The dust has settled on National Signing Day and while there a few kids still left to sign most of the class rankings are being finalized, at least in regards to who signed an LOI with each school. We've got the Scout Rankings, the Rivals Rankings and the ESPN Rankings in the bank right now. As Chris Huston, the Heisman Pundit, points out the rankings today aren't exactly the classes that we'll get by the time these kids enroll in summer and through camp.
that said, what we have is what we have right now. The preliminary evaluations are in and now we get to figure out what it all means. Were you team's needs met? Did you sign a fullboat of kids? How many of these guys will contribute immediately? Where are the developmental projects that can pay off in the future?
There's a lot to assess as the kids come in and first and foremost "needs" must be discussed because ultimately it is a word that gets tossed around a lot but means nothing if it is not used correctly. College football is not the NFL. There are parallels but by and large the differences in roster management are so striking that they make the word "need" mean two very different things.
In the NFL "need" is an immediate thing. Drafting someone to contribute immediately. You're bad at the linebacker spot, so you get a guy or two who you expect to help now. You need a franchise quarterback so you spend big bucks on that guy early in the draft. Linemen needed to shore up that pass protection get picked to play. Sure, there are developmental guys that you gamble on and hope grow into the projected position or players you transition into a new role but that's not what your "needs" are centered on.
With college football "need" becomes more of a forecast. If you're bad at linebacker, yes, you're going to try to get guys that can play quickly to shore up those holes. However, the bulk of college football need is predicated upon guys leaving, players not panning out and improving the position group. If your coach has his recruit going the right way you're team should be picking up guys to step in as sophomore for the current rising juniors and seniors.
It's all about replenishing the stock. Offensive lines should mature together, certainly there will be freshmen and sophomore pressed into action or just good enough to play but the goal is to have a core of players starting together in their third and fourth seasons. Quarterback isn't a spot where you want a freshman coming in to fill a "need" immediately. You'd like to give him time to adjust and grow before throwing him out to the collegiate wolves that want to feast upon him.
Roster management at the college level is about juggling classes. Not stacked on defense or offense but rather getting to a point where your team is maturing at the same rate on both sides of the ball. Adding depth so that players get special teams and package experience before being pushed into fulltime duties.
Now with respect to the rankings themselves we see all the average stars and total number of stars and ranked recruits and national rankings and have to make sense of it all. We've hit needs so if you've got a high average star class but didn't get players to fill the spots of departing talent down the road you haven't got as good a class as a team that is ready to replace their departing strong safety, defensive ends and linebacker in two seasons.
As for national rankings? Who cares? Sure, they're a nice gauge as to who is bringing in the most talent but ultimately my advice is to throw them out of the window. Seriously. You don't play everyone in the country. You don't compete against everyone in the country. Folks in the ACC shouldn't care about the Pac-12 rankings and where they stand in relation to the Big XII. Same goes for the rest of the leagues.
Instead take the time to look at where you stand in your conference. That's going to tell your true ceiling for success over the next few seasons. The conference that you play in represents at least 59% (7 game Big East) and as much as 75% (9 game Pac-12) of your schedule. That's where your bread is buttered. That's how you get to the BCS Bowls. Worry about beating those guys before you try to take on the world.
Finishing in the middle of the pack nationally means a whole hell of a lot less if that puts you in the top of your conference. That means you have something to build towards a conference championship with. Finishing in the Top 20 nationally means even less when the teams in your league are ahead of you.
To put this into practical application we'll look at 37-41 in the Rivals rankings. In order these teams are Arizona State, Oregon State, Louisville, Iowa and Michigan State. In theory all of these teams are putting together about the same type class; good but not great, better than the bulk of the country. But, let's first remember, the bulk of the teams behind these six are non-BCS squads from the MAC, WAC, MWC, Sun Belt and the Independent ranks.
We see two Pac-12 schools at 37 and 38. Not bad spin nationally. However, we look to the Pac-12 rankings and hear the sad trombone as Arizona State and Oregon State are 9th and 10th respectively. That's certianly not the projected talent base that will raise these squads to their desired promised land of the Rose Bowl. They're better than Arizona and Washington State. Two teams they were already better than.
On the other hand we see Louisville at 39 and the Cardinals, with the same type of class as their Pac-12 counterparts. They're second in the league, only trailing the awesome class that Rutgers put together under Kyle Flood. For a team that was already in the running for the Big East Championship in the final week this season with a young team this infusion of talent is the type of relative push that can get them into a BCS Bowl game in the coming seasons.
In the Big Ten we have Iowa and Michigan State at 40 and 41. Iowa is just a couple seasons removed from an Orange Bowl win while Sparty is a call away from being in the Rose Bowl. These teams are right in the middle of the league. Not at the bottom of the conference like the Pac-12 teams just a few spots ahead of them, not at the top like Louisville.
So it is all relative. Another example that truly speaks to the "relative" nature of recruiting success is Tennessee. They finished ranked number eighteen nationally. That sounds badass, right? There are about 100 teams in the nation that wish they had pulled as strong a class as the Volunteers. In several conferences Tennessee would be the posterboy for recruiting success. Except they're not in those conferences, they're in the SEC. That 18th ranked class was good for 7th. SEVENTH. That's it. Seventh. Behind SEC East divisional foes Georgia and Florida, Third Saturday in October rival Alabama, plus Auburn, LSU and newcomer Texas A&M. Dooley's class is good but this foundational group has got their work cut out for them when it comes to clawing towards the top of the SEC East.
Now comes in the "recruiting rankings don't matter" group. I hear you. I know you'll kick out the individual cases, whether they are teams that overachieve or players that blossom after not being on the radar nearly as high. I hear that. You're right, in a way.
Coaching is the most important element to college football. Period. Good coaching can beat good talent on the reg. Ask North Carolina fans about the last five NC State games and how true that statement really is. It happens. But on the flipside of that coin, look at the teams winning championships and understand that talent elevates the ceiling for a team's achievement. Not finishing the recipe with good coaching is a recipe for underachieving, not an indication that stars don't matter.
With respect to individual rankings take this as your rule of thumb; stars are merely a projection of success at the next level. No, all five star kids don't pan out BUT on average the five and four star kids have a better track record of being regular contributors and major players than the three, two and one star kids out there. It is easy to hold up the two stars that break into the spotlight but that ignores the tons of two star kids that never do much at the collegiate level.
It is an inexact science but there is merit to it.
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