If you want to believe the sky is falling, there’s evidence that you’re right.
After all, Washington’s 2022 recruiting class currently comprises just 10 commits and ranks 53rd nationally and eighth in the Pac-12 via 247Sports — on pace for its lowest finish since 2009, when Washington fired coach Tyrone Willingham following an excruciating 0-12 season.
Oh, and four former commits — defensive linemen Ben Roberts and Sir Mells, offensive lineman Mark Nabou and outside linebacker/tight end Anthony Jones — have de-committed in the current cycle, with all but Nabou since recommitting elsewhere. Plus, three-star defensive back T.J. Hall — who announced a UW commitment July 31 — took an official visit to No. 2 Iowa last weekend and appears primed to exit the class as well.
Two more four-star prospects — linebacker Tevarua Tafiti and defensive back Benjamin Morrison — went on official visits to Washington last summer and were considered heavy Husky leans, before committing instead to Stanford and Notre Dame, respectively. In their absence, UW has just two defensive commits: three-star outside linebacker Lance Holtzclaw and Hall (for now).
For context, just four prospects de-committed during Chris Petersen’s seven recruiting cycles: quarterback Jalen Green (2014, USC), defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu (2017, USC), running back Connor Wedington (2017, Stanford) and inside linebacker Nick Bolton (2018, Missouri). (Five-star linebacker Ale Kaho also reemerged at Alabama after signing with Washington in 2018, and 2020 corner Jacobe Covington temporarily withdrew his pledge before recommitting to the Huskies.)
Four de-commits in seven cycles for Petersen.
Four — and maybe more — in one cycle for Lake.
Moreover, in the past two classes, UW has lost a slew of key recruiting battles within its borders. The most notable in-state defectors are five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau (2021, Ohio State), five-star wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (2021, Ohio State), four-star linebacker Julien Simon (2021, USC), four-star wide receiver Junior Alexander (2021, Arizona State), four-star wide receiver Tobias Merriweather (2022, Notre Dame) and four-star defensive lineman Davie Iuli (2022, Oregon).
But how much does recruiting really matter, anyway? Well, in each of the last 10 years, college football’s national champion has signed at least 50 percent “blue-chip prospects” (four- or five-star recruits) in its previous four cycles. The same can be said of all 12 participants in the past three College Football Playoffs as well.
On Aug. 24, UW head coach Jimmy Lake said, “Every single year, we should be contending for the Pac-12 championship and going to a big bowl game.”
But are the Huskies realistically recruiting well enough to reach those goals?
“Yeah, I really like our players,” Lake said Monday, in response to that question. “I’ve liked our players that we’ve signed here since 2014 that have helped us win two of our Pac-12 Championships out of I believe the 17 in the history of this program. So I really liked all of the players we recruited. I’ve liked our last couple classes. I like the one that’s arrived here that was supposed to be in the 2022 class, but now he reclassified — (four-star running back) Emeka (Megwa). He’s going to be a big-time football player for the University of Washington.
“And obviously it’s not bindable right now, but we have some (2022) commits that we feel really, really good about. And then (there are) some other players that we’re still chasing just like the rest of the country are chasing and trying to sign on signing day. So, the history has shown we’ve been able to sign players and develop them, make them all-conference players and make them NFL players better than anybody out west.”
There are indeed some statistics to support that assertion — particularly pertaining to three-star recruits.
The 2016 Huskies that represented the Pac-12 in the CFP comprised 16 starters that were three-star recruits, five four-star recruits, one two-star recruit (center Coleman Shelton) and zero five-star recruits. And of the 30 Huskies who have been drafted since Petersen’s arrival, 20 were three-star recruits, to go along with seven four-star recruits, two five-star recruits (Jacob Eason and Shaq Thompson), and one two-star recruit (Will Dissly). Since 2015, those 30 draftees are tied with USC for the most in the Pac-12 (trailed by Stanford’s 29, Utah’s 26 and Oregon’s 22).
But the 2021 Huskies are seemingly underachieving with more talent than ever — after UW’s recruiting classes ranked 16th nationally three years in a row, from 2018 to 2020.
So does UW still develop players better than anybody out west?
The statistics might not support it. But Germie Bernard believes it.
“I’m mature enough to understand that every team is going to have battles within the season,” said the four-star wide receiver and UW’s first commit in the 2022 class. “Every team is not going to be at their full potential when the season first starts. So I definitely understand (UW’s early struggles), and I have the most confidence in coach Lake to flip that around. They’ve been proving that they have a lot of potential in the near future. So I have no worries about that.”
Plus, the 2022 class might have more potential than the rankings indicate. That group is ranked 53rd nationally largely due to its size, not its quality. Of the 52 teams slotted above UW, none has fewer than the Huskies’ 10 commits (and No. 29 USC is the lone program with an equal number). Considering UW’s dearth of freshmen and sophomores, the Huskies were always going to sign a smaller class in 2022 — and their 247Sports average recruit rating, .8806, slots in at No. 22 in the nation. It’s also higher (at least, for now) than the average recruit rankings UW finished with in 2021, 2016, 2015 and 2014.
In college football’s current climate, the transfer portal also gives UW another avenue to add talent to its roster — as it did with nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles, wide receivers Ja’Lynn Polk and Giles Jackson, outside linebacker Jeremiah Martin and quarterback Patrick O’Brien last offseason.
If Washington develops talent as well as Lake insists, there might be enough to contend in the Pac-12 as well as nationally. No. 2 Iowa, for example, currently touts the No. 58 class in the nation — and it has produced an average finish of No. 35 in the past four classes. As for No. 3 Cincinnati? The Bearcats’ previous four classes have finished with an average rank of No. 50 nationally.
For his part, Bernard — a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, who’s ranked by 247Sports as the No. 32 wide receiver and No. 204 overall prospect in the 2022 class — says his recruitment is “shut down. I’m 100% locked in with Washington, no doubt. I’ll be signing in a couple months.” He plans to enroll early in January as well.
If you want to believe the sky is falling, there’s also evidence that you’re wrong.
Ultimately, it comes down to this staff’s ability to develop the players on its roster — regardless of how they arrive.