Pac-12 could really use strong recruiting finish

Recruiting rankings are overrated. Recruiting rankings provide a good barometer of which teams are best at collecting talent.

Both statements are true. That is recruiting.

Recruiting star ratings miss as often as they hit. Recruiting star ratings are pretty darn accurate overall.

Both statements are true. That is recruiting.

Recruiting rankings favor teams in the Southeast because more fans in the Southeast follow recruiting obsessively and recruiting rankers know who butters their toast. Yet numbers also show that a disproportionate number of NFL players hail from the Southeast.

It’s also darn near certain that most educated observers can predict much of the top 25 of the recruiting rankings even without an Internet connection, and that you also can name teams that will continue to finish seasons ranked in the top 25 without highly rated recruiting classes.

These general observations serve as a qualifying prelude to the inexact science of recruiting evaluation as we refocus out West, where recruiting seems to be, well, at best fair-to-middling. With a week until national signing day, none of the major recruiting services has a Pac-12 team ranked in its top 10.

ESPN Recruiting ranks USC at No. 14, though with seven available scholarships, the Trojans could surge late in the game, as they have done in the past. ESPN ranks Stanford next, at No. 16, and the Cardinal are still in the mix for a handful of A-list prospects.

As for those immediately looking for an ESPN conspiracy, ESPN has USC ranked substantially higher than anyone else. The Trojans are No. 20 with 24/7 Sports, No. 25 with Scout and No. 29 with Rivals. Stanford is No. 16 with 24/7 Sports, No. 18 with Scout and No. 20 with Rivals, which hands six Pac-12 teams their lowest ranking at present.

UCLA is ranked No. 20 by ESPN, but it's No. 11 with Rivals and Scout and No. 15 with 24/7 Sports. The Bruins are battling USC for a number of highly rated prospects, and more than a few insiders believe they might end up with the Pac-12's top class.

So the general feeling is that USC, Stanford or UCLA will finish atop the conference in recruiting. That probably doesn't surprise many longtime observers because those three are almost always at or near the top of the conference recruiting rankings, particularly USC.

It’s also reasonable to assert that Arizona State is doing pretty well, and Oregon State is exceeding expectations. It’s also difficult to ignore that every service ranks Colorado at the bottom of the Pac-12 with one of the worst classes in Power 5 football, with Rivals and Scout both rating the Buffaloes No. 84 among the 125 FBS teams.

Also seeming to struggle a bit are Oregon and Arizona, though at different ends of the spectrum.

The Ducks have been a fixture in the top 25 since their rise to national prominence, but Rivals and Scout both have Oregon at No. 28. ESPN ranks the Ducks No. 21.

Arizona, a year removed from winning the Pac-12 South Division title, is ranked in the 50s by Rivals, Scout and 24/7 Sports.

That six or so Pac-12 teams rank from the 30s to the 50s doesn't seem terribly sparkly.

Meanwhile, six SEC teams rank in ESPN's top 10, and that number is fairly consistent for all the services. Ohio State and Michigan are surging in the Big Ten with top-five classes and Florida State and Clemson own the ACC landscape.

The Big 12? Like the Pac-12, it seems to be struggling. Baylor and TCU lead the way, but both are outside the top 10, while blue bloods like Texas and Oklahoma are waning.

What does it all mean?

Well, no major judgments should be made on recruiting rankings a week before signing day, but this pretty much fits in with our generally pessimistic West Coast narrative introduced last week: The SEC and Big Ten seem to be surging while the Pac-12 is stagnating. The ACC appears to be on the cusp of becoming a two-team league, while the Big 12 could really use a healthy Texas, which ranks No. 31 in the ESPN rankings, a rating that is fairly shocking for embattled coach Charlie Strong, though he could be poised for a strong finish.

The team, however, with the most at stake (other than Texas) is USC.

Clay Helton went 0-2 after being named head coach, and a recruiting ranking in the middle-teens isn't going to win over many skeptics. Even when the wins weren't piling up in the fall as they did under Pete Carroll -- a recruiting AND coaching powerhouse -- Trojans fans certainly enjoyed highly rated classes under Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin.

Helton could really use a strong finish, particularly when he's going head-to-head with UCLA for that strong finish. If Jim Mora and the Bruins surge instead, memories of Helton's 40-21 victory in the rivalry series will start to blur around the edges.

Of course, recruiting rankings are overrated. The Pac-12 could be stockpiling underrated recruits, such as former two-star guys like Marcus Mariota and Scooby Wright.

But underwhelming recruiting rankings wouldn't be the only barometer working against the Pac-12 perception heading into 2016.