What can we really tell from team-by-team National Signing Day recruiting rankings? Are recruiting rankings a predictor of future success? Or are they swayed toward big-time, big-name programs and prospects in Texas, California and Florida?
Photo credit: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune
(Ed. Note: I wrote this back in March, while staying in Zimbabwe. I held off publishing it to possibly use it in hopes for a different blog, but rather than let this continue to sit, I’d like to get it out there. To kick off Gopher camp, I figured I would bring it out, as well as some more regular posts in the coming days. EM)
In early 2008, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had just wrapped up an atrocious season, one that would have gone completely winless if not for an early season win in triple overtime against an under .500 team from the Mid-American Conference. But later next February, there the Gophers were, sprinkled between Texas A&M and Virginia Tech within the top 25 recruiting rankings. Coach Tim Brewster and company brought the excitement of the Dinkytown faithful to a level never before reached in the short history of the Rivals.com lists on National Signing Day.
Even though Minnesota was once the class of major college football, those championship banners were raised decades ago, long before these incoming 17 and 18 year-olds had been born, and likely before even their parents had been born. It was what Brewster, an unproven hire, had been brought in to accomplish, to bring in players that otherwise tabbed Minneapolis as a cold Omaha. The dandy of a recruiting ranking, which seemingly dominated anything that Brewster’s predecessor Glen Mason accomplished recruiting wise, had Big Ten and Gopher football message boards alike buzzing.
“This class is phenomenal. Minnesota has to be one of the biggest stories nationally,” said Tom Lemming, possibly one of most well-known and thorough national recruiting analysts, at the time to the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. “I believe Tim is one of the Top 10 recruiters I’ve ever seen and he’s showing why with this class. Recruiting is all about perception and nobody does it better than Tim. I’ve been doing this since 1978 and this is the best class that Minnesota has brought in when you talk about pure athletes.”
For those who aren’t ardent Saturday football fans, you’ll probably remember Lemming from a brief cameo in the film adaption of “The Blind Side.” The reviews poured in from other recruiting analysts as well, from credible sources who make a 9-to-5 living off of scouting players and analyzing them for college programs.
“There’s no question that Minnesota’s class goes down as the biggest surprise in the nation for me,” said Jeremy Crabtree, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst. “We knew he could recruit when he was at Texas and other places, but the job that he did this season with the results on the field is amazing. He’s surrounded himself with great assistant coaches that work just as hard as he does, and the end result is a class chock-full of impact guys that should help them out right away.”
Meanwhile, Zach Johnson, recruiting editor for Rivals-based GophersIllustrated.com, told a Star-Tribune reporter that it was the best recruiting class in Golden Gopher football history.
At his first press conference a few years earlier, Brewster promised such recruiting victories, which he said would not only leads to wins against the hated Wisconsin Badgers and Iowa Hawkeyes, but also to the Rose Bowl, the “Granddaddy of ‘Em All.”
“We’re going to win the Big Ten championship and we’re going to take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena,” Brewster said at the time to the cadre of reporters. “That’s my dream, that’s my goal and that’s my belief. It will happen here sooner rather than later.”
Brewster’s first true class delivered according to the experts. The Gophers now had the athletes to compete with upper echelon schools. But less than three years later, two offensive and defensive coordinators each had abandoned ship, the Gophers never won more than seven games in a season and Brewster was fired in the midst of a 1-6 season. Even in the seven win season when the team had briefly reached the top 25, they ended the season on a five-game losing streak, including a 55-0 loss to Iowa at home. During his tenure, Brewster’s team never beat a team ranked in the top 25; they hadn’t even beaten a rival in a trophy game. Brewster inherited a team that played Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl. He left a team that, at the time, hadn’t won a Big Ten conference game.
What happened? Is a recruiting ranking an indicator of future success? Were the Gophers victim to some unlikely circumstances or was Brewster unable to coach these talented players to their potential?
Why didn’t the Gophers improve their Big Ten position?
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In 2004, Ed Orgeron left the plum shores of Southern California, where at USC he served as a defensive line coach, assistant head coach and more famously, as a supremely successful recruiter, to head up the sinking program at Ole Miss. He originally made his mark on the defensive line of the two-time national champion Miami Hurricanes, when from 1988 to 1992 he coached eight All-Americans including Warren Sapp.
Stories of Orgeron’s somewhat unconventional coaching methods had gained fanfare — at his first Ole Miss team meeting he reportedly took his shirt off, told all of his players to follow suit and led the entire room in chanting “Ole Miss! Wild Boys! Ole Miss! Wild Boys!” Soon the room was filled with testosterone, he ended the meeting by saying, “If any of you motherfuckers thinks you can take me, you can come up here and get a piece of me right now.” No one moved. Orgeron said, “That’s what I thought,” and walked out.
While some in the sports media questioned his methods, no one could deny the recruiting brilliance that separated him from the pack of other talented assistants around the country who were also vying for head coaching jobs. In 2004, Rivals.com named Orgeron National Recruiter of the Year. In 2011, Scout.com/Fox Sports would bestow Orgeron with the same honor. When he became Ole Miss head coach, he also agreed to became the subject of a book by Bruce Feldman, a behind-the-scenes shadowing of Orgeron and his staff on the recruiting trail as they tried to build the program out of the shadows of the other big-time SEC powerhouses. Coach O, as he is referred throughout the book, tried to land then super-recruit Joe McKnight, among other prospects that he implored his assistants to bring in. While they missed out on McKnight, Orgeron and company also hit it big on National Signing Day rankings.
In 2006, Ole Miss was ranked No. 15 in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings. In 2007, they were ranked 30th. But by the end the 2007 season, only weeks after giving Orgeron a “vote of full confidence,” the Ole Miss administration fired the recruiting visionary. His teams turned in a combined 10-25 record and of those wins, only two came against teams with winning records. In 2007, the team finished winless in the SEC, the first time in more than 20 years; during his tenure at least six players were suspended for not going to class and other violations of team rules. Feldman writes that at one point during the recruiting season, it was discovered that one of Coach O’s recruits can barely read, let alone pass remedial courses to qualify for college that summer.
Again, a man nationally heralded by experts for blazing new ground on the recruiting trail of Division I college football, was out as a head coach in less than five years. In both cases, Orgeron and Brewster promised to out-recruit their competition. By the measure from both Rivals.com and Scout.com, both men brought the highly touted players to campus, but each coach enjoyed few wins, let alone any championships they may have talked up to their respective boosters.
While Ed Orgeron is much more accomplished as a position coach than Tim Brewster, why was he also unable to translate success in regard to recruiting rankings into more on-field victories? Was he unable to surround himself with the assistant coaches who could adequately construct a gameplan each week? Or did the same thing happen to Tim Brewster? Were the players recruited simply never as good as advertised?
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The answer lies in parts of all of those questions. For example, Brewster may be able to recruit, but as a head football coach several people have opined that he was in over his head. (After his first game, he sprawled on the turf, seemingly drained by an overtime loss to Bowling Green, a MAC team that was later throttled 63-7 by Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl.)
Rarely does a player arrive at school a finished product, needing no coaching or development to succeed at a higher level; part of the Gophers’ failure to succeed then rests with the coaching staff, for being unable to coach up the talent recruited to campus. Even still, a larger reality is that National Signing Day rankings have a soft underbelly of puffed-up hype, college football’s version of the repackaged clusters of sub-prime loans that sank the banking industry. Inside most of those “four-star” and “three-star” rankings are guessed based on player-created highlight tape. The Gophers’ 2008 recruiting class was rated No. 17 by Rivals.com, but the team never matched that ranking in the Associated Press polls because there’s no way to conclusively suggest that the recruiting ranking was valid to begin with. The rankings are compiled during National Signing Day, when players ink their names to scholarships. They aren’t re-calibrated after a top recruit gets arrested and kicked out of school. If a few high-level recruits fail to pass muster on the ACT, which isn’t out of the ordinary, the ranking stays the same. If several recruits failed to qualify academically or are kicked out of school, the ranking never changes.
The problem isn’t the recruiting services themselves; they provide quality, expert analysis for thousands of players in the state. Guys like Tom Lemming and Jeremy Crabtree get more player analyzations correct than they necessarily miss — those guys know college football. For example, Zach Johnson of Gopher Illustrated was the first media member to guess that Jerry Kill would become the Gophers new coach. But no one can possibly judge at the time of National Signing Day how each student-athlete will gel on campus with the coaching staff and current roster, let alone how an entire class will respond together. No one can possibly analyze all of the players across the collegiate football landscape.
As Lemming said, “Recruiting is all about perception.” We perceive this athlete will be a top starter. We perceive that this player will be a standout linebacker, even though he only played defensive back in high school. We perceive that this running back will understand a zone-blocking scheme and a playbook that likely dwarfed his in high school, which had every play running through him. We perceive these players will go to class, avoid the excess of drugs and loafing that accompany most college students and produce on the field each week for four years. Most of all, we perceive that Player X from one state is a better player than Player Y from another state based on a scout’s intuition. We perceive all of these things.
In 2008, the recruiting analysts at Rivals.com perceived that the Gophers had the third best recruiting class in the Big Ten, No. 17 best nationally. The year prior under a short deadline, Rivals.com ranked Brewster’s recruiting class No. 57 overall. (Rankings from Rivals.com will be used hereafter unless noted, just to keep things linear.) The 2008 class listed seven “four-star recruits,” players tabbed to have very solid careers, if not spectacular ones. Tim Brewster had done the impossible, college football insiders insisted, recruiting a better class than his predecessor Glen Mason ever had, bringing in more four-star recruits in one year than Mason did in his last four, even after Brewster’s aforementioned 1-11 first year.
By comparison from 2003 to 2006, three of Mason’s recruits received four-star rankings. Mason’s three four-star recruits were star running back Laurence Maroney, Paris Hamilton and Alex Daniels. Hamilton blew out his knee in the off-season after joining the Gophers and ended up largely a non-factor, tallying two TDs in his entire career. Daniels left school after his alleged involvement in a sexual assault, leaving before he could make an on-field impact. Maroney, of course, was a star player and went on the NFL.
Of Brewster’s 2007’s class, only three players remained by the end of 2008. Even Brewster’s son, Clint, left school without making an on-field mark. Clint, a three-star prospect part of the 2007 class, only appeared in the Twin Cities sports pages when during his redshirt year when he reportedly jawed with then Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff after a game, reportedly telling the Badger: “‘You guys are terrible … we’re 1-10 and we should have beat you.”
Looking at 2008’s lauded class, three players will likely hold large roles for the Gophers this fall, while three never became on-field contributors. One player, junior college transfer Traye Simmons, played well for two years and then moved on to the NFL as a free agent cornerback with the San Diego Chargers. He was second team all-conference his junior year under coordinator Ted Roof, who then moved on to Auburn.
The players in that class who barely made it to campus long enough to hear a full version of the rouser included:
• Sam Maresh, beset by medical and personal problems, never saw the field and is currently at a junior college.
• Junior college transfer David Pittman was first heard from in a Pioneer Press newspaper article about how he wanted to compete for the starting quarterback position, but in two years played spot duty at wide receiver as a fringe backup.
• Vincent Hill, who never made it to campus, surfaced briefly at Temple and then again disappeared from the public eye.
Those still on campus from 2008’s class include dual-threat QB recruit MarQueis Gray, wide receiver Brandon Green and Keanon Cooper. Gray will start this spring at QB and has shown glimpses of greatness in limited time, after not qualifying as a student in spring 2008. Brandon Green suffered a knee injury last year and if he can return, will likely hold a starting spot. Cooper should play linebacker for a large share of the defense’s snaps.
Of Brewster’s other four-star recruits, there have been mixed results as well. Anthony Jacobs, a 2007 defensive line recruit and Michael Carter, a 2009 defensive back recruit, have played steady amounts, but both have been unable so far to fully reach their potential. Carter played as a true freshman and unseated then senior Traye Simmons for a few games, but has since regressed. In 2010 he lost his starting job and by the end of the season was suspended. This spring, he was the first Gopher to earn a spot in Jerry Kill’s “Minnesota Lophers” doghouse. Jacobs, meanwhile, tallied 41 tackles and two sacks in 10 starts and should start this fall. (Two other four-star recruits signed in 2010 and have not yet had a chance to make an impact.)
Of several other highly touted guys for the Gophers many also found limited success. Running back Hasan Lipscomb signed in 2009, but never made it to his first Saturday for the Maroon and Gold. Wide receiver recruit Hayo Carpenter came to the Twin Cities in 2009 rated as the No. 13 player in the Rivals.com Junior College Top 100. Scout.com felt even bolder about his future success, tabbing him as the No. 1 junior college player in the country and also as an even more coveted five-star prospect. Carpenter ended his Gopher career last fall with three catches in two years.
In a four-year span, the Gophers brought many hyped prospects to town, but the majority of them simply never made the jump to Big Ten football and became forgotten rumors rather than legends with retired jersey numbers.
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The 2010 college season belonged to one player, as Auburn quarterback Cam Newton seemed to know where — and when — to run or pass before his opponents guessed what he was thinking. A read-option specialist, Newton turned in one of the finest years in recent college football history, bringing the Auburn Tigers to the National Championship, a field goal in the closing seconds separating them from the Oregon Ducks.
Now, using recruiting rankings, could we have been able to correctly guess Auburn’s surge in talent? Newton, a five-star recruit, was pegged as a superstar and turned out as such, even though he flamed out at his original school of choice, Florida. In the National Championship game against Oregon, Auburn started 12 seniors, six juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen (one a true freshman, starting running back Michael Dyer). Since 2006, Auburn has had recruiting classes of No. 10, 7, 20, 19 and 4, on Rivals.com. They cracked the top five in 2010, likely having to do with Newton’s transfer and also Dyer’s commitment, two players who instantly contributed.
Across the field, quarterback and running back Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, both sophomores, led the Ducks. Overall, Oregon started 11 seniors, seven juniors and four sophomores. Since 2006, the Ducks were ranked No. 49, 11, 19, 32 and 13 in team-by-team recruiting. Meanwhile, the team with most top three recruiting finishes in that period was Florida, with four years in the top five; USC was second during that period with three top three finishes. In 2010’s recruiting ranking, USC and Florida finished No. 1 and No. 2, yet both of those teams finished outside of the Associated Press top 25 final 2010 ranking, Florida disappearing after Week 11 and USC dropping out for good one week later.
Before reaching the national championship this year, Auburn’s coaching staff was experienced, but not necessarily well regarded. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn came with high praise from his post at Tulsa. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof came from Minnesota, where he was relatively successful, but unproven; Minnesota’s record during his one-year run was 7-7, including the five-game losing streak and the 55-doughnut game against Iowa at the Metrodome. While those two had some critical acclaim, few were lauding the hire of head coach Gene Chizik, who went 5-19 at Iowa State, with only two conference wins, before Auburn hired him.
At the time of Chizik’s hire, fans and famous Auburn alums like Charles Barkley blasted the decision, saying Chizik was hired more to do with his race than his coaching talent. Even as he had previously carved out his reputation as a knowledgeable defensive coordinator for Auburn, Tiger fans booed athletic director Jay Jacobs over the new hire. A YouTube video of the incident includes this short description: Someone at Auburn better have a crystal ball. To say Chizik came in with little fanfare is an understatement; he was about as popular in Auburn as he was at the time in Ames, Iowa.
Using the most friendly of analysis, the Auburn coaches were well-tested and experienced, but surely no one would have picked them over say, Urban Meyer and his staff at Florida, Nick Saban and his crew at Alabama, Mack Brown and his cohorts at Texas or Jim Tressel and the Ohio State staff. No one would have listed Auburn as a top staff in college football, let alone the SEC. Auburn and Oregon’s ascensions can’t be explained completely away by claiming that the coaching staff transformed unheralded recruits and they can’t be attributed to recruiting rankings. Florida had apparently better recruits and had a head coach that boasted one of the best winning percentages in college football history, but yet lost five more games than Auburn in 2010.
The answer to Auburn’s success rested within the right mix of coaching and athletic talent, a perfectly timed match between coach and player.* With those recruiting rankings, the case can be made for Auburn to become at least a top 10 team. But what about Oregon? They should have been a borderline top 25 team and they came within a field goal of a national championship. Many of the Ducks’ players are better than originally guessed and that other players at other schools might have had inflated worth. That is to be expected, no one can surely guarantee that one 18-year-old is going to grow three inches while another one is going to struggle with picking up blitzes in pass coverage. The recent team-by-team recruiting rankings of Auburn and Oregon show this.
* - A snarky person might include that Auburn’s success also involved a bag man, a father looking for a few thousand bucks and a teenager who stole a laptop and immediately wrote his own name all over it. I don’t think a one-sentence asterisk explanation really tells the entire story, but well, the elephant is far too large to simply ignore, but also too large to capture in the lens of this essay. And then there’s Oregon, which, sigh, let’s just move on before I realize that all of the recent recruiting violations have made a column from March seemingly outdated.
The recruiting services can typically correctly pick out the players at the top of the food chain, the impact stars who can reverse the fortunes of a BCS school. But they often miss guys like Eric Decker and Marion Barber III, two-star recruits who will eventually become big-time, impact players. As far as ranking teams though, the rankings largely can’t be used to predict future success.
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples re-ranks each recruiting class, three years after National Signing Day, using the benefit of hindsight. This year, he re-ranked the 2008 classes and found that of the original top 10, three remained:
• Alabama held the No. 1 spot,
• Ohio State, originally tabbed with the fifth-best class, was ranked third;
• Florida State University, originally ninth, was ranked 10th.
The second-best class, Oregon, was originally 19th; and of the re-ranked top 10, only Virginia Tech was originally part of Rivals.com’s top 25 recruiting rankings. In 2010, Staples re-ranked the 2007 classes and found that of the original top 10, only four remained on the revised rankings, and those were USC and Alabama at No. 9 and 10, respectively. Boise State, originally ranked No. 68 by Rivals.com, was now No. 2. As Staples noted, teams outside the traditional college football power structure can be easily underestimated.
To use another example, The Daily Gopher, a blog in the SBNation network, used past Rivals.com recruiting rankings to predict how Big Ten teams would finish in the conference. The site weighted the most relevant years and the predicted rankings for 2010 were: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana. The actual final standings had Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State and tied for first, followed by Iowa, Illinois, Penn State and Michigan, and so on.
Recruiting rankings can’t be blamed for being imperfect, but the issue is not that recruiting rankings are imperfect, it’s that they are largely guesses and estimates constructed far too early. Scout.com employs three people who are responsible for analyzing players in nine states of the Midwest; those people in turn receive help from part-time scouts. Away from the national experts at Scout.com or Rivals.com, many of the people who are ranking the deeper players aren’t necessarily trained evaluators. Even in the case of the professional scouts, no one is holding a “Gray’s Sports Almanac” for 2015.
Recruiting rankings can’t be truly extrapolated to predict future success.
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In 2003, the Golden Gophers won 10 games and eventually finished the season with a Sun Bowl win over Oregon. It was the Gophers first real shot toward respectability in decades, if they hadn’t snatched defeat from the clutches of victory against the eventual Big Ten champion Michigan Wolverines — the Gophers blew a 28-7 lead in the fourth quarter at home — they would have even played in a more prestigious game. It’s a team that makes even some of the most ornery Gophers fans sit and wonder, “What if?” like old men in small towns talk about tornadoes that swept through decades earlier. It was the closest the Gophers would get to a Rose Bowl during not only Mason’s tenure, but since the mid 1980s during the tenure of coach John Gutekunst.
Mason, a man who never received much credit from the recruiting services, built his teams around strong running backs and even stronger, though usually undersized, offensive lines. His teams included two All-Americans, tight end Matt Spaeth and offensive lineman Greg Eslinger, who were two-star, passed over recruits. Marion Barber III, who would go on to star on Sundays as well as Saturdays, was also not labeled as a big-time recruit by the bulk of recruiting experts.
In fact, the end of the season hopes for 2003’s Gophers team were submerged late in the year against Iowa, when two-star recruit and eventual NFL All-Pro safety Bob Sanders caused two fumbles, one at the goal-line, that the Hawkeyes would go on to recover.
Even on Brewster’s teams, some of the non-heralded recruits have starred. Da’Jon McKnight will start No. 1 on the Gophers wide receiver depth chart in 2011, after finishing second in the Big Ten with 10 receiving touchdowns last year. He was a two-star recruit. Duane Bennett, the Gophers leader in all-purpose yardage in 2010, was also a two-star recruit. The leading rusher was a three-star prospect, 2008’s De Leon Eskridge. Eric Decker was the Gophers primary offensive weapon in 2009 — the former Mason recruit and current NFL player was tabbed as a two-star player.
Let’s look at how the recruiting services construct their team rankings. Scout.com has released how they develop their team rankings so we’ll use that for this example. (A formula rumored to be how Rivals.com compiles its rankings has surfaced on the Internet, but for simplicity we will use Scout.com’s system.) Scout.com evaluators award teams points based off of how many stars each recruit receives and then total those points accordingly. Each star ranking receives a different amount of points. Five-star players receive 200 points; four-star recruits receive 120 points, while three-star recruits receive 40 points. The top 100 players are also ranked by position, with the top player worth an additional 100 points and the last player worth zero points. The top quarterback, who is a five-star player, would be worth 300 points. So a star recruit could be worth 250 points, but never pan out, while a two-star guy could be worth 20 points and become a huge contributor. On this scale, the difference between a five-star player and a four-star player is actually two three-star players.
Looking at 2007’s recruiting list, some solid two and three star players emerge. This isn’t to say that all of the players recruited during that year aren’t contributors. It’s a similar trend that happens with Baseball America’s annual list of top 10 minor league prospects, while a few hit stardom, the list is never an all-inclusive list of future all-stars. There just simply isn’t enough analysis of small-school players or guys who come on late in their high school careers. Looking at 2010’s players, several guys proved they deserved hype coming out of high school, although they were about as celebrated as student managers: All-Big Ten cornerback Antonio Fenelus came to the Wisconsin Badgers as a two-star recruit, as did Houston’s Case Keenum, who is only the second player in Division I FBS history to have passed for more than 5,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was a zero-star walk-on, as was Alabama safety Will Lowery.
The point here isn’t that four-star players are all overrated washouts or that all two-star players turn into All-Americans; it’s that too much change often exists in each player to definitively write off many of them. It’s not an issue of certain guys having more heart or being grittier than others, the two-star recruits who become starters are also incredibly athletic guys. They just weren’t tabbed as such. They were tabbed as guys who weren’t that fast or weren’t that strong, but proved otherwise. It’s one thing to identify that Cam Newton or Tim Tebow will become a future star, it’s another to completely ignore someone from a small high school in central Minnesota, a recruiting Siberia, and say that player will simply not become a Division I contributor. Even still, ranking entire teams based off of those already flawed rankings are like picking fruit off of a poisonous tree.
Other college football analysts have said that people shouldn’t place too much of an emphasis on the number of stars a player receives, but should also look at other scholarship offers the student-athlete has received. The thought being, someone can fabricate some hype and an extra star from an evaluator if they catch a scout during a good game, or that the services will add a star to a one-star guy with a power-conference school makes a scholarship offer. It’s a good practice, but it still allows for an emphasis on groupthink. Recruiting services have previously added fake player names into their databases in order to find other services that might be stealing information. But instead of catching the fraudulent scouts, schools like Florida and Florida State University ended up briefly involved in the John Does. There’s another famous story about how Bob Knight once old a radio program that he was recruiting a player from Europe, who was a beast. No one else had heard of this player, but after Knight’s appearance, one less-reputable recruiting service created some scout-speak about the player, things like that he “played long,” needed to work on his defense, etc. The player of course, was a figment of Knight’s imagination, created to show that some of the scouting services were frauds.
Are we looking at recruiting incorrectly? Probably. Quite possibly a more intelligent, expensive process exists or will be developed by a forward thinking football coach, but going with the model currently in place and not attaching unrealistic exorbitant costs, no one can truly make an objective top 100 team recruiting ranking. Like Michael Lewis found in “Moneyball,” the scouting-by-eye approach is filled with inefficiencies, which is only extended by following that up with another level of eye-test scouting to rank each team’s annual recruiting.
The inability of Minnesota and Mississippi to translate their relative recruiting success into on-field wins is evidence of this, as are the successful Glen Mason teams that were never highly praised by recruiting services. The success of the Auburn Tigers and Oregon Ducks show that much more than recruiting needs to be considered to estimate future success, as does the follow-up by others at Sports Illustrated and The Daily Gopher. Too much imperfection exists in the system of high school player evaluation to correctly gauge an entire team’s recruiting on National Signing Day. There is value in a recruiting service tracking a player’s 40-yard dash time, height and weight and other measureables. But what value, beyond entertainment, can we really gain from the team-by-team rankings that are compiled when the paper from the fax machine is still hot, when the signatures on the letters of intent will still smear under a thumbprint?
What, for example, really separates a No. 35 school from a No. 41 school? What makes a No. 51 school five spots better than No. 56?
Similar to what Tom Lemming said above, only perception.
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For this column, I researched original reporting from several sources, including various articles and columns from the Star-Tribune, written by Phil Miller, Kent Youngblood, Chip Scoggins and Patrick Reusse. Some of those columns and articles were not updated during a recent Web site update. Also proving invaluable were recruiting rankings and star data was from the Rivals.com.