For $160 million, the University of Colorado got a much-needed makeover of its athletic facilities two years ago, and along with it came a newfound set of expectations, both on the football field and on the recruiting trail.
So, after the Buffaloes put the finishing touches on their 2018 recruiting class this past week, it was no surprise that a fraction of fans were asking, “That’s it?”
To some, those rankings are a signal that the Buffs have blown an opportunity and failed to capitalize on the new facilities and their resurgent 2016 season, when they went 10-4 and won the Pac-12 South.
Not so fast.
Let’s be realistic about the expectations for CU in recruiting.
New facilities and one good season in 12 years aren’t enough to make the best high school players in the country immediately flock to Boulder.
No, head coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffs aren’t drawing interest from the blue-chip, five-star prospects, but there aren’t a lot of those to go around anyway, and they typically land with the traditional national powers.
No, the Buffs aren’t loading up on four stars, either. They got one in this class: JUCO linebacker Davion Taylor.
CU is, however, making strides in recruiting and, more so than in previous years, beating other Power 5 programs for players.
Prior to the opening of the new facilities and the great run in 2016, CU had four consecutive classes that ranked dead-last in the Pac-12 — and those bottom-feeding classes provided the foundation for the Buffs’ South division title in 2016.
Then, last year, the Buffs had a class that ranked eighth in the Pac-12. They backed it up with a solid, need-filling class this winter that once again avoided the bottom of the Pac-12.
That’s not the recruiting turnaround that many fans wanted, but these things take time, and not just in Boulder.
In 2014, Washington State unveiled its brand new facilities. The Cougars have backed that up by going 26-13 over the past three years. Wazzu’s Pac-12 recruiting class rankings in the past four years? No. 8 in 2015, No. 10 in 2016, No. 9 in 2017 and No. 9 this year.
The Cougars aren’t turning heads on signing day, but they are doing what matters most: winning a lot of football games.
The subtle turnaround on CU’s investment might be frustrating to some, but again, be realistic.
In case you haven’t noticed, CU isn’t the only Power 5 school working out in new facilities these days. In the Pac-12 alone, literally every school has spent millions to upgrade their football facilities in the last five years, and they’re all impressive in their own right.
I’ve had recent CU recruits tell me they were just as impressed with the new facilities at Kansas and, yes, even Colorado State, as they were with CU. So, while great, new facilities help, for CU to start producing top-tier recruiting classes, it has to start winning consistently.
Following up the great 2016 season with a 5-7 record in 2017 doesn’t help. CU needs to string together a few winning seasons. Even then, as Washington State has proven, it’s no guarantee for lofty signing day rankings.
For now, when grading the Buffs’ recruiting efforts, don’t focus too much on the rankings. The real key is player development once those recruits get on campus.
The 2013 class, rated 68th nationally by 247Sports.com, wound up producing the school’s all-time leading passer (Sefo Liufau), the No. 2 leading rusher (Phillip Lindsay), two of the top eight receivers in school history (Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross), two defensive backs selected in the 2017 NFL draft (Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson) and two linebackers that were in NFL camps last season (Jimmie Gilbert and Kenneth Olugbode).
So far, the 2014-16 classes haven’t been nearly as successful or productive and 20 players those three classes are no longer on the team. That’s part of why the Buffs dropped down to 5-7 this year, and why they’re now plugging so many holes with junior college and graduate transfers.
Yet, since the opening of the new facilities, the Buffs have dramatically increased their talent on signing day. The 2017 group looks like it could special, and there’s plenty to like about the 2018 class — despite its national and Pac-12 rankings.
If CU’s coaches can get the most out of those players — as they did with the group in 2013 — nobody will care that the Buffs didn’t win on signing day, because they’ll do what matters most and win in the fall.