Work in Sports
The long haul
Signing Day rankings enrapture fans, coaches
Posted: Tuesday February 01, 2000 11:27 PM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
All across the country Wednesday, college football coaches will stand before throngs of eager boosters or inquisitive reporters and explain which 17- and 18-year olds he will be welcoming to campus this fall.
And just like during football season, fans across the nation are asking, "Who's number one? Who's in the Top 10?"
While coaches constantly downplay the merit of recruiting rankings -- at least publicly -- most diehard fans treat them with the accord of the AP Top 25. Which begs the question, since college football is quite clearly a "What have you done for me lately?" game: Why do we agonize over kids who might not play for three years, four years, maybe never?
"I don't think fans' huge interest in recruiting has as much to do with the end product as it is another battle to be won," said SuperPrep's Allen Wallace, CNNSI.com's official recruiting expert. "I think the fans who follow recruiting fully understand not all All-Americans in high school will be All-Americans in college, but it's another battle to be won. There's no reason to be so concerned with where one kid is going to school."
But while prognosticators like Wallace know ranking one school's haul against another's is purely subjective, it's far from a crapshoot. An analysis of SuperPrep's Top 10 class rankings over the 1990s shows that seven of the 10 schools that fared the best were also among the 10 most successful on the field over the past decade.
That's good news for fans of Penn State, Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida State, Southern California, Miami and Michigan State, the schools most likely to compose SuperPrep's Top 10 when Wallace announces it late Wednesday.
Based on recruiting rankings, Bobby Bowden's Seminoles have undoubtedly done the most with the most over the last 10 years. They are also the biggest mystery going into this year's Signing Day, with FSU a possibility for as many as five of the seven remaining undecided players in SuperPrep's Elite 50.
One of those is the nation's top prospect, linebacker DeeJay Williams, who is also considering Cal and Miami.
The biggest underachiever of the '90s, based on how highly SuperPrep rated their talent, was Notre Dame. The Irish started off well enough -- the top prospect of their top-rated 1990 class was one Jerome Bettis, and ND finished as high as No. 2 in the nation in '93 -- but tailed off late in Lou Holtz' tenure and now under Bob Davie.
"Notre Dame's classes are generally upgraded for fear you're underestimating their talent," said Wallace. "They recruit the entire United States, which is another factor that can skew rankings and ratings. When you've got the best player in this state and the best player in that state, people think, 'Well, they must be the best players in the country.'
"One of the most important aspects of this year's recruiting season is Notre Dame, which traditionally hasn't been a passing school, recruiting four All-American receivers who have turned down places like Tennessee. But that's the power of Notre Dame."
On the other end of the spectrum, Nebraska won three national titles and the second-most games in the '90s despite rarely ranking among the top 10 recruiting classes. Others like Northwestern, Kansas State and Virginia Tech have also had runs of national success with little-acclaimed recruits.
"Nebraska is always the team that outperforms our rankings," said Wallace. "Part of the reason is they have such a great recruiting system in place. They have something other programs have not been able to emulate -- tremendously organized, very well thought out, and assistants who know each other so well. They get some superior oral commitments early in the game, and then everyone stops talking about those kids."
Besides those few exceptions, the teams that recruited best in the '90s -- FSU, Florida, Penn State, Tennessee -- won the most games. Only time will tell whether the same holds true in 2000.