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Matt Calkins: Chris Petersen’s recruiting ability should have Washington fans stoked, opponents scared

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 10, 2019, 8:12 p.m.

Washington head coach Chris Petersen looks on during  practice  Aug. 5, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington head coach Chris Petersen looks on during practice Aug. 5, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Anytime Washington football coach Chris Petersen opens his mouth, there’s potential for headline news.

Maybe he’s riffing on Pac-12 kickoff times. Maybe he’s admonishing “vultures” in the recruiting business. Or maybe he’s opining on NCAA transfer rules, as he did recently in regards to former Husky quarterback Colson Yankoff of Coeur d’Alene.

But few of Petersen’s words get more attention than the four letters he tweets whenever a soon-to-be Husky is locked down: “WOOF!”

Such tweets serve as a Dawg whistle to beat reporters who have to scramble to learn who the new recruit is. And as a recent chart showed – those recruits keep getting better. A lot better.

SBNation reporter Bud Elliot recently posted a graph illustrating the “blue-chip ratio” among college football’s top programs over the past five years. A “blue chip” is a four or five-star recruit, and the ratio, in this case, is the percentage of blue-chippers on a team compared to the two- and three-star recruits.

At the top of the graph, which features 18 programs, were blue bloods such as Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia – each of which have a blue-chip ratio of about 80 percent. In the middle of it was Washington, which was at 54 percent.

This might not mean much to the average college football fan taking a quick glance at the info. The Buckeyes, Tide and Bulldogs are usually great, and the Huskies are usually pretty good, so what is there to learn?

But when you see the trajectory of this graph – when you see that UW’s blue-chip ratio was around 20 percent when Petersen took over in 2014, then rose to around 30 percent three years later, then to over 40 percent last year, and is at 54 percent now?

That’s when Husky fans should get stoked and their potential opponents should get scared.

The only other program with as dramatic a jump since 2014 was Penn State, which went from around 20 percent to 60 percent. And it’s worth noting that no team in the College Football Playoff era has played for the national championship with a ratio under 50 percent. Washington finally cracked that barrier, which means …

Well, nobody knows for sure. But remember, while Petersen was at Boise State, he never had a recruiting class in the top 50 and repeatedly finished in the top 10 of The Associated Press’ final poll of the season. And he led the Huskies to the CFP in 2016 with a blue-chip ratio below 30 percent.

In other words, Petersen and his staff appear to be as adept at recruiting as they are coaching. Or at the very least, they don’t screw up the recruiting process in the wake of their success.

When you go to a major bowl game in three consecutive seasons – when you win two out of three Pac-12 championships and send myriad players to the NFL every year – the blue chips aren’t going to trickle in so much as they are going to flood.

Granted, the person who would scoff at this chart more than anyone else is Petersen. He basically loathes rankings – whether it be midseason polls or those assigned to his recruiting class. I once reminded him of the below-50 classes he would recruit at Boise, prompting him to say that he hoped the Huskies’ next class would be similarly unheralded. He doesn’t care what the rest of the country sees in his players, only what he and his fellow coaches do.

Still, you can’t argue with the fact that teams such as Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia are consistently in the national-championship hunt. Defending champion Clemson was tied for sixth along with Oklahoma, which has been in the final four in each of the past two years. And now here’s Washington, nipping at the heels of the most prestigious college-football teams in the country when it comes to landing the best in the land.

Of course, Petersen is still without that signature nonconference win since coming to Washington. Lost to Auburn and Ohio State last year. Lost to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl the year before that. Lost to Alabama in the CFP in 2016.

Until Washington can beat such opponents, its recruiting efforts only deserve so much praise.

But this blue-chip trend is encouraging. The Huskies still have a ways to go to reach the top, but it seems up is the only direction in which they’re moving.

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