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Off-Season Market Watch - Mountain Men Making Moves

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The Pac-12’s newest members have stayed busy, and not always for good reasons

NCAA Football: Arizona at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s post is the conclusion of a four-part series on the off-season comings and goings in the Pac-12. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the previous editions here:

Utah

While USC has slumped for the last half-decade, Utah has taken advantage in the Pac-12 South. Kyle Whittingham brought the Utes to the Pac-12 Title Game in 2018 and 2019 and finally got over the hump for a conference title and Rose Bowl bid in 2021. Where USC has failed to develop flashy recruits and tried a variety of offensive approaches, Utah has excelled with stability and excellent payer development, especially on defense.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Utah at Ohio State Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes will maintain a lot of that stability into 2022. They replaced two position coaches with alumni from the program. They continued to shrewdly play the transfer market with the addition of Florida LB Mohamoud Diabate and some useful depth. The recruiting class surged all the way up to 4th in the conference behind the strength of blue chippers at RB, LB, and QB. Cam Rising and Tavion Thomas return to anchor the offense at QB and RB. Utah is a rock-solid program and should remain such as long as Whittingham wants to keep coaching. The only medium-term concern is the potential resurgence of USC. If Lincoln Riley gets the Trojans firing on all recruiting, developing, and game-planning cylinders, it’s going to be a lot harder to win three more division titles in a four-year span.

Market Status- Flat, with a watch-out in LA

Colorado

The Buffs started reasonably well in 2021. After a 4-2 season in 2020, they won big against Northern Colorado in their opener and came within a field goal of top-10 Texas A&M. But the alarm bells were blaring, even at that point. The Buffs did not throw the ball well. As opponents packed the box, it got harder for Jarek Broussard to find room to run and Brendon Lewis struggled to punish defenses for creeping up. Going into Karl Dorrell’s third year, CU fans probably wish the program was on a better trajectory. They signed the #5 recruiting class in the conference, but that had more to do with signing a large volume of recruits to backfill transfer departures than high quality. The team saw a huge number of players leave to the transfer portal, including Broussard and most of their meager receiving production. The transfers they brought in do not compare in quality or quantity to those who left. It appears that Dorrell is aware of these shortcomings because he significantly shook up his offensive staff two years into his tenure. Mike Sanford will bring a more creative version of the run-first attack with him from Minnesota. Nonetheless, with so many arrows pointing in the wrong direction, Sanford is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to turn the whole team around.

Market Status – Trending down. It’s hard to find one part of the program in Boulder to feel really good about.

Arizona State

I believed that ASU’s roster was talented enough to win the Pac-12 South in 2021 if the noise around coaching staff didn’t get in the way of on-field performance. At 8-5 (6-3 in conference), the season was not a total failure, but the program foundation nearly collapsed on itself. An NCAA investigation into recruiting violations during the pandemic hung over the team all year. OC Zak Hill resigned, seemingly to get off the sinking ship. DC Antonio Pierce also resigned under pressure associated with the investigation. Two other coaches were fired for their roles in the violations.

On the field, the Sun Devils lost games they should have won simply due to disorganization manifested in turnovers and unnecessary penalties. The recruiting class was another example of the instability. ASU lost so many recruits over the winter that they had to scramble to fill out their class with unrated recruits from around the country and JuCo transfers. It added up to a miserable 108th ranked recruiting class nationally, the worst in the Power 5. Promising young players like CB Tommi Hill, RB Chip Trayanum, and WRs Johnny Wilson and Junior Alexander all left the program. RB Rachaad White is gone for the pros. The Sun Devils did bring in some impressive transfers, like Miami DL Nesta Jade Silvera, but it likely won’t be enough to make up for the outgoing players.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona State Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Many of the problems ASU has experienced- poor recruiting, on-field disappointment, coaching controversy and instability- were part of Washington’s downfall in 2021. Conversely, UW ripped off the bandage before the season even ended and looks to be on a better flightpath. ASU still has Herm Edwards at the helm. While he got surprisingly good results early in his tenure, the question about him from the start was whether he had the interest or energy to micromanage the minutiae of a college program. All available evidence says that he does not, yet he remains in charge of the program.

Market Status – Stock down. The odds of Edwards being the one to right this ship are slim and none, and slim may have just left town.

Arizona

I thought Arizona might be in for a dead cat bounce in 2021. They were so miserable in Kevin Sumlin’s final season, finishing 0-5 and bottoming out with a 70-7 loss to Arizona State, that they seemed due for a little bit of good luck in Jed Fisch’s inaugural campaign. With the exception of a horrific 10-3 win over a Covid-wrecked Cal roster, 2021 was not much better. They didn’t run or pass efficiently, they gave up lots of yardage in all facets on defense, and they lost the turnover battle decisively for the year. They lost to FCS Northern Arizona, who isn’t even a good FCS team.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

And yet, I have to give Fisch credit for letting the team go through this painful rebuilding season. He didn’t install veteran transfers with no future to win a meaningless game or two. He didn’t use gimmicks on either side of the ball that might produce a quick result without establishing solid fundamentals. Players seem to have noticed, too. Fisch signed a huge recruiting class with some real talent at the top end. He went into Southern California and won recruiting battles with blue blood programs. He lost a few players to the transfer portal, but more than made up for it with an infusion of talent on both sides of the ball with multiple years of eligibility remaining. WSU QB Jayden de Laura and Michigan LB Anthony Solomon headline the class, but there are already five other signed transfers with a legitimate shot to play. My only qualm with the UA offseason is that respected DC Dom Brown took the UMass head coaching job and Fisch chose to replace him with the uninspiring Johnny Nansen. If that decision pans out better than I expect, Arizona should start to see real growth back to respectability in the next two years.

Market Status – Nowhere to go but up, but Fisch appears to be pushing the right buttons