When news broke last night that Bishop Sankey had switched his commitment from WSU to Washington, Brian and I messaged each other privately to brace for the inevitable firestorm that was about to ensue. True to form, it's generated the kind of discussion we generally only see on game threads -- including a fantastically awesome/dumb subthread about poo that will be recalled as fondly someday as last year's NCAA Tournament threads.
I've been trying to step back and analyze from afar why this is such a hot-button topic for everyone. The obvious answer is that he switched to UW, augmented by the fact that this wasn't just some offensive line prospect who might be good someday -- this was the jewel of the class and he was from our side of the state.
But I think there's even a little more to it than that. After three years of mostly unbearably bad football, the one thing we could always hang our collective hat on was that the program was being restocked with talent and better days were ahead. The last two recruiting classes were ranked as highly as any since people started tracking this stuff, and this class got off to a gangbusters start with commitments by guys like Sankey, Max Hersey and Logan Mayes. There was enormous fanfare surrounding the unprecedented number of quality early verbals in this class.
Then, all of a sudden ... it was like someone put on the brakes.
Seriously -- go look at the dates of the commitments. It all came to a screeching halt in the middle of October. Before Brandon Tuliaupupu committed last week, the last commit we got from a high school senior was October 17! And it's not just the quantity of recruits, it's the quality: The vast majority of the first 16 commits were all rated three stars or more by one service or another; all but one was nationally rated by one service or another. (And this doesn't include Stephen Nembot or Sankey, who also fit under this criteria.) Since then? Not so much.
And I think that's really where all this hand wringing is coming from: What started out as such a promising class feels like it's sort of sputtering to the finish line.
It's one thing to lose Sankey; it's another thing to lose him and have to replace him with a guy whose best attribute is that he runs fast ... but apparently not fast enough to be on anyone else's radar. I'm not trying to say he won't be good, but let's be honest: Replacing the state's best running back who lives in our own back yard with a guy who runs in California -- where there are no secrets -- but didn't hold any other Pac-10 offers doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
We all can speculate about what happened to cause that well to dry up midway through the season, but I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that the losing is probably finally taking its toll. We marveled for two years at how Paul Wulff and his staff were able to put together great classes despite the losing, but a third consecutive year of minimal progress in the win column combined with the tepid endorsement of the athletics director might just be finally catching up with the coach.
Sean Hawkins over at the WSU Football Blog put it perfectly:
If Bill Moos had come right out and said Paul Wulff is our coach for the next two years, and he will get the chance to get his full five years of his contract, it would certainly make it easier for recruits to buy the message Wulff and the staff have been selling. But ask yourself, seriously, how in the world can Wulff look parents and recruits and high school coaches in the eye and tell them that he will be in Pullman beyond the 2011 season? They might all believe that they will win enough games next year, and that great things are ahead, an extension is coming, that sort of thing. But how does he really KNOW that?
The reality, my friends, is that Paul Wulff doesn't know. He is heading into his fourth year, and it's pretty loud and clear that it's win-games-or-else time. And if we know anything about Paul Wulff, we know that he is a man of values and a man of his word. So it's not very likely that he is sitting in living rooms and lying to recruits and parents and high school coaches about his future, is it? For the first time in his WSU tenure, he doesn't know what the future holds. He can only answer those questions with his hope that it will all work out.
So where does it leave us? Right now, this class looks less-than-stellar on paper. We'll get to why that might not be true in a moment, but let's assume, for argument's sake, that the class really isn't a good class. That there's not another Jeff Tuel, not another Marquess Wilson, not another Deone Bucannon in there. Is it the end of the world?
In a word, no. A school can survive one mediocre recruiting class in football. If the previous two classes are as good as most of us seem to believe, a few of things are going to happen.
First, this team is going win some games this year. Maybe not the six needed to get into a bowl game, but enough to show this program is most definitely headed in the right direction. That, in turn, will earn Wulff his extension, which will in turn allow Wulff to sit in living rooms once again and sell the virtues of Washington State University, where he plans to be the coach for a long, long time, which in turn will allow the staff to start pulling recruits like it did the last two years -- and probably better, if you figure they'll have more to sell than they did. All you have to do is look over the mountains to see what can happen when you have some tangible success to sell.
But it's just way too early to place any kind of stamp on this class as successful or unsuccessful, despite what the recruiting services tell you. We just don't yet know how this class is going to pan out. For one, this class isn't even complete. C.J. Mizell wasn't even a glimmer in our eyes until after signing day had started last year, and with a week to go, there is probably a surprise or two in the wings.
And I know you probably get tired of hearing it -- so tired, that it probably sounds trite at this point -- but the reality is that we just don't know how good any of these kids are going to be.
Yes, there is a higher probability that a kid like Sankey is going to be a great running back than the kid from California who just committed who nobody had ever heard of; that's why Sankey's got all those stars next to his name. If I did a double blind test and put video of the each side-by-side for you and asked you which kid you'd rather have, you'd undoubtedly say Sankey. But who know what the next four or five years hold for each kid? I don't, and neither do any of you.
Wilson lagged behind both Kristoff Williams and Robert Jiles in signing day hype. Nobody envisioned Bucannon overtaking a senior. There just might be some of those guys in this class, too.
So, rather than focus on what we don't have, we're going to try and do what we've tried to do all along: Focus on the guys that picked our school and try to figure out how they might help our team. Because when you're dealing with the whims of a teenager, that's really all you can do.
Unless you want to drive yourself bananas.