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Keeler: Mel Tucker has CU’s best tailback. Lincoln Riley has Buffs’ best receiver. College football’s a poaching game. If Karl Dorrell doesn’t get with times, he’s toast.

Give Karl Dorrell credit for this much: He said the quiet part out loud.

“I went out recruiting right after the season, and probably, as I look back at it, hindsight-wise, it might not have been the most appropriate thing to do,” the CU Buffs’ third-year football coach admitted Wednesday during the program’s national signing day news conference.

“I probably should have had some interviewing process right after the season to check in with all of our players, and get some discussions about, you know, how their experience has been, where they need to go from here, things of that nature.”

You think?

Dorrell’s best offensive weapon, tailback Jarek Broussard, plays for former CU coach Mel Tucker now. When the Pac-12’s 2020 Offensive Player of the Year announced this past Sunday that he was transferring to Michigan State, the news hit Buffs fans like crowbar to the shin. Your ex leaves you for someone with more money, then breaks in, while you’re sleeping, and steals your dog.

It was bad enough that Dorrell’s best wide receiver (Brenden Rice) and second-best cornerback (Mekhi Blackmon) bolted for USC. Or that his best corner (Christian Gonzalez) is now at Oregon. Or that one of his most reliable defenders (Mark Perry) now plays at TCU.

College football has always been a poacher’s game. But thanks to the portal and NIL temptations, if you’re not minding the store, somebody else won’t hesitate to swoop in and clean out the shelves. Dorrell was so busy chasing the next generation of Buffs that he took his eyes off the guys who were already here, a presumption of control and fealty that feels very 2004.

If you’re not re-recruiting your own roster, every year, you’re toast. Of the 22 guys who started the Buffs’ home finale last Nov. 20, six wound up entering the transfer portal between Thanksgiving and Jan. 31.

To be fair, Dorrell was effectively grounded by COVID over his first year and change on the job. As splendid as Boulder and the Flatirons look on a smart phone or PDF, they’re always sweeter in person. CU is such a fun package to go out and actually sell, that you can forget the kids you’d presumed to have already bought in.

“The great majority (of players) that did stay (here), they’re inspired to do great things and to prove a lot of people wrong,” Dorrell said. “Particularly the people outside the building.”

While Dorrell’s admission Wednesday left some CU faithful cringing, the coach also managed to put a bow on one of the best single recruiting classes the Buffs have pieced together since they began playing in the Pac-12.

CU finished the day with a Class of ’22 haul that ranked No. 5 among conference programs by 247Sports.com and No. 3 by Rivals.com. No Buffs class since 2011 had ever finished higher than seventh — and that was Tucker’s much-ballyhooed 2020 group — among 247Sports’ Pac-12 ratings.

Now, all that being said, you have to toss in a couple of caveats. First, the Buffs brought in more recruits in this cycle than any other league school (none of whom were of the 4-star or 5-star variety), and volume can skew the recruiting sites’ points systems somewhat. Second, keep in mind that the three biggest football programs in the Pac-12 — USC, Oregon and Washington — all went through coaching changes in the winter of ’21-’22, regime changes that scattered a chunk of their respective recruiting classes to the four winds.

“There is definitely a different feeling in the building about moving forward and having a sense of urgency and having some success,” Dorrell said. “And it’s a great feeling.”

If Baylor transfer R.J. Sneed can top Rice’s 299 receiving yards (that’s it?) and three touchdowns (that’s all?) from ’21, hallelujah. If Ramon Jefferson, a tailback transfer from Sam Houston State, can land somewhere between 2020 Broussard and 2021 Broussard, the Buffs are good to go. If offensive lineman Tommy Brown, a 6-foot-6 road-grader who portal-ed in from Alabama, is half as good as his 4-star recruiting hype, there’s another problem solved.

Lotta “ifs,” though.

Awful lotta “ifs.”

“I do feel that we’re bringing more quality into the program. I do feel that way,” Dorrell stressed.

“And that’s not (throwing) any punches or slights on anyone prior to me. But I do feel that we’re making great progress with the quality that’s coming in … the bottom line is, we’ve got to develop them.”

You’ve got to keep them, too.

“We feel like the additions we made in this program,” Dorrell said, “are in a lot of ways, I think, probably a little bit more of an upgrade from things that we’ve had, in terms of attrition standpoint.”

They’d better be. For his sake.