The Athletic

College football recruiting index: Is it time to panic at Virginia Tech, Auburn, Louisville?

We’re three weeks into the 2022 college football season but still about three months away from the opening day of the early signing period. When The Athletic unveiled its recruiting panic index last month, we noted there was still plenty of time for your program to elevate its class if it wasn’t quite where you envisioned yet.

That’s becoming less true by the week.

So it’s time once again to survey the landscape and examine how worried some teams should be about their recruiting efforts.

We’ll try to avoid talking about some of the same programs we discussed last time — kudos to Florida State for moving up 17 spots in the 247Sports Composite Rating since our first check-in — but there are some we can’t avoid (looking at you Auburn, Arizona State).

Panic level: Recruiting is fine, but the buzz is gone

North Carolina

Mack Brown’s first two full recruiting classes, in the 2020 and 2021 cycles, finished 14th nationally. He followed that up by signing the No. 11 class — highlighted by four top-100 players — in the 2022 cycle.

The Tar Heels’ 2023 class is good — it currently ranks 20th nationally — but it lacks the type of top-end talent that made their previous classes so strong. None of North Carolina’s commitments rank in the top 100 nationally and only one ranks in the top 200.

The average player rating was 90.87 in 2021 and 91.76 in 2022. This year, it’s at 88.55, which would be the lowest for Brown in a full class since he returned to UNC.


Mack Brown currently has the 20th-ranked class in the nation. (Brett Davis / USA Today)

In the past three cycles, the Tar Heels have signed four top-100 players from Virginia as well as blue-chip prospects from Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee and Illinois. In the 2023 class, North Carolina has commitments from two blue-chip prospects out of Virginia — we’ll dive deeper into that state in a bit — but Penn State has landed commitments from the top two prospects in the state, who both rank in the top 100 nationally.

The Tar Heels’ overall player rating may be down a bit because the top-end talent in the state of North Carolina has started to dip a bit. In the 2020 and 2021 cycles, there were 27 prospects who ranked among the top 250 nationally. The Tar Heels signed 13 of them. There have been only 16 in-state prospects who ranked in the top 250 nationally in the 2022 or 2023 classes. UNC signed four of those prospects last year and has commitments from three this year.

As noted, this class is still fine — with the potential to get better — in a year when the in-state talent isn’t great. But this program feels as though it’s lost some momentum — both on the field and the recruiting trail.

Panic level: In need of in-state improvement

Virginia Tech, Virginia

There are seven blue-chip prospects in the state of Virginia in the current cycle. Penn State holds commitments from four of them, North Carolina has two and Tennessee has a pledge from the other.

Of the top 20 prospects in the state, Virginia has commitments from two (Nos. 10 and 19), and Virginia Tech has only one (No. 20). That helps explain where their recruiting classes are at the moment.

Virginia Tech has the higher-ranked class of the two programs, 38th nationally with 19 commitments. Interior offensive lineman Layth Ghannam is the highest-rated prospect of the group — and the only blue-chipper — but he ranks No. 410. Eight of Virginia Tech’s commitments aren’t ranked in the top 1,000. That’s not encouraging for a program that needs to upgrade its talent level.

Virginia is in the same boat with a class that ranks 67th nationally. The Cavaliers have no blue-chip prospects in their class and no players who rank in the top 500. Three-star linebacker Kamren Robinson, No. 512, is their highest-rated commit.

Brent Pry was hired in part to help fix Virginia Tech’s recruiting issues. Tony Elliott had a solid reputation as a recruiter at Clemson and will need to bring in more talent at Virginia.

Pry opened his tenure with a loss to Old Dominion and has a difficult October slate looming. Elliott guided the Cavaliers to a last-second win over ODU last week, but they scored just three points in a loss at Illinois the previous week.

So Pry and Elliott will have to make effective recruiting pitches if things are to improve because they might not have impressive on-field results to lean on in Year 1.

Panic level: How will the hot seat impact our class?

Louisville

Nothing is wrong with Louisville’s class. The Cardinals have commitments from blue-chip players at nearly every position group, headlined by five-star running back Rueben Owens, top-100 receiver DeAndre Moore Jr. and four-star quarterback Pierce Clarkson.

Louisville’s class ranks 17th nationally — significantly higher than Scott Satterfield’s best class to date (No. 40 in 2021). The Cardinals have had success in California, Georgia and Florida, and pulled Owens out of Texas.

The question is whether Sattefrield, who’s already had a tenuous relationship with the fan base and the school, will see this cycle through. He’s posted back-to-back losing seasons and is off to a 1-2 start in 2022 with an embarrassing loss to Syracuse and a home loss to Florida State. There are still games remaining against Pitt, Wake Forest, Clemson, NC State and Kentucky, all of which are currently ranked.

None of the recruits appear to be wavering publicly, but if the on-field results continue to be underwhelming and Louisville makes a move on Satterfield, then it brings legitimate questions about which prospects will actually see their commitments through.

Panic level: The on-field results are fine so far, but recruiting desperately needs a spark

Indiana, Cal

Indiana signed the No. 25 recruiting class in the country in the 2022 cycle. That class featured four four-star prospects and five top-500 players nationally, headlined by outside linebacker Dasan McCullough (son of former Indiana and current Notre Dame running backs coach Deland McCullough), who is the highest-rated signee in program history. It was the second time in four cycles that the Hoosiers placed in the top 40 nationally.

Indiana is off to a 3-0 start this season — thanks to two close wins — but things have gone much, much slower for the Hoosiers on the recruiting trail. Their class ranks 70th nationally and includes no commitments inside the top 500.

Indiana signed three of the top 11 in-state prospects last year. This year, it has just one commitment from that group, which might be the aftereffect of a 2-10 season in 2021. The quality of prospect has dipped, as well. The average player rating in its 2023 class is 85.94, down significantly from 87.77 last cycle.

The other concerning aspect: The Hoosiers have only 10 recruits in a class that ranks last in the Big Ten. They have plenty of ground to make up in a short amount of time.

Meanwhile at Cal, Justin Wilcox looked as though he was building momentum on the recruiting trail when he signed the No. 28 class in the country in the 2021 cycle. That was a nice jump for a program that had hovered around the 40s in the previous three years. That ’21 class included four blue-chip offensive players, which was significant because Cal needed to upgrade the skill level and explosiveness on that side of the ball. But recruiting took a definite step back last season when the Golden Bears finished 59th nationally.

And things are even more bleak in the 2023 cycle. Cal currently sits at 84th nationally, and over the summer it lost commitments from three-star offensive lineman Amos Talalele, who flipped to USC, three-star defensive lineman Ashton Sanders and four-star safety R.J. Jones. Jones and Talalele were the two highest-rated players in the Bears’ class, and Sanders would’ve been fourth on that list. Now Cal has none of them.

There are some rough-looking recruiting classes in the Pac-12 — UCLA and Arizona State, which we’ll get to soon, are chief among them — and Cal is swimming in those waters. The Golden Bears’ class is 10th in the league, ahead of only the Bruins and Sun Devils, who just fired coach Herm Edwards. And their average player rating (85.89) is lower than UCLA (88.13) and similar to Arizona State (85.34).

Cal, like Indiana, has a class that is light in numbers with only seven commitments. The Golden Bears are off to solid start — 2-1 with a close loss at Notre Dame as its only blemish — but Wilcox and his staff will have a hard time sustaining success in the long term unless the program improves its recruiting.

Panic level: Accepting the transition class fate

Nebraska, Arizona State

Arizona State already had one of the worst, if not the worst, recruiting outlooks for any Power 5 school in the country. Last month, we highlighted the struggles the Sun Devils were going through on the recruiting trail. At the time, they had just five commitments and ranked 88th nationally.

They’ve since picked up a sixth commitment but have fallen to 92nd nationally, a sign that things were only going to get worse under Edwards as the talent level declined — only two of Arizona State’s commitments were in the top 1,000 nationally. But the university fired Edwards over the weekend, which gives the program some semblance of hope on the recruiting trail.

Will it come in this recruiting cycle? No. That’ll be almost impossible. Arizona State is destined to have a transition class as a new hire will likely start in late November or early December, with just a few weeks to bring in a class before the early signing period begins Dec. 21.

There’s a ton of work to do for Arizona State’s next coach, and that staff won’t be able to dramatically improve this class that late in the process — they’ll essentially be starting from ground zero, too. The good thing is the new coaches will have nothing to do with the current NCAA investigation, which is a positive, and they’ll have more stability than Edwards had in this last year and a half.

Nebraska, which fired Scott Frost on Sept. 11, has guaranteed a transition class for itself, as well. Interim coach Mickey Joseph will try to hold things together, but that’ll be a difficult task. The Cornhuskers’ class ranks 48th nationally but holds commitments from just two blue-chip prospects.

That could improve when a new coach is in place, but like at Arizona State, that’ll be difficult with the short amount of time to work with in this cycle.

Nebraska will no longer have to deal with the dark cloud of uncertainty after Frost was seemingly on the hot seat the last two years. Frost’s first four classes ranked 23rd or better nationally — though he had issues retaining and developing that talent — before slipping to the 40s last year.

The next coach will have to emphasize development while building a better foundation in recruiting. Don’t expect immediate improvement from either Arizona State or Nebraska in this cycle, though, as both might need to dip into the portal to add more talent — heavily, in the Sun Devils’ case.

Panic level: Hello darkness, my old friend

Auburn

Last month, we examined why Auburn was struggling so much in recruiting. There was a failed coup of Bryan Harsin, which planted the dreaded seeds of uncertainty that were going to be extremely difficult to overcome on the recruiting trail.

This month, we’ve seen the reasons why people were upset with Harsin in the first place. The offense is bad and the quarterback situation is even worse — and that was all on display in a 41-12 loss to Penn State over the weekend.

It seems inevitable that Auburn will move on from Harsin at some point in the next few months. The Tigers couldn’t pull away from a midtier Mountain West team (San Jose State) at home and were just blown out by Penn State. That doesn’t bode well with LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama all remaining on the schedule.

Understandably, very few recruits have been eager to jump on this ship in the 2023 cycle — the Tigers have a good average player rating (89.43) and seven commitments from blue-chip players — but they have only 10 prospects in their class. In September. Auburn’s two chief rivals, Alabama and Georgia, have 22 and 19 commitments, respectively — and both have top-five classes.

That, combined with the fact that Harsin isn’t regarded as a dynamic recruiter even in good times, helps explain why the Tigers’ recruiting class sits at 54th nationally and 13th in the SEC, ahead of only Missouri. This saga will probably end soon, but the Tigers are going to have to experience some pain on the field and the recruiting trail before someone new steps in to give the fan base new hope.

(Top photo of Virginia Tech: Brian Bishop / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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