Are Washington and Oregon recruiting rivals?
Considering proximity, history and the shared player pool, the answer seems obvious.
Though Husky head coach Jimmy Lake might not want to admit it.
“It seems like the coaches have more of a rivalry versus Oregon with the off-the-field … with the recruiting battles. Is that fair?” Lake was asked in his weekly news conference Monday, five days before his Huskies host the No. 7 Ducks.
“No, I don’t think so,” Lake said, hands folded, shaking his head. “I think that is way more pumped up (by the media and public) than it is. Our battles are really … the schools that we go against are way more … have academic prowess — like the University of Washington, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC. We go with a lot of battles toe-to-toe all the way to the end with those schools. So I think that’s made up a lot and pumped up in your (recruiting service/media) world. In our world, we battle more academically prowess teams.”
To that point, the US News & World Report’s 2022 ranking of global universities, which ranks universities based on academic research performance and their global and regional reputations, goes as follows:
No. 3: Stanford
No. 4: Cal
No. 7: Washington
No. 14: UCLA
No. 62: Colorado
No. 70: USC
No. 99: Arizona
No. 151: Utah
No. 165: Arizona State
No. 244: Oregon
No. 295: Oregon State
No. 302: Washington State
In response to Lake’s academic dismissal, Oregon president Michael Schill told The Oregonian on Tuesday: “UW is a wonderful school with a great football history. I have great respect and affection for its president, its academic and football program and its former exceptional football coach, coach (Chris) Petersen. I look forward to our team meeting theirs on the gridiron this Saturday.”
Regardless of academic rankings or thinly veiled insults, the fact remains that, of Washington’s 22 primary starters this season, 13 also earned Oregon offers. Or that two former Husky commits — defensive tackles Ben Roberts and Sir Mells — currently reside in Oregon’s 2022 class. Or that Puyallup offensive lineman Dave Iuli — who also had a Husky offer — is set to be the first blue-chip prospect from the Evergreen State to sign with Oregon since Lacey’s Jonathan Stewart in 2005. Or that arguably Chris Petersen’s most impactful recruit, four-star Bellevue safety Budda Baker, flipped from Oregon to the home-state Huskies in 2014.
So, is there a recruiting rivalry?
You better believe it.
“In the Pac-12, I think it is. And overall, I think it is,” said 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman, when asked if Oregon is UW’s biggest recruiting rival. “I think they go after plenty of the same players. I do think that, given that they’ve been the two best programs in the Pac-12 North — along with Stanford — for the last six or seven years, geographically and success-wise, Oregon is a recruiting rival.”
Though, by many metrics, that rivalry has not been particularly close. In the 2022 cycle, UW’s class ranks eighth in the Pac-12 and 54th nationally by the 247Sports Composite, with an average player ranking of 0.8799. Oregon, meanwhile, tops the Pac-12 and ranks eighth in the nation, touting an average player ranking of 0.9067.
Zoom out and the results stay mostly the same. In the past five cycles, UW’s classes have earned an average finish of fourth in the Pac-12 and 28th in the nation (thanks to rankings dips in 2021 and 2022), while Oregon sits first in the conference and ninth in the country. In fact, UW hasn’t bested Oregon from a rankings standpoint since 2013 — when Washington finished third in the Pac-12 and 18th in the nation, one slot above the Ducks in both categories.
Of course, recruiting rankings are not always reflected in on-field results. Development matters. Coaching matters. Culture matters. The Petersen Era is proof.
But Oregon has also topped Washington in 14 of its past 16 meetings, and not by accident. Now, the 7-1 Ducks will storm Husky Stadium on Saturday with a College Football Playoff appearance squarely in their sights.
Last month, Georgia’s Kirby Smart — head coach of the No. 1 team in the nation — said: “There’s no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting. No coaching is going to out-coach players. Anybody will tell you our defense is good because we have good players.”
If the Huskies want to consistently beat their rival, they need superior players.
So, apart from acknowledging that a recruiting rivalry exists, how can Lake and Co. close the gap?
“At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to wins,” Huffman said. “It’s going to come down to buzz. It’s going to come down to a lot of things — being more aggressive, doing bigger junior days again. People can say what they want, but Oregon’s Saturday Night Live (summer recruiting) camp is a big deal. They open it up to the fans. They have a ton of kids that make that weekend worth going. In their spring games, historically, they’ve used that as a big recruiting tool. I think there are offseason events that could be really utilized as major recruiting tools and, right now, nobody’s really putting up a challenge to Oregon.”
As for selling the program on Saturdays, Huffman added: “Oregon does a really good job of playing younger players and getting their youth on the field. I think that, for as deep and as talented as they’ve been, they still find a way to get their young players reps on the field. I think that’s one thing Washington can do. You’ve got to play your youth.”
And pay your youth.
Not that Washington or Oregon can directly pay their players. But in the name, image and likeness era, Oregon is certainly doing its part. In September, Ducks megadonor Phil Knight and others formed Division Street Inc. — a sports company intended to assist Duck athletes in monetizing NIL opportunities. And in July, Oregon pass-rusher and future first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux made waves by collaborating with Knight and Nike vice president Tinker Hatfield on an NFT (nonfungible token).
UW, meanwhile, has developed its “Boundless Futures” program — which was designed in part “to help student-athletes pursue the new avenues created by NIL legislation.”
Even so, Huffman said NIL opportunities haven’t affected recruiting as much as some might think.
“It’s overstated, because if Washington had a top-five player in the country, he’d probably be getting a nice little NFT (like Thibodeaux),” Huffman said.
Therein lies the problem. Because, before Thibodeaux was potentially the No. 1 draft prospect in the country, he was the No. 2 recruit in the country in 2019.
And yes, before Thibodeaux committed to the Ducks, he earned an offer from Washington as well.
There’s no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting. And while Washington also recruits against the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford and USC, Oregon is getting the better of this supposedly “pumped up” recruiting rivalry.