Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The 10 best recruits that got away: Did they matter?

By John Ahlander, CougarFan.com 

Today is Wednesday, February 1, National Signing Day for high school football players. BYU fans will inevitably laud the recruits the Cougars land and lament the recruits they miss on -- especially the "big-time" recruits with 4 or 5 stars.

In the last 10 years, BYU football has offered scholarships to 29 recruits rated 4 or 5 stars by both Scout.com and Rivals.com. While 11 of those recruits chose BYU, 18 chose other schools. Where did they go and how did they do?

4 & 5 star recruits lost to:

8 schools

If you follow recruiting, it won't come as a surprise that BYU has lost more top recruits to USC and Oregon than any other school, starting the trend with Haloti Ngata's stunner on signing day in 2002. It's interesting to note that during this time span, BYU landed 11 big recruits, but only lost 2 to rival Utah.

So, how did these "missed" recruits do? Here are the top 10 recruits BYU missed out on in the last 10 years, and what they've done in their careers. I've excluded recent recruits that don't have at least a couple years of college complete.

YearPos.NameAvg. StarsCollegeCareer Notes
2002DEJonathan Mapu
TennesseePart-time starter as Senior
2002DTHaloti Ngata
NFL Pro-Bowler
2004OLTaitusi Lutui
NFL starter
2004LBRyan Powdrell
USCPart-time starter
NFL free agent
2005TEAnthony Moeaki
IowaAll conference
NFL draftee
2005WRMarquis Wilson
UtahPart-time starter
suspended multiple times
2006RBStanley Havili
NFL draftee
2006DBJustin Tryon
Arizona StateAll-conference
NFL draftee
2006OLFenuki Tupou
NFL draftee
2008LBUona Kavienga
USCBackup at USC
starter at BYU
2009LBManti Te'o
Notre DameStarter
predicted future NFL draftee

A couple things stand out here. First, if Rivals and Scout both rate a player 4+ stars, there is a very high likelihood of that player making it to the NFL.

Second, BYU is no longer the destination of choice for top-flight polynesian high school players. The "polynesian pipeline" that BYU enjoyed in the 80s and 90s has found outlets at many other schools. Oregon and USC have made concerted efforts to woo the best polynesian players to their campuses. Having the ocean within minutes of their campus certainly didn't hurt their cause.

If BYU had landed all these players, would it have made a difference? No doubt. Haloti Ngata was the biggest miss in the last 10 years. He was an absolute one-man wrecking crew in college and continues that in the NFL today. There's no question that having Ngata on the defensive line in the early 2000s would have improved BYU's defense. Do you know who BYU's defensive tackles were in 2004? Exactly. Gary Crowton may still be coaching at BYU today. OK, let's not go that far. With Lutui and Tupou both on the offensive line together in 2006, the two close losses to Arizona and Boston College may have gone the other way, and we'd be talking about BYU's BCS bowl game run.

Having an NFL-bound player always makes a difference. Why didn't they choose BYU? Certainly, the allure of big-time college football programs like USC and Oregon played a part, but it's interesting to note that of the LDS recruits shown above that were drafted in the NFL, none of them chose to serve an LDS mission. Maybe they felt BYU wasn't the right place for them, if they didn't plan to serve a mission.

The reality is that BYU, or any other team, will never sign all the recruits they offer scholarships to. However, BYU has an amazing "win rate" for the recruits they targeted. As mentioned earlier, BYU signed 11 of 29 "4+ stars" recruits they offered, for a win rate of 38%. Compare that with Utah, which offered 26 "4+ star" recruits in just one recruiting year (2011). They signed 2 of them.

Star rankings are far from accurate, but there is much better chance for success with bigger recruits, and if BYU hopes to ever make it to a BCS bowl game, it will need to land a few more 4 & 5 star recruits.

View all BYU sports news at http://www.CougarFan.com


  1. Ngata? Agree 100% - although you need to brush up on your 2004 roster. One of those DL has a superbowl ring.
    The OL in 2006? They may have been good but not two wins good. Turnovers cost the Cougars in Tucson, not protection. And the score in Boston shows that the offense didn't exactly struggle.
    I think the most impacting miss has actually Havili, not because his talent is superior than everyone else, but because he would have been the feature back post Unga when BYU was looking for one. Instead of a "by committee" backfield the last two years we would have had a true star, which takes pressure of a rookie QB and an average QB.

  2. Win rate is important, but so is the volume of top-tier players you recruit each year. If Utah got 2, 4-5 star players every year over the last decade they would have had 20 of them, obviously......even if that meant a low win rate. I'd rather have 20, 4-5 star players over a decade than 11.

    This presumes BYU can target more top-tier talent, given the restrictions of the honor code and academic requirements.

  3. Interesting thoughts, however Eugene Oregon is hardly has an "ocean within minutes" and the weather is nothing like the Pacific Islands. Playing for Nike - U and a consistent Pac 12 championship contender is a much higher draw for athletes, than a cold ocean 2 hours away.

  4. Would have been nice to know what the BYU recruits that did sign with BYU did and where they ended up (NFL or not). If the recruits that went to BYU didn't fare as those that went elsewhere, that could spell trouble for future recruiting efforts on these athletes.