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The Recruiting History of UCLA Football Since 2000

With UCLA Football on a bye week, let’s look at how the Bruins got where they are from a recruiting standpoint.

How bad was UCLA football recruiting under Karl Dorrell? Jim Mora had more blue chip recruits in 2013 than Dorrell had in his entire 5-year tenure.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of debate about the level of talent at UCLA. So, with the Bruins on a bye week this week, I decided to take a look back at UCLA’s recruiting classes in an attempt to understand how much talent is currently on the Bruins’ roster.

But, I didn’t think just going back a few years was going to adequately answer all of the questions that have been raised. So, I went back, pretty much as far back as possible.

Ironically, it takes us back to the beginning of the Dorrell era which has been viewed as having some of the worst recruiting in UCLA history.

For my data, I tried to stay as consistent as possible by using the available data on 247Sports list of commits for each year. But, eventually, there were some holes. So, when the list appeared to have some holes, I filled it in with some info from 247’s Class Calculator as well as from the Bruins Nation archives.

The two recruiting classes that I have some doubt about are the 2000 and 2001 classes because on-the-field success usually translates to recruiting success and those two classes show only a handful of blue chip recruits and the overwhelming majority of players in those classes appeared to have a zero star ranking. So, I’m skeptical about that data, but I opted to include it anyway to at least give Karl Dorrell a base Blue Chip Ratio starting with his first class. As a result, the Blue Chip Ratio listed for Dorrell’s first two seasons may be understated.

Basically, I set out to determine what UCLA’s Blue Chip Ratio has been historically. For the unfamiliar, SB Nation’s national recruiting analyst Bud Elliott explains the Blue Chip Ratio (BCR) like this:

Quite simply, it’s the recruiting standard needed to win the college football national championship. Reviewing years of recruiting data, and giving weight to more recent years with standardized recruiting rankings, I’ve determined that in order to win the title, teams need to sign more four- and five-star recruits (“blue-chips”) than two- and three-stars over a four-year period.

The ratio is a representation of that. What percentage of your last four classes has been made up of blue-chips? The data overwhelmingly shows that champions eclipse the 50 percent standard.

Of course, recruiting (aka talent acquisition) well isn’t the only thing necessary to win a national championship, but it’s one of the three basic functions of a college football coach. The other two are talent development and talent deployment, aka in-game strategy.

What I realized as I delved into this data is that the Blue Chip Ratio is a rolling average. The Blue Chip Ratio doesn’t account for redshirts, transfers, players who leave early or even the relative youth of a team’s recruits.

It simply looks at the number of four-star and five-star recruits in the last four recruiting classes and divides that number by the total number of recruits in the last four recruiting classes.

In other words, it’s a 4-year rolling average of the talent amassed by a college football program. That’s all it is, but, so far, as Elliott points out, it’s been a good predictor of who will eventually win the national championship.

If the way to build a potential contender from a talent acquisition standpoint is to sign more four-star and five-star recruits than lower ranked recruits over a four-year period, the simplest way to accomplish that would be to have a goal of signing more blue chip recruits in each class. So, I created another measurement the Recruiting Class BCR.

This is nothing more than an assessment of a given recruiting class.

This also allows us to better observe the overall recruiting trend of a given coach. It also helps to explain why some seasons are better than others.

Here’s what UCLA’s recruiting classes have looked like since 2000.

UCLA Football Recruiting Classes Since 2000

Year UCLA Head Coach Blue Chips Signees Recruiting Class BCR 4-Year BCR
Year UCLA Head Coach Blue Chips Signees Recruiting Class BCR 4-Year BCR
2000 Bob Toledo 3 17 17.65% N/A
2001 Bob Toledo 4 19 21.05% N/A
2002 Bob Toledo 13 26 50.00% N/A
2003 Karl Dorrell 4 20 20.00% 29.27%
2004 Karl Dorrell 1 26 3.85% 24.18%
2005 Karl Dorrell 3 21 14.29% 22.58%
2006 Karl Dorrell 2 22 9.09% 11.24%
2007 Karl Dorrell 6 16 37.50% 14.12%
2008 Rick Neuheisel 12 20 60.00% 29.11%
2009 Rick Neuheisel 9 24 37.50% 35.37%
2010 Rick Neuheisel 11 20 55.00% 47.50%
2011 Rick Neuheisel 2 17 11.76% 41.98%
2012 Jim Mora 7 25 28.00% 33.72%
2013 Jim Mora 19 27 70.37% 43.82%
2014 Jim Mora 9 19 47.37% 42.05%
2015 Jim Mora 13 20 65.00% 52.75%
2016 Jim Mora 11 28 39.29% 55.32%
2017 Jim Mora 7 18 38.89% 47.06%
2018 Chip Kelly 10 29 34.48% 43.16%

There’s little doubt that Karl Dorrell was a terrible recruiter. His best recruiting class had a Recruiting Class BCR of 37.5%. That was his final season. None of his first four classes broke 20%. This completely explains and supports the notion that he left the cupboard bare for Rick Neuheisel.

Conversely, Bob Toledo’s last recruiting class had a Recruiting Class BCR of 50%. When that class became seniors under Dorrell in 2005, Dorrell had his best on-the-field results and the Bruins went 10-2 that season.

If Dan Guerrero had been following Dorrell’s recruiting closely instead of just looking at results on the field, he might have realized that there were big problems ahead for the UCLA Football team after two of Dorrell’s first four seasons had a Recruiting Class BCR under 10%.

Conversely, Rick Neuheisel did a great job recruiting in his first three seasons. He had as many blue chip recruits in his first recruiting class as Dorrell had in the previous four years. In fact, Neuheisel’s only bad recruiting class proved to be his last.

Ironically, that was the class that had Brett Hundley in it.

Considering the talent Rick had amassed in his first three seasons, the decision to redshirt Hundley may very well have been the decision that cost him his job. Had Rick opted to play Hundley as a freshman, UCLA may very well have won a few more games in 2011 and allowed him to keep his job.

Of course, we’ll never know what the 2012 recruiting class would have looked like had that happened or what would have occurred in the years that followed.

That brings us to the Jim Mora era.

In 2013 and 2015, Mora had the two best recruiting class since 2000. The 2013 recruiting class featured a Recruiting Class BCR of more than 70% while 65% of the 2015 class was comprised of blue chip recruits. This makes the 2016 and 2017 results all the more depressing.

That brings us to the 2016 recruiting class. These guys comprise the current crop of juniors and redshirt sophomores. There was a substantial drop-off in talent from the 2015 class to the 2016 class. The 2016 class had a Recruiting Class BCR of 39.29%, compared to 65% for the 2015 class.

The Recruiting Class BCR for the 2017 class dropped again, but it wasn’t by much. In 2017, it was 38.89%.

Finally, we come to the 2018 recruiting class. For the 2018 class, we all witnessed how Chip Kelly tore down the existing class and rebuilt it in two months. With that in mind, it seems almost miraculous that the Recruiting Class BCR for the 2018 class was as high as it was at 34.48%.

That gives UCLA three consecutive classes which had a Recruiting Class BCR under 40%. That’s a substantial drop-off from the previous three years. That doesn’t completely explain why this year’s UCLA team has played as poorly as it has, but it certainly offers a partial picture.

At the same time, it also partially supports Victor E. Bell’s assertion that recruiting under Mora was bad. It wasn’t as bad as he has suggested but there was clearly a significant drop-off in Mora’s final two recruiting classes compared to his previous three classes.

This should also raise a red flag with respect to the 2019 recruiting class. Of course, the Recruiting Class BCR won’t be finalized until the first week in February, but, as of right now, the 2019 Recruiting Class BCR is a whopping 0%, as the Bruins have no committed player rated higher than a 3-star recruit. That said, it’s important to know that Chip Kelly kept Oregon as a national power with recruiting classes which did not have a lot of blue chip talent, but the concern right now is that the current recruiting has a worst Recruiting Class BCR than Karl Dorrell’s worst class.

There is one other concerning trend that seems to be affecting the UCLA Football program right now and it’s something that no one seems to look at much and especially not in depth. It’s the opposite of talent acquisition. It’s talent depletion.

But I will look at that in part two of this series tomorrow.

Go Bruins!