Weak recruiting classes may hurt these college football teams

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Last week in Bet Smart, we looked at college football recruiting programs expected to improve dramatically in 2021 thanks to recruiting success over a number of years. Here, we analyzed recruitment rankings in tandem with my power rankings to look at teams headed in the opposite direction due to faulty player procurement.

Buffalo: This was one of the top teams in the country on my list for “overachieving”: taking the talent it recruits and making those players successful. However, that was under the old coaching staff, and Lance Leipold has moved on to Kansas. Also, the recruiting classes that had success in recent years were more highly rated than the players currently on the roster. In fact, the 2018-20 recruiting classes for the Bulls were ranked No. 127 in the country, meaning 247sports found only three worse programs. That’s not a good sign for a new coaching staff that lost its bellcow runner in Jaret Patterson and only brings back 15 starters, a very low total for the MAC.

Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers were one of the feel-good stories of college football last year, but it seems this program caught lightning in a bottle, rallying around the adversity of the 2020 season. Sure, QB Grayson McCall had a big year and will be back this fall, but Coastal no longer will be under the radar. The 2017-20 recruiting classes combined for No. 125 in the country. I don’t see this team overachieving so greatly again in 2021.

Grayson McCall will be returning to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers this season.
Grayson McCall will be returning to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers this season.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Connecticut: The Huskies were one of only three FBS teams not to play a single game last fall, and while returning a full coaching staff and 15 starters represents a stable situation, the program only won nine games over the previous four years. The last three recruiting classes have combined to rank 121st in the country, abysmal for an American Athletic Conference team (even one that has since left the conference). The Huskies have three very winnable games, and the other nine should be considered automatic losses.

Hawaii: I wrote about Hawaii in this same spot last year when it had a new coach, new quarterback, and only 11 returning starters. The Warriors also had the worst two recruiting classes in recent memory in 2019 and 2020. The Warriors proved me wrong under coach Todd Graham, going 5-4, but their recruiting got worse this spring, as Graham brought in the country’s 124th-ranked class. These poorly rated classes will be relied on this fall. The school is also facing some stadium drama, and one of its best former players, QB Colt Brennan, died last spring. Things aren’t looking up.

Houston: It was not a huge surprise that Houston scored its best-recruiting class, ranked No. 36, after its 13-1 season in 2015 under Tom Herman. The talent brought in since has not reached that level, with 2017 ranking the best at No. 69 and bottoming out with 82nd and 83rd rankings under Dana Holgorsen in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Holgorsen is just 7-13 in two seasons with the Cougars, and the talent level doesn’t suggest a quick turnaround. Don’t confuse these Cougars with those of the past under Herman or Major Applewhite.

Marshall: Doc Holliday’s efforts in recruiting waned in recent years, and he was replaced after last year’s 7-3 finish. The problem was the three losses came at the end, when the Herd scored just 23 total points after averaging 37. The crumbs he left on the recruiting trail for new coach Charles Huff is a 119th-ranked class, easily the program’s worst in the last 15 years. That came just one year after a then-low 95th ranking. The lesser talent figures to catch up at some point, and with a new coach in place and the memories of a horrible finish to 2020 still fresh, it just might be this season.

Tulsa: This is a program whose recruiting classes have been ranked worse than the previous year for four consecutive seasons. This spring, 247sports felt that only four FBS programs signed less talent than the Golden Hurricane. Does this mean the program is headed for dark days? Possibly, as talent is obviously key in competing, and coach Philip Montgomery is used to working with higher levels of it in recent years. But his last four teams are just 15-30 and he also lost multiyear starting QB Zach Smith. Coming off a 6-3 campaign, this team will be very lucky to reach a bowl game.

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