have enough tier-3 talent to be competitive and field some depth. That said, they don’t have enough E-2 talent to compete with the conference elite. Until that changes Oregon State will have to continue overachieving and shoot for the occasional upset. It’s worth noting that with only 12 scholarship seniors, the Beavs won’t be taking a big class in 2014.

What the Future Holds

Oregon State is an anomaly. No other team in the entire country wins as many games with as little talent (remember, we’re using a combination of the various recruiting rankings to objectively quantify “talent”). I’m done betting against Mike Riley. That guy is a truly great coach. I don’t know how the OSU staff continues to turn a team full of tier 3-5 players into conference contenders, but they do. Eventually, the lack of talent catches up with them, as it did in their losses to Oregon, Stanford and Texas, all far more talented teams. At the end of the day, Oregon State is unable to recruit at the level necessary to compete with the elite. Due to their location and lack of even regional notoriety, the Beavers will continue to struggle on the recruiting front, preventing them from being true challengers for the conference title. Nonetheless, expect Riley and his staff to continue overachieving and winning more games than they should.

#9: Arizona Wildcats

What I Said Last Summer

Arizona could jump up these rankings

Kevin Cline

Arizona could jump up these rankings

“The current state of this team is the product of an inability to meet expectations in recruiting.”

“With Rich Rodriguez and his spread offense coming on board this year, there’s hope in Tucson, if for no other reason than his ability to bring in higher quality talent than Stoops was able to.”

“Unlike the three teams below it in the rankings, Arizona has a real chance to move up in the coming years. Rich Rodriguez could end up being very successful in this conference and I won’t be surprised to see huge improvements in recruiting.”

“Look for the team to struggle in Rich Rod’s first couple of years as they transition to a new system without the adequate talent necessary to make it successful.”

2012 Season Recap

In Rich Rodriguez’s first year, the Wildcats had a very solid season. They finished 8-5 (4-5 in conference) with a win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. The team had tough back-to-back losses against Oregon State (35 – 38) and Stanford (48 – 54 in OT), but bounced back nicely when the season could have collapsed, a sign of good coaching. More important than Arizona’s record was the excitement that Rodriguez was able to generate in his first season at the helm.


2013 Arizona

2013 Arizona Talent

Talent Summary

The 2013 class accounts for six of Arizona’s 13 tier E-2 players, meaning that 1) the expected production from that talent isn’t likely to be seen immediately, and 2) that the overall talent level of the roster is improving. In 2013, the Wildcats were able to take a big class (27 commitments) due to heavy attrition, and the 2014 class seems to be progressing similarly. With only eight scholarship seniors and 74/85 scholarship spots filled (not including walk-ons), the coaches must be expecting quite a bit more attrition after this season considering the fact that they’ve already landed 22 commitments (not to mention a couple incoming transfers).

What the Future Holds

Things are looking bright in Tucson. After a rough stretch, the program is finally moving in the right direction. Rodriguez may not have lived up to expectations at Michigan, but many observers believe he was put in a difficult position during his time with the Wolverines. Last season proved that Rodriguez hasn’t lost his coaching chops. As he has more time to implement his system and add talent, Arizona should continue to improve. With so much in-state talent, there might not be another team in the conference with more opportunity for rapid improvement. The 2014 class is already looking really solid, and combined with a couple high profile tier-E transfers coming in, expect the Wildcats to be 7th in these rankings by this time next year.



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Chris Charbonnier

Chris Charbonnier

Chris was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, but made his way to Oregon by the age of five, when he attended his first game at Autzen Stadium. A huge sports fan at a young age, Chris grew up playing football, basketball and golf. Although realizing he isn’t likely to play in the NFL or NBA, Chris still holds on to hopes of being a professional golfer should his unfortunate putting woes take a turn for the better. A bit of a platypus, he attended both Oregon State and Oregon during his collegiate days where he earned a business degree in Finance and Business Administration. Chris works for Daimler Trucks North America in Portland, and plans to get his MBA from the University of Oregon. Chris has been an active member in the recruiting community since 2005. He studies the intricacies of recruiting and is particularly intrigued by talent evaluation techniques. He is currently working on developing his own scouting reports for every scholarship player on the UO roster. Chris lives with his wife, Katrina, and his two-year-old son Lucas (a future dual-threat QB).

  • Big Duke

    This is awesome.

  • Itsjesseduh

    Great stuff. Love the tier system. The only thing is what makes recruits 3 or 4 stars? I feel like OSU and Riley seem to get the diamonds in the rough. Riley sees a 4 star recruit in the deemed 3 stats that no big school take. Riley knows what he wants an what he needs to make his system work and to beat teams that are ‘better’. The same people that say those teams are better are the ones that call the 4 star players Riley recruits ‘3 star’ recruits. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No hate for the ducks, just the obnoxious, unrealistic, ‘head in the clouds’ fans in every sport for all teams including the Beavs. Great well thought out article man. Go Beavs.

    • Big Salad

      So you’re saying that every 3-star Oregon State gets is really a 4-star because Riley has a specific use for them? If so, you’re logic is laughable.

      True, not every “good” college player is ranked highly by recruiting services in high school. That said, the various scouting services have been around long enough to be credible.

      If someone is a 2 or 3-star instead of a 4 or 5-star, there’s probably reasons why. For example, they may be a good “fit” in Riley’s system, but maybe they steal gay sheep, run from the cops, try to tackle cops, or are convicted kidnappers, too.

      Bottom line? There’s no National effort or conspiracy to downgrade the rankings of Oregon State recruits. The numbers are what they are Oregon State, like most people in Corvallis, are among the least talented in the Pac-12.

      • Itsjesseduh

        So you would fit in the obnoxious column I was talking about. I didn’t say every 3 star is actually a four star. Which now also ads you to the ‘head in the clouds’ column. I said that Riley does a good job with finding 3 stars and revealing their true value. Not everyone is like that. Most 3 stars are in fact what they are. It’s also obvious that the factors that go into ranking the recruits is credible, but all I said was that there will always be the few that get undervalued and Riley does well a finding them, especially ones that fit the pro style game at OSU.

        Among the least talented? Now that puts you in the unrealistic column which makes you the worst fan type for any team. I expect you to say OSU isn’t as good as us or whatever, which is true…but among the least talented? Pffff. Now you just made yourself sound stupid.

        I can admit when a team is better or has talent, but your one of those duck fans who thinks you’re superior to all teams and no one else can touch you in the SEC…but you should probly try to beat Stanford and then move one the SEC.

      • 1000tacos

        Lemme guess Big Salad… you go to a community college or are unemployed (or both) and love the ducks cuz they win a lot and it makes you feel good inside to like a team that wins to boost your self esteem?

  • Mike

    The idea that Rich Rodriguez was just put in a bad position at Michigan is laughable. He simply wasn’t able to compromise and did a horrible job.

    • Football fan

      You might want to pick-up a copy of “3 & Out” by John Bacon.
      There was plenty of fault to be shared at Michigan including a big piece attributable to Rodriguez. But, I think what the author wrote is prety fair. There was a very large contigent of Michigan fans as well as players who were unhappy that Carr was shown the door and plenty of them didn’t give Rodriguez a chance.
      Rodriguez was held responsible for the lack of documentation that resulted in too many extra summer supervisor practices which got UM some NCAA sanctions, but that was ruled neither intentional or malicious. Mistakes happen in large organizations and in the world of everchanging NCAA Rules, they can occur even when you think you are doing all the fit things.

      Rodriguez certainly played a role, but most level headed UM fans know that the entire episode was very dramatic and sensatinalized.
      UM fans are please with their new coach and frankly have moved on from the RichRod Era.
      Read the book.

  • Football fan

    Wonder if you will update this write-up based on recent transfers out, transfers in, and recruits who didn’t show up…? Talent is talent.

    From my POV most of the scouting services evaluate players based on how they might fit into the prototypical offense & defense that most have grown up with watching Ohio State, LSU, USC, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan, and Florida State. The problem is that in his day and age with Spreads, Read-option, Hybrid-Defenses and uptempo play…that many of these 4 & 5 star players are getting out-played on the field by 2 & 3 star players.

    Oregon under Kelly and WVU when Rodriguez coached there are good examples of programs which overachieved at the beginning without the 4 & 5 star talent. Only after some success did those coaches attract higher ranking recruits.

    The Scouting Services evaluations are not perfect gauges and often the expectations don’t meet reality.

    I like your write up. Good work!

  • Luscious

    Great article my man. Always on point with recruiting trends

  • Biro Hero

    These assessments are dead on, I have to give it to you. I do disagree with the location part though. Boise Idaho and Lincoln Nebraska are desirable locations? CU was a premier national powerhouse 20 years ago, and a very competitive team on ten years ago. I’m biased as a CU fan, but on behalf of the schools located in an “undesireable” area, have faith. Good coaches, good administrations, and good opportunities bring in good teams. Unfortunately, CU, WSU, Utah, havent had those luxuries lately, but we’ve had them before and those schools are trying to turn things around. Blaming failure on location lets awful coaching and poor talent off too easily. That said, the bottom dwellers have work to do.
    Sidebar – CU Boulder football = undesirable / Boulder = desirable.