Commentary on Pac-12 developments, on and off the field …
Rising: ASU’s short-term outlook
The ethical situation remains decidedly suboptimal for the Arizona State Sun Devils after reports that they hosted recruits during the COVID dead period and are under NCAA investigation.
But from a competitive standpoint, the Sun Devils are in fine shape for the 2021 season after dodging a mass exodus related to the scandal.
July 1 was the deadline for players to transfer and retain eligibility for the 2021 season. According to the public-facing database published by 247Sports, only a handful of ASU players entered the portal – all of them reserves.
Exactly how many starters considered leaving in the final weeks of the transfer cycle, we can only guess.
Exactly what the football leadership told those players about the timing of the ongoing investigation, we cannot say.
But even with confirmation of violations and an accelerated timeline, the NCAA sanctioning process may not resolve itself this calendar year.
The greatest off-the-field threat to ASU’s success would be self-imposed sanctions, similar to what Arizona basketball did last fall with regard to the NCAA Tournament.
But that outcome seems unlikely, in part because of the interlocking stakes that permeate ASU’s leadership chain:
– Coach Herm Edwards has built his roster for a run at the conference title this fall.
– Athletic director Ray Anderson has pinned his legacy on Edwards, his personal friend and former business partner.
– Meanwhile, president Michael Crow revels in the public perception of ASU as a leader in innovation, the afterglow of the decisions to hire Anderson and Edwards, and the crafting of the ‘New Leadership Model,’ the fancy-pants term to describe the football program’s operating structure that was mocked from Tucson to Tunisia.
Edwards, Anderson and Crow – their reputations are forever, inexorably intertwined, and at the core lies the 2021 season, with all its promise for success.
As a result, we’re deeply skeptical that ASU’s leadership would voluntarily take a hammer to that connection and self-impose sanctions that blow their dreams to smithereens.
Falling: Washington recruiting
What seemed inevitable before the pandemic became reality on Independence Day, when megarecruit J.T. Tuimoloau shunned his hometown school and picked Ohio State.
The Huskies had hoped for a surprise commitment from the five-star defensive lineman, especially after they were well positioned as his first official visit.
The decision leaves UW with an incoming class that would have been plenty respectable in other years – the Huskies rated well on a per-player basis – but is an undeniable letdown given the unique circumstances.
The state of Washington had three five-star prospects in the class of 2021; UW landed only one.
The state had five top-200 recruits in the class; UW landed only two.
The state had six four-star recruits; UW landed just three.
We’ll avoid conclusions until December. One recruiting class in one pandemic year does not necessarily mean a doom-and-gloom outlook for the Jimmy Lake era, especially when the on-the-field developments last fall, while limited, were positive.
But if the Huskies struggle again in the 2022 recruiting cycle – there is one five-star player in the state, offensive lineman Josh Conerly – then it might be time for the faithful to fret.
Rising: Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff
The new boss has been on the job for five days and kept a notably low profile.
He published a letter to Pac-12 athletes on his first day (July 1) and issued a statement on Twitter related to Name, Image and Likeness legislation but has otherwise avoided the media (social and otherwise) glare.
(Full transparency: The Hotline’s request for an interview about his plans for Day One was politely declined by the conference office.)
Kliavkoff’s desire to lay low was entirely predictable and is undeniably wise.
His predecessor, Larry Scott, suffered from overexposure – his instinctive lean into the spotlight, his desire to be the story and take the credit for successes, often led to unsettling optics.
Those optics hurt Scott’s personal brand and the Pac-12’s collective brand.
Even the university presidents noticed – to the point that they included the following sentence in the job description for Scott’s successor:
“The Pac-12 isn’t necessarily desirous of an ongoing ‘spokesperson.’”
We fully expect Kliavkoff to pick his spots carefully and control his narrative.
For that purpose, he may very well use social media – something Scott didn’t do but perhaps should have.
Falling: Pac-12 recruiting
Tuimoloau’s decision to attend Ohio State is a huge recruiting loss, not only for Washington but the conference at large.
– Because of his talent: The No. 1 player in the class, per the 247Sports rankings.
– Because of his location: Seattle isn’t as vulnerable to Power Five poaching as Phoenix or Southern California.
– And because of his position … especially because of his position.
It’s not unusual for the Pac-12 footprint to produce, and for Pac-12 programs to sign, elite defensive ends and outside linebackers – players often described generally as edge rushers.
We saw that in 2019 with Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), in 2020 with Sav’ell Smalls (Washington) and in 2021 with Korey Foreman (USC).
But Tuimoloau is an interior lineman, with a frame to handle 300 pounds and the power to collapse the pocket.
He’s the first-round-bound defensive tackle we typically see playing for Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
But there’s one difference: Tuimoloau is from Seattle, not Birmingham or Atlanta or Cleveland.
He’s an unlimited-ceiling player at a high-value position from the Pac-12 footprint, and he got away.
Rising: Washington’s schedule.
Well, well, well. Look who’s coming to Seattle … in 2028.
Faithful Hotline readers are undoubtedly aware that we keep close track of scheduling matters, whether it’s football or basketball, conference or nonconference, policy matters or contractual issues.
And admittedly, we were deeply skeptical that Michigan would ever agree to making up the canceled game in Husky Stadium.
Coach Jim Harbaugh’s interest in the trek was extremely limited, if not nonexistent, before COVID.
For the Wolverines to reschedule the game in the post-pandemic world, when excuses were plentiful, is both highly commendable and fairly stunning.
As relentlessly as UW pursued the makeup date, a willing partner was required.
When combined with the revised series against Michigan State and the untouched home-and-home with Ohio State, UW’s future schedule looks considerably more impressive.
We can draw only one (half-serious) conclusion from the development:
Jim Harbaugh has no plans to be coaching Michigan in 2028.
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