Oregon fans love Mario Cristobal the recruiter, but the jury’s still out on Mario Cristobal the head coach. On the recruiting trail, the Ducks head coach is second to none. He just secured Oregon’s best-ever class, and the Ducks have now pulled in the top class in the Pac-12 three years in a row.
When it comes to coaching those recruits up, the results have been less impressive. Yes, the Ducks are back-to-back Pac-12 champions, but numerous puzzling losses to unranked teams have many wondering if Oregon’s elite recruiting classes mean anything if Cristobal can’t get them to play to their potential.
Fear not; those recruiting classes certainly matter, and it’s likely only a matter of time before Oregon’s collection of top-tier talent earns a trip to the College Football Playoff.
The Surest Path to the Top
There’s no all-encompassing formula to build a powerhouse program. But quite simply, the teams that accumulate the best talent generally have the best chance of winning championships.
It’s not rocket science. As important as coaching is, the best college football teams usually win because they have better players than everyone else.
This isn’t to say that coaching isn’t important. On the contrary, coaches like Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are certainly more than just products of the elite players they’ve recruited. But it’s fair to suggest that they wouldn’t have had nearly as much sustained success if it wasn’t for years and years of recruiting dominance.
And while there are some recent coaches who have schemed their way to the top without many high-end recruits (Chip Kelly, Gary Patterson, etc.), none of them have actually won a title. And their time at the top was short lived once opponents neutralized their schematic advantages.
History suggests that the Ducks’ recruiting efforts will have them competing for championships before long, regardless of their lackluster coaching. Fans have heard this song and dance before, but with how much Oregon is distancing itself from the rest of the Pac-12 (aside from USC) with its recruiting, it would be a massive anomaly if it didn’t start lapping the competition on the field, too.
Oregon signed 19 four-star players in its 2021 class. All other Pac-12 schools (again, aside from USC) signed 20 four-star players combined. Soon enough, if the Ducks keep recruiting at this pace, many of their backups will be good enough to start on most other Pac-12 rosters. With that much of a talent advantage, even a subpar coaching staff should be expected to win week in and week out.
“But Recruiting Doesn’t Guarantee Success”
The skeptics of Cristobal’s methods rightly point to USC and its struggles as cause for concern. The Trojans, after all, were the recruiting kings in the Pac-12 before Oregon took over, and they did very little with all of the blue-chip talent they acquired over the years. The same can be said for other teams, like Texas under Charlie Strong and Tom Herman.
These skeptics are correct; elite recruiting doesn’t guarantee success. There’s a chance that a poor coaching staff can struggle to develop talented players over and over again, to the point where that team’s supposed talent advantage is nonexistent.
But those instances are extreme outliers. There are many more examples of programs that have risen to the top of the college football landscape through consistently good recruiting than there are programs that haven’t.
For a college football team to have sustained success in today’s day and age, it has to have a bevy of blue-chip talent. No team in the modern recruiting era has won a title without a roster comprised primarily of four- and five-star recruits. A few programs failing to capitalize on the talent they acquired shouldn’t stop Oregon from prioritizing recruiting.
Coaching is important, but more so is talent acquisition. Cristobal and the Ducks are blowing away the competition in this category, and smart money says this strategy will pay off in the end.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo Courtesy of University of Oregon Athletics
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