How to follow recruiting without losing your soul
For me, college football recruiting is like a prostate exam: I understand why it's important, but I really don't enjoy talking about it.
I think the only people who should be ogling high school seniors are other high school seniors. Top recruits are celebrities, and worse, they violate the two principles for surviving life as a celebrity:
1. They are famous before they turn 25.
2. They are famous before they have done anything to merit being famous. Being the best football player in your county doesn't count.
This is not the players' fault. All they did was play football the best they could. And it isn't really the college coaches' fault, even though they do a lot of sucking up. It's all of our fault for caring about college football so much.
For a long time, anti-recruiting analysts could smugly point out that this was all just a crapshoot anyway. Highly recruited players would supposedly be 6-4 with 4.4 speed, but they would arrive on campus at 6-1 with 4.7 speed and a nasty cheeseburger addiction.
These days we have a lot more information about players, and so do college coaches. Thanks to cell phones, e-mail and text messages, recruiting reporters can talk to many more people to get a sense of how highly regarded players really are. It's a more precise operation than it used to be.
It's harder to fool people in recruiting. If you want to fool somebody in college football these days, you have to invent a girlfriend.
The increasingly accurate rankings are one reason football recruiting has blown up in the last decade. Another reason is that it fits the Internet era. It features an endless array of "updates," and exclusive video footage, and it allows thousands of people to feel like experts.
For better or worse -- mostly better, I'd say -- today's sports fans pride themselves on being informed. The educated sports fan wants to talk on-base percentage instead of batting average, and true shooting percentage instead of raw shooting percentage. The more you know about recruiting, the more you know about your team.
So I get it. If you are a passionate college football fan these days, you want to follow recruiting. I've given up on that fight. And those of us who cover college football have to talk about recruiting. Otherwise, it's like reviewing a restaurant without talking about the food.
I just have a few requests. Consider this a guide to following football recruiting without losing your soul.
1. Admit that it's OK for 18-year-olds to change their minds.
That's all a de-commit is. It's a kid changing his mind. People de-commit from jobs and marriages all the time, and we don't consider it a character flaw. If you had 400 people tugging at your limbs, trying to convince you to make a decision that is best for them, your head would be spinning too.
2. Recruiting rankings are not Bible passages.
You don't have to worship them. Yes, team rankings are generally accurate -- combining the rankings of 25 players takes some of the uncertainty out of it. But individual rankings can still be wildly inaccurate. Some of these five-star recruits will turn out to be three-star players. It doesn't mean they are lazy or failures.
3. Remember: We don't know everything.
We know so much about recruiting these days that we think we know everything. I mean, when we know that a defensive tackle from Jacksonville is considering Auburn because two of his cousins went there, but Georgia is still the favorite because one cousin went there, and the Georgia cousin once beat up the two Auburn cousins without dropping his plate of barbecue ... well, that's a lot of information. It seems like everything. But it isn't.
We usually don't know if schools back off a recruit because of academics, legal trouble or suspected drug use. We rarely know if the player got paid illegally to go to a school. (Not YOUR school, of course. Your school never, ever cheats. Like, ever.)
4. These are your guys.
You might not love them. You might not think they can tackle or run, let alone do both on the same play. But ultimately, their recruiting rankings are just predictions. These are your players, and if you're going to cheer for a team, especially a college team, shouldn't you pull for your own players?
The fact they chose your school should trump what anybody else thinks of them. Give them your support. Even if they chose to play for Lane Kiffin.