Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 1/31/12


Signing day is coming up tomorrow and we'll see the fans go crazy over their school's big signings and even crazier over the guys they don't get. All this freaking begs the question:

How much credence should be placed on these "star" rankings that we see from the big three services, Scout, Rivals and ESPN?

Do fans place too much emphasis on the number of stars next to a players name? Or should these numbers be taken into account when determining how well a coaching staff is doing their job?

Allen Kenney: This subject comes up every year. The answer is plain as day.

Recruiting rankings are a great indicator of success.

Like talent evaluators in any profession, the analysts at places like Scout and Rivals botch their fair share of rankings. A five-star grade on a prospect doesn't guarantee success - or even a starting spot.

Time and again, though, we see the teams that win the most games and championships are generally the ones at the top of the recruiting rankings in February. Look at Alabama since Nick Saban arrived. Auburn's recruiting profile has improved under Gene Chizik, and lo and behold, the Tigers won a national championship in 2010.

We've seen plenty of great recruiters who couldn't coach their way out of a paper bag. All the top 10 recruiting classes in the world can't help those guys. Likewise, some coaches know how to squeeze every drop out of castoffs and overlooked prospects who go unnoticed.

Even so, if you're looking for a sign that a team is built for sustained success, check out how the recruiting services have rated their recent classes.

Kevin McGuire: I have to agree. Star rankings are a good way to measure the overall quality of a recruiting class, but they should not be taken as a true indicator of future success. While players with a higher rating are generally going to be as advertised, there will be a few blips from time to time. But this works both ways. Plenty of times a two-star recruit emerges and grows in the right situation to become a very talented player with a solid impact on a team.

I have never been one to follow recruiting rankings as closely as some, but when it comes around to this time of year I do look at them to see which schools are putting together the top classes. I can't help it.

Ultimately what it all eventually comes down to is whether the head coach, and his staff, can coach or not. You can have all the top talent in the world but if you don't use them the right way it won't matter. But if you have a coach who can get a bunch of two and three star recruits to play well, who knows how far it will go? Allen is right though, the teams that win generally have the players with the higher rankings. But they also have the best coaches too.

Aaron Torres: Let me go ahead and play the contrarian's role here.

Are recruiting rankings important? Of course. It's no secret that through the years, Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have "won" on Signing Day, and in large part, that led to them winning on Saturday's in subsequent years. Still, it's hardly the only denominator in long-term success.

Let's just take Saban for example. Is he a great recruiter? Undoubtedly. Some of his peers believe him to be the best in the game. At the same time, don't forget this: In his second year at Alabama he won 12 games. In his third he won 13 and a National Championship. And almost all of his front-line players were recruited by a previous regime. What did the successes of Rolando McClain, Greg McElroy and Javier Arenas have to do with "Nick Saban's recruiting prowess?" Not a damn thing, actually.

Which leads me to this point: Recruiting is just a part of the game. Having good players is a tantamount yes, but more importantly, so too is developing them once they get to campus. Nick Saban is successful for a lot of reasons: For his relentless, maniacal, never-settle-for-anything-but-the-best style, for the fact that he surrounds himself with quality coaches and for the fact that yes, Alabama has resources that virtually no other school in college football can compete with. Those things all play a role into why his team's win games, whether he's coaching players that he himself recruited, or a previous regime.

Again, it comes down to talented players, but more who those players are arriving to when they get to campus. Ron Zook recruited a boatload of top-end talent, but it took Urban Meyer's arrival to get them to reach their full potential. Mike Bellotti brought in most of the players that Chip Kelly coached in the title game last year, and none of those guys were really highly recruited. Hell, go back a decade to USC. Pete Carroll went to the Orange Bowl in his second year with someone else's talent too.

My point being just that fans need to be careful to put all their eggs in the "star rankings" basket.

Michael Felder: Well for starters McClain was a four star 2007 signee so I think that shows Saban finds the guy he wants to anchor that team and McClain did the rest. But with regards to McElroy and Arenas showing "recruiting prowess" no one has claimed it did. They were both three star guys brought in by the previous regime and Saban maximized what the Tide got out of them. As for USC Mike Williams the four star kid was a big part of that team starting as a freshman and smashing all sorts of records during his careeer. As for the 2003 quarterback, you must mean five star Carson Palmer. Justin Fargas and Keary Colbert helped make up the core of three star guys Carroll maximized.

The point here is that no one is dismissing coaching here. Bringing up Zook is great, he can't coach. Recruiting is the life blood of your program and while it can be wasted when a guy can't coach, it also offers the ability to bounce back more quickly with a simple coaching change or change in strategy. No one has said you only get one or the other with regards to coaching and recruiting.

As for the point made by Kevin about star rankings and I think what people forget when they want to casually dismiss recruiting rankings is that they are merely a projection of success at the next level. It means the kid has the physical tools and skills to be successful going forward. The dismissers love to point out to two-star teams that have success or some five stars that don't pan out but that always makes me wonder if they have a clue how percentages work. If you look at the overall percentage of five and four star players and their success rate; starting, all-conference, all-american, NFL draft, it is higher than the lower ranked guys.

People look to a handful of players, Ed Reed, or a couple of teams, TCU or Boise State, to prove their point about success instead of looking to the fact that there are a million two stars out there that you never hear of, never contribute and don't become ballers. The ratio of five star players to contributors is significantly higher than their two star counterparts’.

Aaron Torres: Mike, I feel like you just cut off your nose to spite your face. You mention Carson Palmer as a five-star guy, and he was.... But it wasn't until the right coaching staff came in and maximized his talent that he reached his potential. The point: What's the intrinsic value of having talent, if it isn't being put to use?

Look at it a different way. Michael, for all I know, you very well could be the most talented blogger on the internet. But let's say I hire you and say, "Mike, I absolutely, positively love your work on college football... but we really need you to write long-form features on Major League Baseball." All the writing talent in the world doesn't mean jack if the system around you isn't built to harness and nurture those skills (Ie: Top assistant coaches, top facilities, scheme, head coach, etc.)

Which brings me back to my original point: Is recruiting important. Hell freakin' yes. As you said, it's the life-blood of the sport, and even Urban Meyer and Nick Saban would tell you that.

But to steal a "Saban-ism," it's only one part of "the process," of developing a great football team. Other things- most of which come when a kid actually gets to campus- have as important a role in the success of a football team on the field as recruiting rankings do.

Michael Felder: Again, why is it an either or?

From Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Northwestern to Michigan State and Missouri we see some of the better coaching in the game. These are dudes that can flat out coach. They ain't never winning a national championship.


They don't have the talent to.

Squandering talent or not developing players isn't a feather in the cap of folks who think rankings don't mean anything. Squandering talent and underdeveloped players is a reason to fire a coach for only half doing their job. Mark Richt was set to be fired. Not because he didn't have the players but because he wasn't getting what he should out of them. Dabo Swinney still hasn't figured it all out but he's got a little rope and an ACC title in Pickens County. Not because he's a genius coach, we saw in the Orange Bowl he's fully capable of being outcoached, but because he's got bodies in Tiger Town that give him leeway. There are multiple parts of the college football equation, recruiting is one of the most important. Recruiting, coaching, money. That's 1a, 1b and 1c on what's important in today's game.

Allen Kenney: But this all raises the question of whether these recruiting services know what they're doing. I think they clearly do.

Michael Felder: Allen by and large I agree with you. Sure there are certainly kids who might be too high or too low. Yes there are certain areas such as back bottom Montana or New England as whole that get neglected in the rankings. But as a collective the sites do a solid job of putting together rankings that give a fair description of the landscape. There are so many high school football players that watching them all is damn near impossible. Yet, somehow they get out there and cover down the bulk of the landscape.

Aaron Torres: Hell, give me a stopwatch a clipboard and rental car and I can go to a high school game and see that Adrian Peterson is the best player on the field. Same with Brian Cushing, Manti T'eo, Matt Barkley, Alshon Jeffery, Mark Sanchez, whoever. The problem is, that for all the obvious ones they get right, they get plenty wrong too. Like Justin Blackmon. Like Tyrann Mathieu. Like Javier Arenas. Say, they're even going 50/50 on their evaluations. Is that really "doing your job." If Rivals or Scout was doing "their job" how has Oklahoma State, Stanford or West Virginia in the Rich-Rod era competed for National Titles when their classes are no where near the competitors?

Again, I trust the eyes of the coaches who are on the sidelines every Saturday and in the war every first Wednesday in February. If Nick Saban tells me he has the best group of recruits in the country, I believe it, even if Rivals.com says his class is only the 10th best.

I'll stay where I've been all morning: I love Signing Day. I'm entertained by it, and I think scouting services serve a purpose. But they're just a tool, and class rankings are just one indicator of success down the road.

Michael Felder: You mean Tyrann Mathieu the guy too short to be a safety, his natural position? We've seen him struggle in coverage all year. He's a great playmaker, best defensive player we've seen as far as playmakers go in awhile, but he's far from an actual elite talent. Same with Javier Arenas. Hell of a playmaker in the return game at Alabama and a quality corner but there's a reason he wasn't an "elite talent" guy.

There's a huge difference between those guys and say, a miss like Ed Reed who no one had really seen much of out of Louisiana.

Allen Kenney: Well, of course they're just one indicator of success. But, Aaron, take a look at the teams you used as recent examples - Stanford and Oklahoma State.

Since Mike Gundy took over at OSU, the Cowboys have had the third-best recruiting class in the Big 12 on average annually, behind Texas and Oklahoma, according to Rivals. Up until 2009, Stanford was consistently finishing close to the bottom of the Pac-10 in the Rivals rankings. From 2009 to 2011, Rivals ranked the Cardinal's class third, fifth and fourth in the conference.

As Mike mentioned, I think the mistake people make is falling into thinking that success is attributable to just one thing. It's either the players or the coach, and if you're arguing that the recruiting rankings have validity, you're denying that coaching plays a part in how a team does on the field.

If you see a strong ranking for your favorite team on Signing Day, it's a good reason for optimism. The reality is that in the aggregate, the recruiting services have a pretty good handle on the level of talent - the raw ingredients, if you will - on a team. What the coaches do with it is a different story.



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