More goes into on-field success than recruiting. You still have to develop talent. You still have to gameplan and scheme for opponents. Home field advantage still matters. Momentum still matters. And, yes, sometimes a team gets lucky or a bounce and call go their way. Sometimes, a team becomes that team of destiny and defies the odds.
But, recruiting well helps.
There’s a reason that when it comes to the national championship, it’s always the usual suspects who make the College Football Playoff (you know, besides the active efforts to keep the Group of 5 on the outside looking in). They recruit better than everyone else. Why can Michigan never beat Ohio State? Because even on the odd chance they out scheme the Buckeyes, they never have as much talent as Ohio State.
The truth is that recruiting is often a sign of a program’s health. Better facilities, more tradition, a better conference, better TV rights, stadium atmosphere, and a better coaching staff tend to land recruits. So, after this second and less significant signing day, now that the 2021 recruiting classes are set, let’s see how each AAC team did, in order of class ranking according to 24/7’s recruiting rankings:
Cincinnati-1st in AAC (42nd Overall)
Luck Fickell, despite losing defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman after the first signing day, continues to dominate on the recruiting trail. Cincinnati is bringing in the top ranked AAC class again, that’s two years in a row and three of the last four, with 24 prospects in their 2021 class. The Bearcats kept their wall up around the city of Cincinnati, but it will be key to sustain recruiting success without Freeman bringing in the defense next season.
Memphis-2nd in AAC (46th Overall)
The difference between 42 and 46 is splitting hairs, as Memphis is bringing in 25 recruits, all of whom are three star prospects. This class will have to take the mantle, as the Tigers are replacing star offensive talent all over the field. Three incoming transfer quarterbacks, Jeremiah Oatsvall, Grant Gunnell, and Peter Parrish will all likely compete to take Brady White’s job.
SMU-3rd in AAC (53rd Overall)
Traditional thought is that you should only bring in so many transfers, and the majority of your roster should be home grown talent. In fact, it’s too the downfall of many coaches that they bring in players for one or two years, but are always plugging leaks with no long term solutions. SMU under Sonny Dykes, however, is the exception that proves the rule. Look out for Tanner Mordecai, an Oklahoma transfer, to take Shane Buechele’s former job at quarterback.
UCF-4th in AAC (55th Overall)
Even without an athletic director or head coach, UCF signed 4-star athlete/wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, continuing to expand their Hawaiian pipeline. Mokiao-Atimalala, who committed less than 48 hours after Josh Heupel left for Tennessee, helped make this the best class that Heupel primarily recruited. It should also be noted that Heupel tried to bring Mokiao-Atimalala to Tennessee at the last minute. In fact, this is UCF’s best class since their 2017 class. Still, you’d think UCF should be recruiting closer to Cincinnati in the high-40s for overall ranking.
USF-5th in AAC (63rd Overall)
Say what you will about USF in recent years, Jeff Scott has recruited the natural talent laying all around him well, better than the program’s success and facilities would lend themselves to. Still, the Bulls need help now to win in the next year or so. Maybe one of their six transfers, all coming in from Power 5 schools, who can jolt their offense to life.
Tulane-6th in AAC (78th Overall)
Tulane having an average recruiting class in the AAC is great for that program, who undeniable recruits from behind the 8-ball. Recent trips to bowl games, a new on-campus stadium, and the city of New Orleans certainly help, but Tulane’s academic requirements tend to give them the same issues of a Northwestern or Georgia Tech. The Green Wave have their quarterback of the future in Michael Pratt, so hopefully they can retool their weapons around him now.
Houston-7th in AAC (81st Overall)
So, is it time to panic about Dana Holgorsen yet? Year one, they gave up and didn’t want to win. Year two, COVID-19 struck and made the season forgivable. The issue is that for the bursts of excitement, the issues that the Cougars had under Major Applewhite remain, particularly on defense. This class, unless Holgorsen is looking for transfers to come in with the potential for new transfer rules, was small at 14 players and doesn’t inspire confidence in Houston’s direction.
ECU-8th in AAC (96th Overall)
ECU should be better than they have been. Their fanbase is strong, and they have arguably the best stadium in the conference. Their coach has succeeded at multiple (granted FCS) jobs. As a recruiting base, they have easy access to the DMV, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Florida. Still, this is what happens when you haven’t been good on the field in nearing a decade. It’s hard to put it all together, and as long as you’re recruiting bottom tier classes it’s going to stay hard.
Temple-9th in AAC (105th Overall)
Rod Carey came to Temple in a difficult situation, as Manny Diaz ran from the job. The Owls gave Carey a very coach friendly contract, as they didn’t want to lose yet another coach. He has a massive buyout, heading into his third season his buyout is still a steep $8 million, and they’re paying him around $2 million annually. That’s bad news, because he hasn’t proved he’s worth it yet. In 2019, he maintained what Geoff Collins had maintained and had inherited from Matt Rhule. 2020, though a weird year, was a disaster and this is the period on that mess. Carey has a lot to clean up, and Temple has deficiencies as a program, but they need to be better than Old Dominion and Bowling Green at recruiting.
Navy-10th in AAC (107th Overall)
Navy is a team whose rankings don’t matter at all. Because of their status as an elite military academy, they can only take students who could get into the Naval Academy academically and want to bein in the U.S. Navy upon graduation. So, based on talent, these guys aren’t as good as most other recruits. That’s why they run the triple option, though. Ken Niumatalolo has long proven his worth as a talent developer, too. So, no worries here.
Tulsa-11th in AAC (127th Overall)
It’s weird how bad Tulsa has done recruiting this year. They just played for a conference championship, but only signed nine recruits. Nine. That’s it. There are only 130 FBS teams, and while these rankings include FCS schools, you don’t want that to be relevant to you as a FBS program. The 128th ranked recruiting class is Northern Arizona, so that feels like a major issue. Among the teams who recruited better than Tulsa, there are names like UMass, UConn, Akron, New Mexico State, and Eastern Michigan. Maybe Philip Montgomery has a plan in the transfer portal, but the clock is ticking, and it makes you think if Tulsa hadn’t come from behind in basically every game in 2020 that Montgomery would be looking for a new line of work.