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Conference realignment won’t change CU Buffs’ recruiting approach

Even without UCLA, USC in Pac-12, Colorado will heavily recruit Los Angeles area

BOULDER, CO: December 15, 2021- CU head football coach, Karl Dorrell, talks about the 2021 early signing class during the University of Colorado Boulder's football letter-of-intent day on December 15, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO: December 15, 2021- CU head football coach, Karl Dorrell, talks about the 2021 early signing class during the University of Colorado Boulder’s football letter-of-intent day on December 15, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Barring a surprise invitation from the Big Ten Conference, the University of Colorado is likely to land in a conference that doesn’t include annual trips to play in Los Angeles.

When Southern California and UCLA announced late last month their intention to bolt the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024, it took the Los Angeles market away from the Pac-12. It also means that in the near future the Buffaloes won’t be competing in what has been a recruiting hotbed for years.

The Buffs don’t need to compete in Los Angeles in order to have success recruiting there, however, head football coach Karl Dorrell said.

“I don’t think (it’ll hurt recruiting) and the reason why I say this is because I’m using the same model of recruiting that Bill McCartney did 25 years ago,” Dorrell said. “We know that we want to keep our best players here in state if we can. We want to make sure we have presence in Texas; we do. And we want to have presence in California.”

CU has always had a presence in California in regards to recruiting. In fact, from 1973-2022, the Buffs have signed more high school recruits from The Golden State (290) than anywhere else, including Colorado (270) and Texas (160). Many of those recruits came from the Los Angeles area.

“When I was in the Big Eight, recruiting in California, we weren’t hardly playing in California,” Dorrell said. “But we were still getting the Darian Hagans and those California kids to Colorado. So it was done before.”

In fact, during McCartney’s tenure from 1982-94, the Buffs played only three regular season games in California – the 1990 Pigskin Classic vs. Tennessee in Anaheim and two trips to Stanford (1991 and 1993) – yet signed 67 high school players from California in those years. (CU also played twice in the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim under McCartney.)

Rick Neuheisel took CU to California just once in his tenure (1995-98), to play Washington in the 1996 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, but signed 37 players from California in those four years.

While CU still heavily recruits California, the Buffs’ last three recruiting classes have produced more players from Texas (19) than California (12) and Colorado (seven). Of the 15 players currently committed for 2023, seven are from Texas and four from California.

“What’s changed (from the McCartney era) is that because I lived in Florida for a good period of time, I do have connections in Florida,” he said. “There’s certain coaches on staff that have connections in certain regions of the country. So we build into that as building part of our recruiting base, but we’re still going to have the presence in California and Texas and in our state. Those have kind of always been our principal factors in building our program.

“Will there be some subtle changes in the landscape? Sure. But I think we’re still going to attack it the same way we’ve been doing it since I’ve been back.”

Turley in Year 2

CU is now in its second offseason with director of football sports performance Shannon Turley and Dorrell said there is an obvious difference.

“You do see the physical difference in our football team,” Dorrell said. “Last year, it probably wasn’t a good year to really judge the level of development … just because you’re teaching things in a very, very construct, proper way. If you guys know Shannon Turley at all he’s not going to do something that’s not going to be well-coached in the details of it.

“He was teaching all those movements a year ago, making sure it was done properly. This year it was more of a loading up the weight and you can see those physical differences in the spring. Now I’m seeing another jump of physical development even in the summer so it’s been going really well.”

Now in third year, Dorrell said complete participation from players is making a difference, too. The COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted the 2020 offseason and had some impact last year, too.

“This is the first year where there’s a 100% participation and they’re all out there doing stuff on their own; they’re all out there with the coaches; they’re all out there getting better,” Dorrell said.


Athletic director Rick George said CU has already sold 1,000 student tickets. There’s always a spike in student ticket sales in August when students return to campus. Last year, CU sold 13,990 student tickets and George said, “We anticipate we’ll meet that again.” … CU has an allotment of 2,700 tickets for the Sept. 11 game at Air Force. George said, “I’m pretty confident that ours will all be spoken for, if they haven’t already been spoken for, so you may have to get him through the Air Force Academy.” … George reiterated that last year’s 4-8 record was a disappointment for everyone at CU, but said, “We have high expectations for this year. My expectation is that we’ll be in a bowl game in December or January and I think Karl probably has those same expectations.” … Earlier this summer, the Pac-12 voted to eliminate divisions in football and slot the two best teams in the conference title game, rather than the two division winners. George said he’s excited about that change because it gives the Pac-12 the best chance to have a team in the College Football Playoff.

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