Fans are throwing out a lot of reasons and blame for the Huskies’ losing ways, some justified, some ridiculous. While there are certainly lots of factors, in my mind the only one that’s really significant is the talent level of the current players. Coaching is a vital part of college sports, the ability to make players better as they spend time in your program. The previous coaching staff failed miserably at that task. It remains to be seen how this staff does in that regard. Just as important, though, is recruiting. It’s a lot easier to coach those players into impact players when they’re entering at an already high level.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, far too many potential impact players have turned UW down in recent years. Even in bad years, UW gets their share of good players, probably always will. But going back to the class of 2002 (as far back as Scout.com’s database shows) and excluding the 2011 class that has yet to sign, the Huskies have only gotten two high school recruits who were listed as 5-star prospects. Jon Lyon was also a 5-star guy, but he was a junior college recruit and those rankings always seem a little fuzzy to me, so I’m only going to talk about high school here.
Recruiting stars aren’t always accurate, or predictors of success. The Huskies best defender, Mason Foster, was a 2-star player. Jake Locker was a 4-star. People scout players differently, and the players are high schoolers, meaning they have a ton of growing left to do, both physically and mentally. Again, college coaching plays a major role as well, which is what really killed the Huskies the past decade. Regardless, the Huskies are struggling right now because of a lack of impact players, particularly on defense. They don’t have a Vontaze Burfict or Akeem Ayers or Rahim Moore or Shayne Skov, a freak of nature of whom the offense is always aware.
When I think of a 5-star recruit, those are the kinds of guys I think of. Again, these guys don’t always work out (see Burfict’s anger issues), and lower rated players can mature into a star (Ayers was 4-star and is probably the best defensive player in the Pac-10). Those two the Huskies got in the 00’s? Donny Mateaki and Kavario Middleton. Mateaki was okay, a victim of injuries and coaching. Middleton’s issues all seemed to be in his head and work ethic, but he still was a threat on the field, until he wasn’t on the field anymore.
More often than not, though, a 5-star is a guy who a scout or even casual fan can see on a high school field and realize he’s something truly special. It would take major mental, work ethic, or health issues for him to not work out with decent coaching. He’s the type of guy who can step onto the field as a true freshman and instantly make an impact. For the Huskies to be good again, and not just mediocre, they need to have 4 or 5 of those players on each side of the ball. They can come through coaching or recruiting, but that’s the only way this team will return to challenging for the Rose Bowl again. Fans can rail at the coaching staff all they want, and some of it is definitely deserved, but there’s only so much you can do when your talent doesn’t match up with your opponent’s.
The good news? The Huskies already have two 5-star guys committed for 2011, and are in the mix for several more. Kasen Williams, a WR, is the state career leader in virtually every receiving category and more than makes up for a lack of top-end speed with outstanding smarts, route-running, and an ability to go get the ball anywhere. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is maybe the top tight end in the country and stands a massive 6′ 7″ 265 lbs. with excellent athleticism and pass-catching ability. Both will be Dawgs next year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them both in the starting line-up right off the bat. A third offensive guy, RB Brendon Bigelow, is a 4-star with caveats. Regarded by many as the best RB on the west coast, he’s out this year with a knee injury, after missing much of last year as well. He’s rumored to be thinking about changing his commitment to Cal, but if he comes to UW and makes it back from the injuries, he should have a 5-star impact without quite having earned the ranking. Those are admittedly big caveats.
The remaining 5-star guys with interest in UW play on the defensive side of the ball. Greg Townsend is a 6’4″ 240 lb. defensive end from Beverly Hills, rated as the second best at his position in the country, phenomenally athletic from all reports (I’m using Scout info for everything in this post). The Huskies are in his top 3 with USC and TCU. Viliami Moala is a 340 lb defensive tackle with a great burst, who has a bunch of teams still on his list. Colt Lyerla, from Oregon, is another super-athletic DE. The Huskies seem a long-shot for him, but they’re reportedly still on his board.
Who knows if UW signs any of these guys. I’d say there’s a decent shot for Townsend and Moala, from what I’ve heard, but I don’t think UW is the favorite for either. Even without them, the Dawgs are getting a lot of interest from many highly ranked players, and already have a good and deep class of verbal commits. You don’t have to get a bunch of 5-star recruits every year. Today’s opponent, Oregon State, rarely gets those elite recruits, but is a potential contender through extraordinary coaching and player development. Still, there is a reason USC dominated so thoroughly until last year, and I’d say it is mostly because they pulled in more elite recruits every year than the rest of the Pac-10 combined. In a lot of cases, there’s no difference between a 5-star guy and a lower rated one, other than a lack of exposure, but a class of 4- & 5-star guys certainly increases the margin for error. I’m just hoping that Kasen Williams and ASJ aren’t the Dawgs only 5-star commits of this decade, because it might be another long ten years if they are.