Posted: Monday January 30, 2012 12:39PM ; Updated: Tuesday January 31, 2012 1:16PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Boise's gridiron success hasn't translated into recruiting bump

Story Highlights

Despite winning consistently, Boise State will not produce a Top 50 class in 2012

Boise's non-AQ conference status is a big deterrent for the nation's elite recruits

Broncos now recruit better than five years ago, but still get beat by lesser teams

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Kellen Moore hoisted the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas trophy twice during his Boise State tenure, which isn't a big selling point for the nation's top prospects.
Kellen Moore hoisted the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas trophy twice during his Boise State tenure, which isn't a big selling point for the nation's top prospects.
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It has been widely reported that the commissioners and presidents who run the BCS are leaning toward eliminating the concept of automatic qualifier conferences. They've expressed surprise and unease over the fact that the thirst for AQ status has become a motivating factor in conference realignment.

That's because they've never tried to recruit football players to Boise State.

Each of the past three years, Boise has opened the season with nationally televised wins over ranked opponents (Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia). The Broncos have gone 73-6 under Chris Petersen, won two BCS bowls, hosted ESPN's GameDay, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and produced a Heisman Trophy finalist in Kellen Moore.

Yet for all that success and exposure, Boise still can't attract the same caliber recruiting class as most BCS-conference programs. On the eve of Signing Day, the Broncos are nowhere to be found among Rivals.com's Top 50 classes. Their 20 reported commitments consist of 12 three-star prospects, four two-star players and four who did not even garner a rating.

"Tradition and heritage is just so monumentally important for recruiting for some of these programs," said SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace. "It takes years and years to build up tradition, and it's the biggest hurdle a school like Boise State has to overcome."

Lack of tradition certainly helps explain why Boise isn't winning any head-to-head recruiting battles with USC or Texas. No one expects it to. But tradition doesn't explain why such undecorated programs as Arizona, Oregon State and USF have cracked Rivals' Top 50 while the Broncos cannot.

"Every kid will tell you, 'I want to go to a place I can play on a national stage, get to the NFL, and win national championships,'" said Rivals.com National Analyst Mike Farrell.

Funny he should mention that. While Boise will never be "The U" when it comes to churning out NFL first-rounders, it did tie with Wisconsin for the most prospects (five) at last week's Senior Bowl. And while we'll never know how high the voters would have elevated Boise had it hit those field goals the past two years, the Broncos came closer to playing for the national championship than about 40 of the schools in that Top 50 list.

For further proof of how much the "non-AQ" tag affects recruiting, take a look at two of Boise's fellow recent upstarts, TCU and Utah. Gary Patterson's program, which garnered an invite to the Big 12 last fall, is on the verge of wrapping up its first Top 25 class. The Utes, who joined the Pac-12 two years ago and began play last fall, are just behind the Horned Frogs.

"Within 10 days of the announcement of us joining the Pac-12 we had seven verbal commits we were fairly sure we would not have gotten without the BCS affiliation," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told Rivals.com. "The biggest detractor before we were in the Pac-12 was not having the BCS affiliation. Even though we'd been to two BCS games and won them both, when it came down to the end, oftentimes not belonging to a BCS conference was the difference."

Boise's rise has paid some recruiting dividends, as it is landing more highly regarded prospects than it was four or five years ago. The program's initial success under Petersen and predecessor Dan Hawkins stemmed in large part from players major-conference schools overlooked completely, but the Broncos are now in the mix with BCS teams for certain prospects. Among Wednesday's haul, Petersen and his staff beat out multiple Pac-12 schools for offensive lineman Travis Averill (Anaheim, Calif.) and safety Chris Santini (San Jose), topped Texas Tech and Cal for linebacker Ben Weaver (Klein, Texas) and fended off a late pursuit from Oregon and Texas A&M for running back Jack Fields (El Paso, Texas). All committed last summer and stuck with the Broncos.

On the other hand, its most decorated commit for most of the year, four-star cornerback Marcus Rios (Elk Grove, Calif.), switched last month to UCLA.

"Every kid in California knows if they go to Boise State they're going to be coached very well," said Wallace. "But you're putting kids in the position that they won't be treated fair [by the BCS] if they go to Boise State. They think, 'If I go to Boise State, and we lose one game, we're going to play a 6-6 team in a bowl game,'" as the Broncos did in last year's Maaco Bowl Las Vegas against Arizona State.

It's a major reason why the school is making a geographically illogical jump to the Big East, even though the ravaged conference is unlikely to retain its AQ status after 2013. Boise has to try something. It's impossible to say what the future holds for the program or for the BCS in general, but Boise's Mountain West (and formerly WAC) affiliation has clearly scared away scores of prospects who purposefully chose lesser programs.

In the meantime, Petersen and Co. must continue to do what they've excelled at for much of the past decade: locate and develop undervalued recruits. Among the players they're expected to sign Wednesday is cornerback Donte Deayon (Fontana, Calif.), who's listed at 5-foot-7, 145 pounds. And much like with four-year standout Moore, recently enrolled quarterback Nick Patti's height (5-11) likely deterred most programs. Even though the Orlando native earned an invite to last summer's Elite 11 camp, his other primary suitors were home-state schools UCF and USF.

While Boise would certainly love to attract more elite athletes, it's not likely to stray far from its roots.

"It's a good question: What would happen if Boise State started getting four- and five-star guys?" said Wallace. "I don't think it would automatically make them a better team. They'd have to start dealing with the various complexities and egos that if they're not handled right can derail chemistry. They almost need two- and three-star players to continue being who they are."

While many fans know Boise for being unconventional -- blue turf, trick plays and wacky formations -- its blueprint going forward may be one of the most blue-collar teams in America: Wisconsin.

Despite coming off consecutive 11-win seasons and Rose Bowl appearances and enjoying privileged Big Ten status, Wisconsin may not crack Rivals' Top 40 with its 2012 class. That's partially because this class is small (only 12 commitments as of Jan. 30), but it's also not unusual: Wisconsin, which puts as much emphasis on fit as athleticism, has ranked in the 40s of Rivals' class rankings almost every year of Bret Bielema's seven-year tenure.

Yet the Badgers have gone 60-19 during that stretch and consistently churned out NFL prospects.

"More [four- and five-] stars isn't always better," Bielema said last year. "Just stick with the guys that you know can have success here."

Of course, players who choose Wisconsin have the luxury of knowing they will play in a major bowl if they win their conference, and that if they win all their games they'll likely play for the national championship. Boise recruits holds no such assurances.

But the landscape of the sport could look entirely different by the time this year's signees become juniors and seniors. By then, Boise may not be viewed as an AQ or non-AQ, but merely as a successful football program.

 
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