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October 14, 2011

Roundtable: What's next in desert?

MORE ROUNDTABLES: Sept. 30 | Sept. 23 | Sept. 2

Rivals.com football recruiting analysts weigh in on topics in a roundtable format.

How good of a job is Arizona - which fired head coach Mike Stoops on Monday - in terms of being able to recruit?

Mike Farrell: Arizona is a solid job but not considered a sexy one and the recruiting base isn't that strong. There are solid players in Arizona, but not enough to sustain a run to the Pac-12 title and there is in-state competition with Arizona State and plenty of poachers from inside and outside the conference. A good recruiting year is finishing third or so in the Pac-12 but the Wildcats are usually in the middle of the pack or lower. It's the kind of program that can attract solid players and coach them up, but I don't see them being a recruiting powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, even when they are winning consistently.

Adam Gorney: It's probably in the upper echelon in the Pac-12 and that's competitive across the country even though Arizona, under Stoops, basically focused on certain areas such as in-state players, Texas and California. There are probably very few disadvantages at Arizona since it's beautiful weather for those who like the heat, strong facilities and Tucson is a decently vibrant college city. If the right coach is hired that can spark the fan base and keep the in-state talent at home then Arizona could be a power in the Pac-12. The problem has been in the last few years for both Arizona and Arizona State, the top players, the program changers, have left the state. The new coach at Arizona has to turn around that trend.

Josh Helmholdt: Living in the Eastern Time Zone, we see much less coverage of Pac-12 football than any other conference in the country. Considering more prospects live in the Eastern Time Zone than any other individual time zone, the familiarity with the Pac-12 teams is not as strong as other conferences and hurts teams' abilities to recruit nationally. That being said, Arizona does not need to recruit nationally. It has more than enough talent in its own state and nearby Southern California to field high-quality teams year in and year out. Recruiting to Arizona should not be a problem for any coach focused on securing their home territory first.

Chris Nee: Prior to Stoops' dismissal, he had assembled what was considered the second-best class in the Pac-12 and a top 25 class nationally. That being said, the previous four years Arizona hadn't finished better than eighth in the Pac-12. So it seems like it is a mixed bag with regards to the success that the Wildcats can have in recruiting. In-state recruiting is not a bountiful harvest of top-tier talent with only seven players considered four-star or better in 2012's class, so you have to be able to reach outside of the home state and pull in upper-level kids.

Keith Niebuhr: Well, to me one big issue is that the state just doesn't produce a high number of BCS-conference talent. And that always makes things tough on a staff. When you have to look out of state for many of your players, the travel can be great and that also means you run into fewer people with ties to the school. So right there, you're facing a big challenge (although it should be noted Arizona currently has a solid class committed for 2012). However, I still think this is an attractive job. It's a great town in a great part of the country. And Arizona plays in a very good league. So to me, there is plenty of appeal there, particularly for a young, ambitious coach looking to make his mark.

Brian Perroni: The state of Arizona has some pretty good talent every year but not a lot of depth. However, for the top prospect in the state, USC is always going to be a player. Arizona State is on upswing as well. Other than that the Wildcats have to draw from Southern California and Texas. Both places are ultra-competitive so it is not an easy job at all. I actually think, because of geography, it is one of the harder schools to recruit.

With Arizona and perhaps UCLA soon to be amid coaching searches, and USC on probation, what are your expectations for Arizona State dominating the recruiting in that SoCal/Arizona region?

Mike Farrell: Dominating is a strong word and I don't see that happening. Can the Devils capitalize? Yes, to an extent, but they still won't out-recruit USC for many in-state players and you have California, Oregon, Stanford and Washington to contend with, considered by many recruits to be hotter programs. A win this weekend against Oregon would go a long way toward changing that, but we'll see if that happens. I think ASU will benefit from the embarrassment that the Pac-12 South has become, but there will be other programs from inside and outside the conference ready to snap up four- and five-star recruits from Southern California and Arizona.

Adam Gorney: I don't think Arizona State is going to dominate but the Sun Devils can certainly steal two, three, four prospects in a particular recruiting class. Oregon and Washington have been able to come in - and even Boise State to an extent - and take some of that Southern California and Arizona talent in recent recruiting cycles. USC is still going to get elite, five- and four-star prospects but I think even the Trojans are feeling a little bit of pressure. Oregon is the "hot name" in the Pac-12 without a doubt and the more kids get accustomed to leaving home the better the Ducks will do in those areas. The issue is a lot of Los Angeles kids dream of playing at USC so once the opportunity arises they jump on it. There is no question Arizona State has been a significant player in Southern California this recruiting cycle by going to Corona Centennial, Upland, Compton Dominguez and especially Long Beach Poly for players. Coach Dennis Erickson and his staff have done a better job landing California talent than some in-state schools.

Josh Helmholdt: The opportunity is certainly there for the Sun Devils, but so far they have not capitalized. They have yet to secure any of the top 15 prospects in their own state, and while they are doing a decent job pulling players from talent-rich California, they are not recruiting as an elite team at this point. The Sun Devils have nearly a full class of 24 commitments already, but still sit outside the top 25 recruiting classes in the country.

Chris Nee: USC's issues haven't seemed to slow down its ability to recruit much, so it still seems like a big dog on the block. All that being said, Arizona State has a chance to really capitalize off a strong 5-1, 3-0 Pac-12 start this year. If the Sun Devils can claim the Pac-12 championship, or at least vie for the crown, then that will bolster their ability to recruit. A championship and a major bowl game will only buy them more headlines. More positive news surrounding a program, and a raised expectation on the field, tends to lead to more eyes being put on that program by recruits.

Keith Niebuhr: Good question. It has to help some. But I just don't know how much. USC is still USC, UCLA will always get its share of players from this region, and when Arizona hires a new coach, he will be sold hard to recruits as the guy. What would really help, in my opinion, is if ASU can finish strong. To me, that would show recruits this is a program on the rise.

Brian Perroni: I don't see it happening. Arizona State is a good program but it just doesn't have the national presence of USC, UCLA, Oregon or even Cal. USC's probation is almost over so I expect the Trojans to keep dominating in the region. Oregon is going to pull a lot of kids out of there and then you even have national programs Notre Dame and Oklahoma that will go after a couple of players each year. Arizona State is sort of in the same boat as rival Arizona.

What is another program that could find itself in a fortunate recruiting situation based on various misfortunes of programs all around it?

Mike Farrell: It may sound odd because it is in easily the worst and most unstable BCS conference out there, but how about Rutgers? Syracuse certainly hasn't taken the next step off the field in recruiting, Boston College is having an awful season, Connecticut is similarly horrible this year and Maryland has been bad as well. Throw in the fact that Penn State has no coaching stability to sell and Rutgers could close very strong this year if it continues to win games and finally wins a Big East title that seemingly everyone else in the conference has. Pittsburgh, West Virginia, UConn, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Louisville have all claimed the Big East title in the last seven years leaving only Rutgers and USF without bragging rights. This has to be the year Rutgers changes that, especially with the conference sinking around it and the Scarlet Knights trying to stay attractive to others.

Adam Gorney: Not to pile on a program that's down and probably in significant trouble with the NCAA, but Florida, Florida State and other SEC and ACC schools could hammer away at the Miami commits. I believe four-star linebacker Keith Brown and some others have already expressed interest in looking around and who can blame them? Who knows what the Hurricanes face in the future and what restrictions, if any, will be put in place? I covered the Florida Gators for three years, and in some part SEC recruiting, and I have firsthand knowledge just how vicious recruiting contests can be. Believe me. I don't think any coaching staff is going to feel one iota of pity for Miami. If those coaches feel they have a chance to turn a recruit they're going for it full steam ahead.

Josh Helmholdt: Arizona made a concerted effort to recruit heavily in the Midwest under Stoops, in large part because defensive coordinator Tim Kish is an Ohio native and had previously coached at several Midwest and Big Ten programs. The Wildcats peppered the area, particularly the state of Illinois, with offers and although they had not pulled any commitments from the region in the last two classes, they had piqued the interest of several in 2012, including Chicago lineman Jordan Diamond and running back David Smith. Arizona and Illinois seemed to be in on many of the same prospects, and with the Illini surging Stoops' dismissal could help their cause, but there are several programs that posed stronger threats to the Illini's recruiting efforts than Arizona did.

Chris Nee: To stay with the West Coast flavor, I'll go with Washington. Southern Cal has been punished by the NCAA, Oregon may be in the foreseeable future due to accusations made against the Ducks, and Washington State is likely to struggle during the Pac-12 schedule. If the Huskies can string together some success in Pac-12 play, they have the staff that is capable of assembling a solid group of talent and capitalizing on this opportunity to advance their program.

Keith Niebuhr: None really stands out at the moment, but I'm keeping an eye on the state of Mississippi. If Ole Miss can't get things turned around and a coaching change is made, you have to figure Mississippi State would be the greatest beneficiary moving forward. However, what makes that situation even more intriguing is that Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is considered a hot commodity in coaching, so it's possible other programs could make a run at him.

Brian Perroni: With Florida and Florida State struggling at the moment and Miami possibly receiving sanctions, the state of Florida is pretty open. As long as concerns about the job security of Mark Richt at Georgia are alleviated the Bulldogs should be able to take advantage of the misfortunes of the programs in their neighboring state.

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