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Interactive Graphic: Rolovich led Mountain West in outperforming recruiting rankings

Explore how WSU’s new coach helped Hawaii overachieve.

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San Jose State v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Mike Leach bringing the Air Raid to Pullman greatly broadened my college football horizons. It exposed me to new offensive ideas and coaches that I was unfamiliar with before he became Washington State Cougars’ coach.

His introduction into my football fandom exposed me to “The Perfect Pass” by S.C. Gwynne, which quickly became one of my favorite football books and is an all around fun read. It’s primarily about Leach and Hal Mumme, but it takes a detour to the creation of the Run and Shoot and the influence of Mouse Davis on today’s offensive landscape. I remember thinking while reading it, “if I were ever a coach, this is the offense I would want to run.” While I’m sad Leach is gone, I couldn’t be more excited for Nick Rolovich to be the new Cougar head football coach and to watch the Run and Shoot on the Palouse.

It’s not just a fun, exciting offense that WSU is getting with this hire. They’re getting a guy who can flat out coach. He, like Mike Leach, had to overcome teams that were more talented than the Hawaii Warriors on paper to have the level of success he did.

Before the season, I took a look at how WSU had outperformed its recruiting rankings on the field by winning way more than their rankings said they should. I was wanting to find some way to quantify the impact of a coach on their roster’s talent. In 2018, WSU was number 1 in the Power 5 in outperforming their 247 recruiting ranking on the field. Unfortunately, this season wasn’t quite as high flying as the previous one in that regard, but with the hiring of Rolovich, I was excited to see where his teams at Hawaii fared in the same measurement.

CougCenter uses 247Sports’ “Composite Rating” as our standard. Jeff did a nice job of explaining what that is last year; the goal is to remove bias from recruiting rankings, which you can dig into more detail on it on their site.

Each year they come out with a “Team Talent Composite” that ranks the talent on each team’s roster. You may not be surprised to find out that WSU ranked 70th in 2019, 57th in 2018, 60th in 2017, 65th in 2016 and 57th in 2015. Before we beat our chest too hard that “stars don’t matter,” all 4 college football playoff teams in 2019 and 2018 were in the top 10 of 247’s recruiting rankings that year, and 3 of 4 were top 10 in 2017 and 2016. It’s more often than not about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s than the X’s and O’s.

The below chart looks at Rolovich’s and Hawaii’s great progression in the context of the Group of 5. The left column is each team ranked by their 247 Team Talent Composite, the right column is wins divided by that score, calculated as (wins/15 total available games)/team talent composite. They led the Mountain West last season in outperforming their recruiting rankings and were 6th in G5 when excluding service academies (service academies are excluded from the chart because their recruiting rankings tend to be all over the place on 247 and have too few recruits to be worth including).

If you look at Hawaii’s incoming class, the avg rating is .81 vs WSU’s being .84. Obviously you’d expect WSU to be recruiting a different caliber of athlete than a Mountain West school, but I point this out to highlight my excitement of seeing what Rolovich’s Run and Shoot looks like with Pac-12 level talent at QB, RB, WR and OL. Max Borghi could legit be a 1,000/1,000 guy in this offense and Travell Harris in particular could be set up for a massive 2020.

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The biggest thing that stands out to me is the jump from 2018 to 2019 in roster talent. Hawaii went from 53rd in Group of 5 to 33rd. It’s difficult to make season over season jumps like that in the Power 5, but I’m excited to see what kind of talent Rolovich and his staff can bring to Pullman. Hawaii’s roster last year had 31 players on it from California, so he’ll be familiar with high school coaches in WSU’s most fertile recruiting territory. Their roster also had 6 players from American Samoa and 3 from Washington (their 3rd most recruited US state for everybody wanting more Washington recruits).

When we focus in just on the Mountain West, Hawaii jumps to the top spot in the conference in wins per talent score. Rolovich completely deserved that coach of the year award.

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Washington State will be a major step up in resources for Rolovich and his staff. The good news is he’s already had a lot of success at a place that hard to win at in the context of its conference. Hawaii’s roster had 17 offensive lineman and 17 wide receivers on it, so he’s stepping into a roster that he should really like.

Now, get D’Eriq King to transfer here as an insurance policy and let’s ride.