BYU got some bad recruiting news last night, as the best player in Utah, consensus four-star wideout Simi Fehoko decided to commit to Stanford over BYU. While losing out on a very good player hurts, in a vacuum, it's hard to get too broken up over losing Fehoko to the Cardinal. The Cougars have already signed one well regarded WR in this class, in high three-star JUCO Jonah Trinnaman, who may be able to contribute right away. Plus, Stanford, after all, offers perhaps the best academics of any FBS program, they're built to potentially compete for playoff bids in the future, they have an excellent record of producing NFL talent, and the school is in a gorgeous city. It's tough for anybody to compete for a top recruit with Stanford, especially BYU.
But Fehoko's decision didn't happen in a vacuum. He's now one of several blue chippers, or top Utah recruits, to spurn the Cougars recently. BYU has already swung and missed on punter Drue Chrisman, defensive back Troy Warner and top JUCO offensive lineman Garett Bolles (although it's technically possible BYU could get back into the mix in that recruitment). The Cougars also offered five star defensive tackle Derrick Brown, but never garnered serious consideration. BYU now has only one other blue chip offer out at the moment, to local four star DE Max Tupai, and if they want to get involved in any other races, they're running out of time.
Like Fehoko's decision to attend Stanford, every one of those other misses is highly defensible. Chrisman is LDS, but he's also from Cincinnati, and had a chance to play for his in-state school, the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Bolles is one of the top JUCO prospects in the entire country, has offers from most major programs, and is getting interest from multiple SEC powers. Warner's brother may play for BYU, but if you're a top defensive back and Oregon comes calling, it can be hard to turn down. You can write a similar story for most of the top prospects that have turned BYU down over the last few years. It's not like the Cougars are regularly losing guys they want to say, San Diego State.
But eventually, you need to win a few of those battles, right? If BYU is going to get an elite talent, they're probably going to need to get a kid from Utah, or a top recruit who prioritizes an LDS-focused experience over anything else, and they aren't winning many of those battles. Last year, BYU only signed one of the top 10 HS prospects in Utah and only two in 2014 (BYU could realistically sign one to three this year), with none of them cracking the top five. They've only signed one consensus four-star recruit, period, over the last two and a half classes. After this senior class graduates, BYU will have just five blue chip players on their entire roster.
Does that matter? Well, we know that recruiting stars do correlate with higher winning percentage across the board, and that if you want to win a national title, you need an awful lot of blue chippers, but I think just about everybody outside of the BYU football offices would agree that competing for a national title isn't really a realistic goal at the moment. What about competing for regular AP Top 25 finishes? BYU has only been ranked in the AP Top 25 for three weeks in the Independent Era, so perhaps that is a more attainable goal. Are they recruiting well enough to hit that benchmark? Let's take a look.
I took a look at the recruiting data for every program ranked in the 20-25 range in the final AP Poll for the last three years, excluding duplicate teams. Below you'll find the number of blue chip players (defined as being a consensus four or five star) signed during that era, as well as their total composite score, as defined by 247Sports, for the 2016, 2015 and 2014 recruiting classes. The 2016 class isn't finished of course, so that number isn't set in stone.
|School||# of Blue Chips signed 2014-2016||2016||2015||2014||Total Recruiting Composite score 2014-2016|
|Notre Dame (2013)||35||189.63||267.23||260.44||717.3|
|San Jose State (2012)||1||71.05||168.58||124.04||363.67|
|Northern Illinois (2012)||0||42.78||135.87||109.96||288.61|
So what does this mean?
At the bottom, we can see that there are several teams, all outside of the Power Five, that have recently cracked the Top 25 despite recruiting at a lower level, occasionally a *far* lower level, than BYU. What do all of these programs have in common though? All of them play in conferences where nobody else is signing blue chips either. The entire AAC signed two blue chip players last season, and the MAC didn't sign a single one. If you're a Cincinnati or a Marshall, even though your raw recruiting numbers may be lower, you'll still have either equal or superior talent to nearly everybody you play during a season. If your team is solid, putting up a gaudy enough W-L record to crack the Top 25 isn't impossible. Even so, few of those programs are regularly in the Top 25 conversation. Just look at Tulsa right now.
That doesn't apply to BYU in the post-MWC world. In 2015, BYU is facing five teams that have outrecruited them (Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, Michigan and Missouri), a sixth that is roughly equal (Cincinnati), to say nothing of teams that may provide tricky tests for reasons independent of raw talent (ECU, Utah State). Next season, UCLA and Michigan State are recruiting at a top 10, top 15 level, and Mississippi State and West Virginia are still pacing well ahead of BYU. That trend continues after 2016 as well.
Now, you can still beat teams that have a talent advantage. Just ask Texas. The odds are good that BYU will win at least one, if not more, of those games in 2015. But winning enough of them to have a record high enough to make the Top 25? That's hard to do.
Everybody else on this list has brought in better talent than the Cougars, and in most cases, significantly so. Even Duke and Vanderbilt, two teams that have been awful for most of the lives of recruits today and have stricter academic requirements than BYU, have signed more blue chip players, and better overall players, than BYU.
The one exception, ironically enough, seems to be Utah, who has recruited at roughly a comparable level to BYU. The Utes finished in the Top 25 for the first time since 2009 (and the first time since they joined the Pac-12) last season, and while they may do so again this year, given that USC, UCLA and ASU are outrecruiting then so significantly, it would be difficult for them to sustain that level of success over the long haul. But then again, with recent success, perhaps they'll be able to get kids they couldn't in 2014.
The principle is still true for teams just outside of the Top 25 as well. Last year, four of the five top "also receiving votes" teams were recruiting at a level far beyond BYU (Notre Dame, Stanford, Nebraska and Duke, with Air Force as the exception). 2013 was a bit of an exception, with a clump of mid-majors (Washington was ranked 26, followed by Fresno State, NIU, Marshall and Texas Tech), but 2012 went back to form (Michigan, UCLA, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin).
Are these rankings perfect? No. Many of BYU's best players, like Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and Tejan Koroma, were not blue chip players. One could also argue that perhaps the mountain west region is underscouted in general, and being a blue chip player, of course, is no guarantee of on the field success, as Cougar fans know too well.
But if a team that doesn't have the advantage of playing mostly creampuffs wants to consistently be in the Top 25 conversation, the data shows that you typically need a certain caliber of recruit, and BYU isn't there right now. You can scheme and develop your way out of a lot of disadvantages, but you win big games with big time players. If BYU can't get them, achieving their program goals is going to be very, very difficult.