Posted: Wednesday November 17, 2010 12:28PM ; Updated: Wednesday November 17, 2010 2:23PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Blame struggles on bad coaching, not recruiting rankings; more mail

Story Highlights

Texas and Florida are struggling despite top classes; Boise just the opposite

Auburn's concern should be crippling sanctions down the road, not vacated wins

If there aren't 70 bowl eligible teams, we could see 5-7 squads playing in bowls

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Ryan Winterswyk was a lightly recruited safety, but has blossomed into a standout defensive end at Boise State.
Ryan Winterswyk was a lightly recruited safety, but has blossomed into a standout defensive end at Boise State.
Steve Conner/Icon SMI

A year ago this week, Florida and Texas sat at No. 1 and 2 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. Both wound up winning 13 games. Now, the Longhorns are one loss away from missing a bowl for the first time since 1997, while the Gators need to win their last two to avoid their first five-loss regular season since 1988. And they're hardly the only glamour programs suffering through brutal seasons.

Somebody messed up.

Stewart: Has this year not shown us that recruiting rankings are erroneous? Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida and Texas all field consistent top 10 recruiting classes, and all have performed below par this year. TCU and Boise State, neither of which are ever in the Top 25 in terms of recruitment, are ranked in the AP and BCS top 10.
-- Drew, Athens, Ga.

Recruiting rankings are never going to be an exact science, but now more than ever, I believe the major services actually do a pretty good job. Between their teams of evaluators, the rise of combines and camps and better access to quality game tapes, they tend to be much more accurate predictors of future success now than they were, say, 15 years ago.

Take a look back at Rivals.com's Top 100 recruits from 2007. Among the top 30 alone, eight are already in the NFL (including Jimmy Clausen and Eric Berry), several others are current college stars (Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Tyrod Taylor) and plenty more are solid starters (USC receiver Ronald Johnson and center Kris O'Dowd, LSU receiver Terrance Toliver, Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson). Look further down the list and you'll find more NFLers (Rolando McClain, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, Dez Bryant, Jahvid Best) and other current stars/starters (John Clay, Drake Nevis). You'll also find plenty of busts, but that's to be expected, and the ratio of productive players versus busts is about 2-to-1 -- better than a typical NFL draft first round.

But we're talking here solely about the four- and five-star recruits, who tend to jump off the screen more clearly, and of whom there are a limited number sprinkled throughout the country. There are thousands of high school players each year who could probably qualify as three-star prospects (Rivals classifies about 1,300), guys who aren't as big or developed as the four- and five-star guys, but are fully capable of getting there. And that's where the coaching staffs at schools like TCU and Boise State earn their paychecks: They have to identify who among this largely interchangeable group of prospects has the best chance of blossoming. They have to figure out that a guy like Boise's Ryan Winterswyk, a lightly recruited safety, could turn into a dominant defensive end.

And the same applies to the coaching staffs at Notre Dame and Texas. I know there's this notion that the elite programs just print out a Top 100 list and pick the guys they want, but that's too simplistic. Sure, they have an easier time getting into living rooms, but they do their own evaluations, and just like Boise/TCU, they can't afford to miss on too many kids. Take another look back at '07, when Florida had the No. 1 class, Texas the No. 5. If you look at the Gators' list, you'll see nearly half the starting lineup from last year's 13-1 team (many have since turned pro). If you look at Texas' class, you'll see one star from last year's 13-1 team (Earl Thomas) and nine starters for this year's 4-6 team. Interestingly, the one current standout from that class, defensive end Sam Acho, was one of the lowest-rated in the group (three stars).

Mind you, Texas' recruiting classes have earned top five rankings nearly every year for a decade, and Mack Brown's team has produced 10-win seasons nearly every year during that span. So was Rivals.com suddenly completely off the mark with the '07 class, or have an inordinate number of those recruits simply fail to develop as expected? I'm inclined to go with the latter. Ultimately, that falls on the coaching staff. Meanwhile, that same year, Boise State signed nearly 15 players who are starters or key contributors on its current top five team, most notably Kellen Moore and Austin Pettis, both of whom were three-star recruits. Give the Boise coaching staff ample credit for evaluating and developing those players -- and perhaps give Rivals a little flack for not seeing the same thing.

If Cam Newton's father has admitted to soliciting money during the recruiting process, as has been reported, and the rule clearly states that soliciting money on behalf of someone is a violation, why is he still playing? This makes no sense. If the NCAA doesn't step in, others could miss out on a national championship to a team that is clearly playing an ineligible player.
-- Chris, Boise

Only the Auburn administration could possibly tell us why Newton is still playing -- and it's exercising a strict "no-comment" policy. But believe me, there are a lot of folks around college athletics right now wondering the same thing. Standard procedure in these matters is to sit a player and apply for reinstatement if there are any questions surrounding his eligibility. It's what Georgia did with A.J. Green. It's what Alabama did with Marcell Dareus. Auburn, an NCAA member, is basically flouting NCAA protocol, and it sends a terrible message to the rest of college sports. If you get caught selling a game-worn jersey to a runner, you miss the first four games of the season, but if your father stands accused of soliciting six figures for your recruitment, but you happen to be in the midst of a national championship hunt -- play on.

Mandel Initiative
Source: SI
Stewart and Mallory discuss the latest controversies at Auburn. Teddy Greenstein breaks down the Big Ten race. SUBSCRIBE

The NCAA cannot step in and suspend an active player until it completes its investigation. It's up to the school to sit him and apply for reinstatement. Auburn must feel it has a compelling case as to why Newton should remain eligible. While the NCAA has officially stated that, "solicitation of cash or benefits by a prospective student-athlete or another individual on his or her behalf is not allowed under NCAA rules," there is no bylaw in its 431-page handbook that states this direct verbiage. When I asked NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn to cite a specific bylaw to which the above statement refers, she said, "the exact bylaw would depend on the specifics of the situation." The closest I could find is section 10.1 (c): "Unethical conduct by a prospective or enrolled student-athlete or a current or former institutional staff member (e.g., coach, professor, tutor, teaching assistant, student manager, student trainer) may include, but is not limited to ... Knowing involvement in offering or providing a prospective or an enrolled student-athlete an improper inducement ..."

Note that the word "parent" never appears. Auburn will likely contend that neither the student-athlete nor the staff members had any involvement in Cecil Newton's unethical conduct. But just because this exact and possibly unprecedented situation (in that there's currently no proof any money changed hands) is not stated in the book doesn't mean NCAA staffers can't interpret it as such. That's their job. Meanwhile, even if a violation did occur, nobody yet knows whether it would constitute ineligibility. I'd have to assume it rendered Newton ineligible to play at Mississippi State, but would it follow him to Auburn? We don't know.

What we do know is that this is an active investigation, with both the NCAA and FBI -- yes, FBI -- interviewing key figures this week. More information is bound to come out. Either Auburn and its lawyers are daring the NCAA to declare Newton ineligible or they genuinely believe he's in the clear. Either way, they're playing with fire.

Why is it a big deal that Cam played last Saturday? If he's ineligible based on the allegations that came out last week, then he's been ineligible all year, and Auburn's season is shot. Why sideline him? I'd expect them to fight tooth-and-nail even if they thought he was ineligible, since they have so much to gain from a team playing for (and from their perspective, hopefully winning) a national championship and their star player getting a Heisman.
-- Patrick Luff, Oxford, UK

Vacated wins aren't the issue. The real risk is potentially crippling sanctions down the road if it's proven Auburn knowingly played an ineligible player. Remember, USC's defense in the Reggie Bush case was "we couldn't possibly know" of his family's living arrangements, his offseason Vegas jaunts, etc. -- to which the Committee on Infractions said, "Well, you should have." What kind of hammer would it drop in a case where the school knows right now that a violation occurred? While I'm sure some Auburn fans would gladly trade a few years of probation down the road for a national title (even a vacated one) this year, Auburn officials can't afford to think that way. Gene Chizik, Jay Jacobs, compliance officers -- their jobs are all at stake if the school is found guilty of major violations. Again, they must be awfully confident this will all work itself out.

 
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