Wednesday, July 02, 2008

College Football 201: Putting Recruiting into Perspective

Sammy Vegas over at DoubleExtraPoint joined the Recruitnik nation last week in fidgeting towards the panic button over the status of Husker football recruiting. Only one thing is keeping him from declaring DefCon 5: It's the start of July.

And it's an important factor to keep in perspective. A lot can change. Harrison Beck looked like a "Day One" starter in the West Coast Offense in July 2004. He's now a backup at NC State. Josh Freeman looked like he'd be a dual-threat freak for the Huskers in July 2005. He's now a somewhat inconsistent starter for Kansas State. Blaine Gabbert promised he wouldn't do a Josh Freeman in July 2007. He'll be enrolling at Missouri next month.

For much of this decade, recruitniks have tried to drill into us the importance of recruiting. And they're partially right. It is important to recruit great players. Very important.

The problem comes in when recruitniks turn that into an obsession with recruiting rankings. Sometimes they get it spot-on right. Sometimes they don't. And further more, recruiting is only part of the puzzle. There are other factors, such as coaching and development, that come into play. It isn't an either-or's an "and" situation. You need great players, but more importantly, you need to develop them and coach them up.

Look at that 2005 recruiting class at Nebraska. Four star recruits such as Harrison Beck, Frantz Hardy, Leon Jackson, Chris Brooks, Justin Tomerlin, and Rodney Picou never made an impact at Nebraska. (Brooks still has a couple of seasons of eligibility yet, though.) Zackary Bowman would have made a bigger impact if he'd have stayed healthy. Marlon Lucky's been a fairly good running back, but hasn't matched his five-star hype to date. Ndamakong Suh, Zach Potter, Phillip Dillard, Ola Dagunduro, and Steve Octavien have also made decent contributions as well. It's a hit and miss thing.

They point out some of the highly regarded players during the "golden era" of the middle 90's. Guys like Will Shields, Ed Stewart, Calvin Jones, Derek Brown, Lawrence Phillips, Grant Wistrom, Ahman Green, Ralph Brown, and Mike Brown. Very true. Great players in high school, and great players for the Big Red. Some of them went on to be great players in the NFL as well.

But then there are the other guys who weren't so highly regarded. Mike Rucker and Mike Minter, who had long careers in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. Russ Hochstein, who has a few Super Bowl rings. Chad Kelsay also played in the NFL. Aaron Taylor won an Outland Trophy.

Then there are a bunch of names the Recruitniks wish they had never heard of: Sacho Becvarovski, Justin Ferrell, George Guidry, Robert Pollard, Derek Allen, Jeff Perino, Chris Rainey, Trey Crayton, Constantine Dumitrescu, Brian Knuckles, Dorrick Roy, Jim Stiebel. Certainly most Husker fans never heard of them; they were highly regarded only until they signed with the Huskers.

Sometimes it's injuries (see Zackary Bowman) that come into play. Some guys can't handle school. And some guys were just overrated.

Conversely, some guys were underrated. And some guys blossomed when they got into a program where they were well coached and developed. It's not an either or thing. A two or three star guy may become an NFL player with the right coaching. And if there is one thing we learned last fall, a four or five star recruit can look like an eight-man benchwarmer if he's poorly coached.

Is Bo Pelini doing a good job of recruiting? Hard to say. Signing day is still seven months away. A lot can change. Tom Cudd, over at the BigRedNetwork, puts things in a little bit better perspective. I do believe that Pelini and his staff are going to be the exact opposite of his predecessors when it comes to coaching and development. Are they going to be the exact opposite in terms of recruiting? Maybe, but we really won't know whether that's better or worse for three or four more years.

In the meantime, let's wait and see how Pelini does. Especially this season with Joe Ganz, a 2-star quarterback at the helm.


Josh said...

I don't remember who said it, and for what sport, but there was a college coach a few years ago in either football or basketball that said that he recruited players who were on championship teams because it was better to recruit winners than just guys with talent.

Regardless, I think that many "recruitniks" misunderstand what's meant by the stars when they see a "5-star" recruit or "3-star" recruit or whatever. The ratings represent what they're putting on the field as a high school player, with some attempt to guess potential; thus a very raw player may only get 2 or 3 stars, not because he doesn't have a lot of potential, but because he didn't start playing until his sophomore year of high school, or played in a "lesser" league (like NE or IA).

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's July. Yes, there's tons of time. Yes, we could finish with an awesome class.

That said, Pelini isn't recruiting well. He's not competing with anyone for recruits. He's just scooping up guys that no one wants.

Fortunately, he has an army of homer fans at his disposal to spin all this for him, evidence be damned. They come out and disparage top recruits even though the teams with them are winning it all every year. They come out and praise walk-ons and hidden gems, even though these guys don't turn out in astronomical numbers.

I watched Solich bury our talent, and guys like you were saying the same crap then. I don't want to watch it again.

P.S. I realize you're going to rush in and bring up guys like Carriker. That's fine. However, Solich's recruiting sucked overall, especially on offense, and a few good defensive players sprinkled among four classes doesn't change that. It wasn't coincidence that our program struggled on all fronts the second Osborne's recruits were gone.

Husker Mike said...

Solich was at NU for six seasons, not four. Back in 2003 or 2004, I remember looking at the NFL Drafts, and the number of players taken by the NFL was near the top of the Big XII.

So yes, I reject the theory that "Solich buried our talent." And that #11 rating on total defense in 2003 disproves your statement about "struggling on all fronts" since you only seem to credit 2002 and 2003 to Solich.

Anonymous said...

Keep telling yourselves that stars don't matter.

Husker Mike said...

Never said that. I said that other factors matter... and sometimes matter more. And sometimes the star rankings are wrong. You need to put rankings in perspective.

Anonymous said...


Solich didn't develop a single first round NFL pick in his 6 years at Nebraska. Osborne had 10 in his final 11 years. Go check out the article that those geniuses at DXP wrote a month or so ago about the correlation between NFL talent and the success NU had on the field. No coincidence. Is it too early to judge Pelini's recruiting? Absolutely.

But go back and check how many Prop 48's Nebraska had on the '95 starting D. The Big 8 was the last conference to disallow Prop 48's and Nebraska was a huge beneficiary. I believe 6 starters on that D were Prop 48's. No one talks about that fact.

Husker Mike said...

You bring up a great point on Prop 48's. The door shut on those athletes once the Big XII formed, and that made Nebraska inaccessible to many great players.

Also, I agree about using the NFL draft to evaluate talent levels. I did some analysis on this last year.

Husker Mike said...

Oh...and you omitted Fabian Washington (#1 draft pick by Raiders) and Adam Carriker (#1 draft pick by the Rams). Both recruited to Lincoln by Solich, though both finished their careers under Callahan. (Carriker's development probably can be attributed more to Callahan, but since Washington only played 1 season in the "worst secondary ever" under Callahan, I think you've got to credit Solich there.)

JBF said...

Husker Mike,
Someone pointed me to your blog which I've enjoyed on occasion until reading this topic. This is an old topic, but I'd still like to comment on it now that I've read it.

It's a mistake to point out individuals that didn't succeed at UNL in football. You, and many others, are not aware of all the issues of why those people, myself included, weren't which is why you shouldn't judge them. Many of these issues are private, i.e. family/health, and kept from the public.

I'd argue that those individuals had a great deal of ability, and that it's the combination of talent and circumstance that creates a recruiting success. All of those you mentioned were talented, and many of the factors that kept them off the field could have happened to any one of the players. One of the individuals you mentioned blew their ACL out the very first day of practice in Lincoln...five days after high school graduation. They never recovered from the surgery, left the team, and yet still completed their UNL degree. It's not a recruiting failure if they had talent and got on campus (unlike the old prop 48s). Also remember these kids are student-athletes first. It's difficult to label any student a failure who's drawn to campus (whatever the reason: football, physics, etc.), and completes their degree.

And remember, the husker staff does a complete assessment of each recruit. You're mistaken if you believe they go by recruiting rankings. The schools find these recruits long before ranking magazines get wind of them. It's the prestige of the schools recruiting the individuals that affect the rankings, not the other way around.

Husker Mike said...

I bring up those names only as examples, not to point them out as any sort of "failure". There are so many circumstances that go into this, that I'm just pointing out that recruiting rankings are just plain poor indicators of the job of recruiting and development.

I don't believe the current staff places any weight in what the services say, nor do I think the old staffs prior to 2004. And that's the way it should be. Recruiting rankings are purely for entertainment purposes. Period.