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Could Virginia become a BYU opponent on the recruiting trail?

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A run of BYU staff defections to Charlottesville could make BYU recruiting a little tougher

"U Mad?"
"U Mad?"
George Frey/Getty Images

In case you missed this last night, numerous BYU assistant coaches will be joining Bronco Mendenhall at UVA next season. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae, once a candidate for the head coaching position himself, will be headed to Charlottesville, along with fellow offensive assistants Garett Tujague (OL), Jason Beck (QBs) and Mark Atuaia (running backs). According to FootballScoop, defensive coaches Nick Howell and Kelly Poppinga are also headed to UVA. More could potentially jump as well, depending on what BYU decides to do with their head coach position.

That obviously means significant changes are afoot at BYU. Their offensive and defensive schemes could change, their recruiting footprint could alter, and relationships with local coaches, players and community members will need to be rebuilt, since it's likely BYU will be bringing in some outside names. That can all be fine. It's part of coaching changes.

But the swath of defections to one school could also potentially mean that BYU's recruiting job just got harder, no matter who they hire at coach. They might end up with another player in an increasingly crowded local recruiting market...Virginia.

I know what you're thinking. "Virginia is over 2,000 miles away from Utah. Why would any local kid ever want to go that far away for school? There's no way UVA will try to recruit west." I got a lot of pushback from Utah Twitter when I floated this possibility last night. And if Virginia had hired any other coach or assistants, I'd be inclined to agree with you. UVA hasn't historically tried to recruit west of the Mississippi very often, and given their ACC membership and their current footprint, it would make sense that they wouldn't even try.

But recruiting isn't just hardwired geographical rules, like Risk. It's about relationships, not just between head coach (or assistant coach) and player, but head coach and high school coach, or community members, or friends. Schools can change their recruiting territory based on those relationships. And with a suddenly BYU-heavy staff, it isn't unreasonable to think Virginia may try to mine of some of those relationships in Utah, or in other places where BYU has recruited, like Southern California, or Dallas.

It's true, based on recent history, most Utah kids either stay local, or go to Pac-12 schools, but that doesn't mean that out of state programs haven't had luck there. Just last season, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin signed players from Utah (along with Stanford, USC, UCLA, Oregon State, and Washington State). Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma signed Utah kids in 2014. Alabama did in 2013. The list goes on. For the right kid, lots of places could come in and find success.

Wisconsin made the state more of a focus when former Utah State head coach Gary Andersen was in charge. Oregon State has recruited the state much more heavily now that Andersen (and Sitake) are in Corvallis. Ohio State keeps tabs on Utah in part because Urban Meyer used to coach there. As more and more coaches head across the country with Utah ties, it isn't unreasonable to think that more and more will take a look at prospects in this area, since they are already familiar with the high schools and high school coaches in the region. That's how it works all over the country.

Virginia has recruited its home state heavily, which makes sense, given that the Virginia Beach region, as well as the greater Washington D.C. metro area have lots of talented football players. But that market is competitive, and it isn't enough for UVA, so they've also recruited Florida, New Jersey, and along the East Coast. That makes sense, given that's also where many UVA staff members came from. Some of that will likely continue, even with Mendenhall there, but it isn't unreasonable to think he may elect to shift to a more national perspective, especially as other programs, especially from the Big Ten, look to make Virginia and the D.C. area more important to their own recruiting.

Will Virginia suddenly stake out a major foothold in Utah? Probably not. After all, Utah may only produce about two dozen P5 caliber kids each year, and Utah, Pac-12 powers, and yes, BYU, will probably still get most of them. The distance factor would make it harder for a Utah kid to schedule unofficial visits, and UVA's tough academic standards mean they won't be able to go after JUCO kids, or even all of the high school prospects. Still, if Mendenhall and his staff wanted, they could certainly be a player for prospects who wanted a very tough academically oriented atmosphere while playing high level, power conference football, and for whatever reason, aren't a fit at Stanford.

That might only be one or two kids a year in BYU's footprint. Maybe it's a few more. But any extra bit of competition for a limited pool represents an additional challenge for BYU. Even if UVA doesn't actually get any of those kids, it represents another potential official visit destination, and could force BYU to spend more resources to recruit a target, resources that then can't be spent elsewhere.

It's certainly not an insurmountable challenge, especially if BYU hires a dynamic, recruiting-focused staff to replace the departures. But it is something potentially worth monitoring, as local recruiting becomes even more and more competitive. We'll see how much goodwill some of these ex-BYU coaches still have from the fanbase if they manage to flip a recruit that Cougar fans hoped would be in Provo.