Championships are often won off the field. Recruiting is one of the most important factors in building a college football program. Being versed in the recruiting game shouldn’t be considered essential only for coaches, however, those betting should have a good handle on it as well.
There are naturally teams that surprise each season, both positively and negatively, and many factors contribute to this. From analyzing the recruiting rankings against my power ratings, I came up with some potential teams that show signs of a rapid improvement in 2021.
California: The Golden Bears played just four games last year and won only one. The pandemic was treated differently in California, and as such the 2020 season was a virtual throwaway. Cal brings back a solid group of 19 starters, including highly rated QB Chase Garbers, and coach Justin Wilcox just signed the best recruiting class in his five-year stay. The scores his classes have gotten have improved in four straight years. Cal was making good progress as a program before 2020. I look for the team to put it together again this fall.
Maryland: The 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes at Maryland were ranked 18th and 28th, respectively, in the country, and with super seniors now in play because of the extra year of eligibility, the players of those years will be the upperclassmen leading their teams this season. That bodes well for Mike Locksley and the Terrapins. What also helps is that Maryland played some very competitive football last season, finishing 2-3 and scoring a huge upset of Penn State, with QB Taulia Tagovailoa gaining some valuable experience and production.
Miami: The 2017-19 recruiting classes at Miami ranked 17th in the country for the three-year measurement. That has proven to be a key factor for projecting success. Most of those players will be upperclassmen for coach Manny Diaz this season, and that list does not include QB D’Eriq King, who started his career at Houston and had a big year for the Hurricanes in 2020. He surprised a lot of people when he decided to come back for another run. After a huge bowl game performance against Oklahoma State, I expect a big season from him. Miami should be right in the hunt for the ACC crown.
USC: The height of USC’s recent recruiting success came in the 2017-18 seasons, when each class ranked fourth in the country. Those successes came on the heels of back-to-back double-digit-win seasons. The Trojans are just 18-13 since. After last year’s 5-1 campaign and combined with the return of stud QB Kedon Slovis and 15 other starters, this could be the season USC makes it back into the national spotlight. This team has a good chance to head to Notre Dame on Oct. 23 undefeated at 6-0, and that contest would certainly put this program back front and center.
Wisconsin: This has been one of the best programs in the country in winning with modest recruiting classes. Recently, however, the Badgers have picked up the recruiting efforts, scoring program-best classes in three straight seasons. Now we will get to see what this program can do with higher-tier talent. One such player, Graham Mertz, is back at quarterback. He looked Heisman-worthy in the first two games last season before losing many of his top weapons to injury. The Badgers didn’t really recover until the final two games. With the momentum of a big bowl win and bigger recruiting efforts in tow, coach Paul Chryst might have his best chance at a playoff berth yet.