One of the major obstacles of a losing team is their ability to recruit. When programs falter, or hardly get off the ground, it often leads to a drop in recruiting success, and therefore, an even harder turnaround.
Utah football witnessed this last year when, after producing the 28th best class in the country in 2012, they saw their ranking drop to 44th. It was a fall that almost certainly was tied to their first losing season in a decade.
This year's class, built out of two-straight losing seasons, has seen a further drop prior to signing day next month - as the Utes now rank 60th nationally according to Rivals. It shouldn't be too big of a surprise that the program has seen a regression from their apparent best class ever to, based on the ratings system, the worst of the post-2008 era. When you lose, it becomes infinitely harder to recruit the talent needed to compete.
Even still, Utah has salvaged much of their recruiting class this year. The picture is not nearly as bleak as it seemed back in December, and though it might not compare to the height of past classes, all things considered, the coaches are doing about as well as expected for a team that's gone 10-14 the last two years.
More surprising, though, has been the dramatic shift in regional recruiting this year. Utah, who often recruited the fertile grounds of California, only has two players from the Golden State - compared to ten from last year's class.
This year's pending class actually reached deep into the heart of SEC country, pulling talent from Louisiana (Donovan Isom, Donovan Wilson and Travonne Hobbs), Texas (Raelon Singleton) and Florida (Monte Seabrook, Andre Godfrey, Tavaris Williams and Kenric Young). Nine players so far from this year's class are from Utah.
It remains to be seen if this is a permanent shift for the coaches or just temporary - but what's clear is this year's class reaches into areas of the country that are, for the most part, still foreign to the Utah football program.
But where does that put them in the Pac-12?
While the Utes have improved their national standing over the last couple months, they're still stagnant in the overall conference rankings - coming in at 10th with only Colorado and Washington doing worse. Of course, when you go by star average (which reflects more quality over quantity), Utah drops to 11th, only ahead of Colorado.
Is that class good enough to elevate the program to elite Pac-12 status? We probably won't know for a couple more seasons at the earliest, and even that may happen under a different coach.
What is known is that, despite two losing seasons, the bottom hasn't fallen out yet in the recruiting game. But it does show how it's impacting the classes - as the Utes went from 28th to 44th to tentatively 60th. That's an obvious downward trajectory and indicative of the struggles of the past two years. Another losing season could push that number even further south, which, beyond just the stability of Kyle Whittingham's job, makes next season that much more important.
Can Utah right their ship, turn it around, and return to a bowl game and help bolster recruiting going forward? We may have dodged a bullet with this year's recruiting class - but even then, it was only barely. The Utes need to recruit better to compete in the Pac-12 long-term, and, predictably, have to win to recruit better.
That's now the next obstacle for this coaching staff. Hopefully Dave Christensen, and even Dennis Erickson, can only help them rise above that hurdle.