UTEP's 2017 class is in the books and rather than just say they had the worst class of all FBS schools, we'd like to delve a bit deeper. That won't change the fact that this is the worst class among the FBS, but it can't hurt.
A brief disclaimer or two, first, it's recruiting i.e. an inexact science, zero star players go on to great NFL careers. We acknowledge that. But, if you look at trends, especially the top ten to fifteen classes each year you find that schools that recruit that level of talent tend to perform well. Second, we use 24/7 composite rankings for no good reason accept they are easier to track over the date ranges we're looking at.
At this point the UTEP program belongs to Sean Kugler, for better or worse. A blue collar guy who's the antithesis of flashy. Programs develop in their coach's image and UTEP is clearly built in Kugler's mold. Kugler has recruited unheralded kids, a lot of whom are local, and attempted to develop them into a smashing machine. He's also an old offensive lineman who still gravitates to the lost arts of pulling guards, fullbacks, and tightends. He's everything that should set our hearts a flutter but the results haven't been there. Recruiting has been a big part of that problem.
Comparing Kugler to the rest of CUSA and the nation, UTEP is lagging. Under Kugler the Miners have never recruited a class better than 120th in the FBS according to 24/7 composite. This year was second worst in Kugler's tenure, never forget the 2015 class that ranked 129th. Somehow Duquesne ranked higher than the Miners and several other FBS classes. We didn't know Duquesne played football.
From a national ranking perspective, if a Group of Five team can fall into the top 70, that's real good. This cycle 6 G5 teams were in the top 70. Top 90 and your probably ruining a lot of Saturdays for your conference foes. As a reference point, Mountain West power San Diego State has an average national ranking of 76 in the last five years. They've also won 69% of their games including back to back eleven win seasons in that time. In CUSA Marshall has a composite average of 67 over the last five years. In that time the Herd have won 36 and lost 17, a 68% win percentage even factoring in a three win 2016 campaign.
Western Kentucky is the oddity here. The Hilltoppers have never recruited that well from a rankings perspective, but with Petrino and Brohm at the helm they had a conference best 38 wins in the past four years. These numbers don't tell the whole story obviously with transfers, early defections, hits on lower rated players and whiffs on higher rated players, but they give us a pretty good idea. Western Kentucky probably had as close to a clear schematic advantage as any other G-5 program. That makes a huge difference as well.
UTEP's five year average is a CUSA worst 123. Hence Kugler's 35% win percentage in his four year run in El Paso. It also explains his 11-21 conference record.
For a Non-Power 5 school, three stars are the key to success. The Power 5's are going to take the VAST majority of four and five-star talent. Of 24/7s 335 four or five-star ranked recruits, only six signed outside the Power 5. (BYU grabbed two, Boise, UCF, Cincy, and Memphis each scored one) Great Group of Five schools will land the majority of their recruits in the 3-star range. Boise State has won 75% of their games the past four years and does so by signing classes that are 85% 3-star recruit or higher. PJ Fleck built his Western Michigan juggernaut not by Rowing the Boat, but rather by recruiting better players. In the Broncos last three seasons almost 60% of their signed classes were 3-Star caliber athletes.
As you might expect, UTEP doesn't rate highly in recruiting 3-stars. This year's class contained just one. That's a dangerous position to be in. UTEP has to rely on superior talent evaluation and development.
Kugler and his staff have had some success with players like Alvin Jones and Will Hernandez. Jones was 5'10, 175 pound cornerback out of Burgess High School in El Paso. He's blossomed into an All-Conference linebacker. Hernandez was a no-star recruit out of Nevada who has grown into one of the best interior linemen in the country. Can you find enough of those guys, is the question. Chances are you aren't able to pull more than a couple of those guys per season even if your evaluating at a peak level. If things don't improve on the field for Kugler and Co. this year, we may have our answer.