Bronco Mendenhall won at BYU. He won consistently and a lot, making a bowl game in each season. This is exactly the kind of success Virginia wanted to see replicated when it hired him away from the Cougars after the 2015 season.
But winning takes good players, and how Mendenhall and his staff would transition to recruiting in the ACC was perhaps the biggest question entering his tenure. Now with his third recruiting class at UVA taking shape (the Cavaliers have seven commitments for 2018), you can begin to see the move east hasn’t resulted in much of a change in philosophy or strategy.
In fact, Mendenhall’s recruiting at Virginia is pretty much a mirror image of what he had done his last few years at BYU. The two most recent complete classes at UVA were ranked No. 56 and No. 61 by Rivals.com. Mendenhall’s last two classes at BYU checked in at No. 68 (2015) and No. 70 (2014). Those are not numbers that prompt either fan base to gloat, but this staff has shown an ability to develop two and three-star recruits into solid college players. Granted, the NCAA’s allowance for players’ Mormon missions has given many of them extra time to mature, but the track record is still good.
What is interesting is the way the Virginia coaches have taken a similar geographical approach since moving to the mid-Atlantic. Not surprisingly, in-state recruiting has been a priority whether the staff has been based in Virginia or Utah.
State by state
But neither Virginia nor BYU is in a position to rely on local recruits alone. The Cougars religious affiliation opened a lot of doors around the country, but particularly in the West. Unsurprisingly, BYU has always put a lot of effort into recruiting California.
Mendenhall appears to be banking on Virginia establishing a similar connection in Florida. The Cavs landed one player from the Sunshine State in each of Mendenhall’s first two classes, but the 2018 group already includes three commitments from Florida players.
Then there’s Texas. Virginia and the Lone Star State, does not necessarily feel like a natural fit. It is not particularly close and the Cavs don’t often play there. Beyond that it’s highly competitive with the Big 12, SEC and AAC all claiming Texas as “home” territory.
But BYU developed some strong ties there in Mendenhall’s final seasons. The Cougars signed 10 players from Texas in his last two classes, including eight in 2015. Virginia’s 2017 class included three-star linebacker Matt Gahm from Dallas and last week the Cavs got a commitment from 2018 offensive lineman Joe Bissinger from Houston. Bissinger is also a three-star prospect with interest from Big 12 and SEC programs.
The bottom line being, Mendenhall’s first-ever rebuild got off to a shaky start in 2016, but he is using long-term strategies that have worked well for him in the past. The question now is whether it will also work at Virginia.