Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban
According to a recent ESPN article, USC, Florida and Michigan currently lead the battle for the top 2013 football recruits. The positions in these rankings will change between now and signing day in February, but will the school that "wins" the annual quest for the No. 1 recruiting class really get the best college football players?
History says not necessarily.
Alabama is obviously a given, having won the national championship. But what about the others? Texas' record for the past two years was 8-5 (4-5 in the Big 12) in 2011 and 5-7 (2-6 in the Big 12) in 2010. Florida was 7-6 (3-5 in the SEC) in 2011 and 8-5 (4-4 in the SEC) in 2010.
Oklahoma State finished 2011 at 12-1 (8-1 in the Big 12) and arguably should have played for the national championship. According to ESPN, the Oklahoma State recruiting class was ranked 23rd in 2011 and ranked outside the top 25 in 2010 and 2009!
People seem overly concerned about high school football players and the number of "stars" associated with their profiles. Primarily two recruiting services—Rivals.com and Scout.com—assign stars in order to rate literally hundreds of players. With several hundred talented high school athletes to rate, the process seems to happen something like this:
A metropolitan media source notices and publishes articles detailing the impressive football talents of a local high school player. A recruiting service notices and waits for interest from college recruiters. If primarily FCS schools show interest, he may be awarded two stars. His coach may make a call to an assistant at a BCS university and say, "You should take a look at this kid." He might send video. If the recruiter is impressed, he pays a visit to watch him play. Word spreads.
Does the top ranked recruiting class equal a championship?
Coaches from a couple of other BCS universities then check him out. If one offers him a scholarship, other schools immediately become interested. If two or three BCS schools make offers to the player, his value may go up to three stars. When the offering schools are in the usual top 20, he might be awarded a fourth star. If he meets the physical standards for height, weight and speed and gets an offer from a perennial top 10 school or two, he's probably getting five stars.
The entire rating system is susceptible to inaccuracies and manipulation. The recruiting services are not aware of a player's grades, work ethic or potential athleticism. Many players who develop into gifted athletes are rated while they are only 16. The ratings they are given are based on factors that can change as they mature. The system has too many limitations for the hundreds of athletes that are analyzed.
Some 5-star recruits do not contribute to the success of a team for a variety of reasons. It may be due to academics, work ethic or simply a matter of being overrated. Many 4, 3 and sometimes 2-star players thrive in the right system with coaches who recognize, develop and teach raw talent. Too often we get caught up in the recruits that a school "loses" and don't put enough trust in the coaches' judgement as to the players they sign that can fill their needs.
The bottom line: If the coaches are satisfied with their recruits and the team is winning, don't sweat it. Just give the program, coaches and players the support they need. Take an interest in and show appreciation for the players that give their best in the classroom, the community and on the field. Don't worry about the prized recruit that got away!