Let’s Get Creepy: Talking Recruits and the Recruiting Landscape
Undoubtedly this is the creepiest part of my year. For the next two weeks I will be covering collegiate football recruiting in anticipation of National Signing Day on February 6th. Sounds innocent enough, right? In theory it is. But as I’ve learned over the past few years, there is no right way to talk about the physiques of 17 and 18 year-old males without sounding creepy. If you’ve ever commented on the size of a high school football player’s thighs, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever looked at a kid’s calf muscles to see how well developed his muscle structure is in an effort to gauge his growth plateau, then you can relate. If you haven’t done either of those things then the following process will help you share my awkward pain:
- Find a high school sporting event on television.
- Wait for an explosive play.
- While within earshot of your wife/girlfriend make the following comment: Man that boy is so fluid threw his hips!
- Look for her suddenly intrigued – in a bad way – facial expression.
- Justify your previous comment by saying, “His lateral quickness is unreal!”
If you can accurately execute that series of events then you have what it takes to be a recruiting analyst. If you can do it without feeling creepy then you have a problem.
Fortunately today is only about a 2 on the Recruiting Creep-Factor Scale. The worst, at least for today, is already behind us. We’ll jump-start this series with a look at the Regional Recruiting Scene.
First and foremost, I think it is important to know where I stand on recruiting. I talk a lot about recruiting both here (in an article written a few months ago) and here (old school baby), but in short I believe whole-heartedly in recruiting rankings as defined by the experts because there is a time-tested correlation between talent (as defined by recruiting rankings) and success (as defined by wins). The lone exceptions lie in outlier years of success and outlier years of distress (think about a coaching change). Furthermore, the NFL – the ultimate evaluator of football talent – consistently drafts players who were deemed “talented” out of high school.
So, I don’t subscribe to the “recruiting rankings are bogus” argument. And, while I recognize that no player can be pegged completely accurately, I think that this inexact science of evaluating teenagers is becoming increasingly exact and that most of the big misses are a result of player attitude or extenuating circumstances. Think of recent Georgia tailbacks Isaiah Crowell and Richard Samuel. Crowell was an undeniable talent and considered one of the two best players in his senior class (along with Jadeveon Clowney). Every school in the country wanted him for his talent and potential, and rightfully so. His attitude and affinity for criminal activity derailed him. Richard Samuel was an equally impressive specimen coming out of high school (a five-star recruit, one of the top backs in the country), but Georgia bounced him from running back to linebacker and then back to running back before a stint at fullback and a return to running back. Samuel was in Athens for five years; counting his arrival he changed positions five times. That is an extenuating circumstance.
Bottom line: I spend a lot of time on this, and I can’t say recruiting rankings are bogus. Accordingly, they’re worth looking at, which is why I’m doing this.
The Recruiting Landscape
Part of why (and perhaps the main reason why) the SEC dominates football games is because the conference dominates recruiting. From 2008-2012 only 38 schools in the country finished with an individual recruiting class ranked in the top-25 by Rivals.com (the source I rely on most heavily for recruiting info). Twelve of those schools – Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M – call the SEC home. Every school in the Southeastern Conference, save Vanderbilt and Kentucky, registered a top-25 recruiting class. Outside of the SEC only 26 schools can claim such an honor.
Furthermore, of the thirteen programs that ranked in Rivals.com’s top-25 in each and every year from 2008-2012, six (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina) reside in the SEC. The other seven are historical national powers: Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, USC.
In short: that is what Georgia is up against. If you want to regionalize things and add a few other local players here is how things shake up:
Alabama: Winning three BCS National Championships in four years gives anybody a recruiting spike. It helps too that Alabama has only had one recruiting class ranked below 1st in the last five years. It helps that Alabama has a long-standing powerhouse tradition. It helps that Alabama brought in 90 four and five-star players from 2008-2012 (the second closest school was Florida with 75). Here’s an anecdote regarding Alabama’s prowess: Jack Del Rio (former NFL head coach, currently the Broncos’ Defensive Coordinator) has a son who is a QB. His son, Luke, is a 6’2” signal-caller with an intrinsic knowledge of the game. He got scholarship offers from the likes of Oklahoma State and Oregon State (both ranked in the top-25 at some point this year). He is walking on(!!!!) at Alabama. The 29th rated QB in the nation is going to walk-on for Nick Saban.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ had a lot of momentum – especially on the offensive side of the ball – in recruiting under Bobby Petrino. This season obviously hurt them. Furthermore, Bret Bielema – a coach who hates “SEC-style” recruiting tactics (like continuing to recruit a player who says he’s going somewhere else), is the coach. I don’t foresee him threatening Georgia too much in recruiting.
Auburn: Auburn had a laughable season this year, but the War Eagle/Tigers/Plainsmen always shake out favorably on the recruiting trail. Why? Because Auburn is everyone’s – football players and students alike – second choice. How does that help? If a running back wants to go to Georgia but sees too much competition for playing time, he’ll go to Auburn. If a lineman doesn’t get offered by Alabama, he’ll go to Auburn. Auburn poaches Georgia’s second-tier prospects consistently and occasionally makes a run at some of the big guns.
Clemson: People love Clemson. The Tigers recruit early and often and do a good job of making players fall in love with the school early in the recruiting process. As a result, they capitalize on this “first love” often. They also get burned a lot, however, as it seems that every year three of four elite prospects de-commit from Clemson when they realize that an SEC school with an equally rich tradition and better recent history of developing NFL talent is open.
Florida: The Gators are a force right now. Muschamp has them chomping. They’re projecting to pull in the top class in the country this year. Georgia/Florida recruiting battles are as heated as Georgia/Florida games. I’ll write about plenty of such wars over the next two weeks.
Florida State: I rarely mind losing a player to FSU. Typically the Seminoles will grab a few South Georgians who are elite athletes, but the only selling point FSU really offers is immediate playing time. In my brief experience covering recruiting if a player makes a decision based solely on immediate playing time he has a higher chance of flaming out. Alabama’s recruits take the opposite approach and consistently sit behind studs, learn the system and develop. That works pretty darn well.
LSU: In many ways LSU’s recruiting tactics are simple: Get all the good players from Louisiana, poach a few from Texas and Atlanta and move on. Unfortunately for Georgia, every kid that goes to LSU from the Peach State was somebody the Dawgs wanted. They might not lose as many battles to LSU as Florida or Alabama, but they are equally devastating.
Ole Miss: I don’t quite get the Ole Miss thing. If this was the 1960s I’d be on board. As a fan it’s a great place to go, but as a player? Who wants to play in a small stadium? Nonetheless, I think Freeze has this program heading the right direction and the key to furthering the cause will be this recruiting class. And he knows it.
Mississippi State: See paragraph above, but add “Who wants to live in Starkville?”
Missouri: I think this season – even with the move to the flashy SEC – hurt the Tigers in recruiting. Mizzou is a long way from being competitive in the SEC, and I think recruits are keenly aware of that notion.
South Carolina: The Cocks have it going. If you’re the top player in South Carolina, you play for Spurrier. If you live in metro-Atlanta and you didn’t get enough attention from Richt and his staff early on, you’re going to South Carolina. The program is hot, and so is the recruiting. Players stolen from under the nose of Georgia are consistently hurting the Bulldogs.
Tennessee: The Vols are always good for a theft or two, but only one in recent memory (Eric Berry) has really been a “one that got away” for Georgia. They can have all the Da’Rick Rogers types they want.
Texas A&M: How well A&M recruits the true southeast remains to be seen, but the Aggies are certainly setting up routes. That being said, I’d expect the bulk of A&M’s studs to come from the talent-rich state of Texas, so there may not be a whole lot of Richt vs. Sumlin battles in the near future.
Obviously, Georgia is up against a lot. But, as we’ll see tomorrow, the Dawgs have been in the same spot for years and more often than not, they’ve come out favorably.
That’s all I got/