First in a series of columns framing the 2020-21 recruiting cycle for the Pac-12 …

If a greater opportunity has awaited a first-year Pac-12 head coach, we are unaware.

If a more powerful moment in time has appeared before a Pac-12 program, it is lost on us.

Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to The Seattle Times through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group. Wilner has been covering college athletics for decades and is a voter in the basketball and football AP polls, as well as the Heisman trophy. He shares his expert analysis and opinions on the conference for the Pac-12 Hotline.

Jimmy Lake steps into his first full recruiting cycle as Washington’s head coach and there, splayed out before him, is an unprecedented array of high school talent a few miles from his office.

Lake’s success over the next 51 weeks will shape not only his tenure and the intermediate-term future of the UW program but also the North division race and the viability of the Pac-12 within the Power Five structure.

As Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee tells Woodward and Bernstein in “All The President’s Men”:

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“Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country.”

OK, maybe we overstated the situation just a wee bit.

But facts are facts:

  • This is the first full recruiting cycle for Lake, who took over for Chris Petersen in December.
  • The junior class is regarded as the best in the history of the Evergreen State, with three of the top 10 players in the country.

Overall, Washington has seven prospects in the class of 2021 who have received five- or four-star ratings in the 247sports composite.

The state of Arizona has six.

Oregon, Colorado and Utah have six, combined.

Alabama has eight.

“It’s unheard of. The state won’t be this strong again in the foreseeable future,” said 247sports recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman, who’s based in the Seattle area.

Steilacoom’s Emeka Egbuka led the Sentinels to a runner-up finish in the Class 2A state football tournament. (Joshua Bessex / The Tacoma News Tribune)
Steilacoom’s Emeka Egbuka led the Sentinels to a runner-up finish in the Class 2A state football tournament. (Joshua Bessex / The Tacoma News Tribune)

Even better for UW: Two of the top prospects play positions of the highest value, quarterback and defensive tackle …

  • DT J.T. Tuimoloau, five stars, Eastside Catholic
  • QB Sam Huard, five stars, Kennedy Catholic
  • ATH Emeka Egbuka, five stars, Steilacoom
  • ATH Julien Simon, four stars, Lincoln
  • WR Jabez Tinae, four stars, Kennedy Catholic
  • G Owen Prentice, four stars, O’Dea
  • ATH Will Latu, four stars, Bethel

Tuimoloau is the No. 1 interior defensive line prospect in the country, a talent typically available in SEC territory and often seen bulldozing through Pac-12 offensive lines in high-stakes neutral-site affairs.

He’s the Auburn defensive tackle rising to the moment against Washington or Oregon.

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Whether Tuimoloau eventually signs with UW or not, he is the highest of high-priority recruits for the Pac-12.

Purple, green, cardinal, Navy blue, powder blue — it matters not: He cannot leave the footprint.

The current 247sports forecast is split on his future, with equal percentages given to Washington, Ohio State and ‘foggy.’

Huard, a Pro Style passer, is the son of Damon and nephew of Brock: The UW bloodlines run deep.

He committed to the Huskies more than a year ago, as a sophomore.

Egbuka, the No. 1 athlete in the junior class, is also on Ohio State’s list, although the Huskies are given a slight edge at this point in the cycle.

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Both Egbuka and Tuimoloau are being pursued by Alabama, with former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian as the Crimson Tide’s lead recruiter.

“Theoretically, (the Huskies) could go three-for-three,” said Huffman, who sets the forecasts for 247sports.

He believes Huard’s commitment improves UW’s chances of landing Egbuka but will have limited, if any impact on Tuimoloau’s decision.

In any recruiting cycle, the array of Emerald City talent would present an unprecedented situation for UW (and maybe possibly for Washington State, especially with regard to Tinae.)

But combine all those hometown jewels with the current state of the program … the on-field slippage in 2019 … Petersen’s surprising exit … Lake’s ascent as a first-time head coach … and the moment-in-time opportunity rises to an 11.

“They have Huard already, and if they can land J.T. and Emeka, that would be huge,” said 247 analyst Greg Biggins. “But if they lose both, I don’t think it will crush the program.”

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It’s not necessarily make-or-break for Lake and the Huskies, but make-or-break is visible through the mist from the top of the Space Needle.

They have one, need two and would love all three.

The momentum on campus, throughout the region and across the west would help power the Lake era for years to come.