Over a year of hard work wooing teenagers, meeting with high school coaches, sweet talking parents and promising significant others jobs* has finally come to pass and we once again have a bunch of aggregate numbers and subjective rankings upon which to judge coaches; numbers which are either the most important thing guiding the progress of your respective program for the next four years, or numbers that pale in comparison to the ability of each particular staff to coach up recruits in a specific system (your opinion on the matter influenced directly by how many four-star recruits your team signed).
*(Offer only applicable in Alabama)
The fact of the matter is that college football recruiting is itself an inexact science. Inexact in that there is no magic wand that recruiting gurus can wave over a high school highlight tape or crystal ball which to look into and see the future. Some two-stars are going to become all-Americans because they are late bloomers, are in the right system, or are just smarter and/or just plain harder working than the rest.
But don't take that for a tacit acknowledgement that recruiting rankings aren't valuable. On the contrary: recruiting rankings are a huge predictor of success that more often than not are going to point to success on a large scale. While a greater number two and three-stars are going to become all-Americans than four and five-stars, a much greater percentage of four-and five-stars will do it simply because there are so few highly ranked players per class (around 250-300 four-stars and 25-40 five-stars depending on recruiting service and year).
Recruiting rankings by and large work except for the specific instances in which they don't, but with all the variables that follow national signing day it is hard to pinpoint just where the problem lies.
That was all a bit of disclaimer for what is to follow. Some of you will be mad that I give your team's 2012 recruiting haul a bad grade. You'll cry, "what about the sleepers?" or, "stars don't matter," or, "you'll be sorry." Some of you may be right three or four years down the road.
I don't care. The fact is, these "meaningless numbers" that half of you will rally against are much more predictive of success on a grand scale than anything else. It is why Alabama—the team that has signed the top class in the nation in four of the last five years—is coming off its second BCS title in the last three while Indiana—a program that couldn't recruit its way out of a paper bag—hasn't seen bowl eligibility over the same time period.
Like I said, recruiting rankings matter except for those few instances when they don't, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a lot left to learn about the 2012 recruiting class, but there is a lot we already know. Time for the first of many grades for the 2012 class.
This isn't a power ranking, and level of difficulty is taken into account (it is harder to recruit to a bottomed out Indiana program than it is to Michigan State or Wisconsin). Teams are judged by needs filled and quality depth as well as talent acquired.
(For the record, all recruiting rankings hereafter will be from Rivals.com. There are four main recruiting services that one can choose from, but on the whole Rivals and Scout are the most time-tested and highly thought of. Some players are rated higher on ESPN or 24/7, some are rated lower. Take all of this into account if and when you call me an asshole for "criminally underrating" the future contribution of the two-star sleeper at safety your coach picked up at the last minute.)