The single biggest offseason date on the college football calendar is nearly upon us. Yes, in case you haven’t heard, National Signing Day is Feb. 3.
National Signing Day presents another opportunity for every expert under the sun to offer their rankings on who has the best recruiting classes in the country. What is it about college football that has us so preoccupied with subjective rankings? No other sport seems to lend itself to the idea of rankings more than college football. I guess you could argue that is one of the things that makes it so great.
The two most popular recruiting rankings come from Rivals.com and Scout.com. Both Websites have devised a rating system based on stars: five stars for the cream of the crop down to one star for ordinary talent. Based on the individual ratings, both sites rank each and every bowl subdivision team from first to last each year.
The problem I have with the player ratings system is that, try as they might to devise an equal weighting system, it is impossible to objectively evaluate high school players because they all compete against vastly different competition.
As a result, in most cases, one is left to compare numbers against numbers. How do you objectively evaluate 1,500 rushing yards on a top-tier Iowa high school team versus 1,500 yards on a South Dakota team versus a Florida or Texas team? How do 25 career interceptions on an upper division team from Minnesota compare to 20 interceptions on a lower or middle division team from Ohio? You could go on and on. The fact is, the spectrum of competition at the high school level is enormous, so it makes things incredibly difficult.
Basically, we have the same problems with ranking recruits as we have with the national rankings during the season. How do you evaluate how an early season 35-point win against Northern Illinois compares to a three-point victory over Penn St., etc. There really is no way.
Fortunately, there are more than 100 teams in the bowl subdivision of college football (and maybe only a dozen or so that have a realistic shot at finishing No. 1). By the time the season is over, you end up with a pretty good body of work to use as a basis for the rankings because so many of the top teams have played each other on the field.
However, it is far more difficult to rank recruits across the country because there are so many more individuals playing against such a range of competition. Rivals.com ranked 124 programs in 2010. Figuring that each will average roughly 20 or so recruits, you are looking at trying to evaluate nearly 2,500 players per year, very few of who have actually played against each other on the field.
When it comes to Iowa’s recruiting rankings, recent history has shown that the system for ranking college football recruits is far from an exact science.
Before looking at Iowa’s 2010 class, let's examine the last several recruiting classes, how they were ranked by Rivals and Scout and more importantly, how the Hawkeye teams that these players competed on performed. After all, isn’t the best measure of a recruiting class how they actually did as a team three or four years later? That is something that is much easier to quantify than speculative rankings of a bunch of high school players from around the country that have never played a down in college football.
Iowa’s 2009 recruiting class was ranked 63rd in the nation by Rivals (behind such football factories as Duke, Baylor, and Kent St.) and 75th by Scout (behind teams like Troy, Rice, Tulsa, and Central Michigan).
The 2008 recruiting class ranked 53rd according to Rivals and 44th according to Scout.
The 2007 recruiting class ranked 28th according to Rivals and 37th according to Scout.
The 2006 recruiting class ranked 40th according to Rivals and 40th according to Scout.
The 2005 recruiting class ranked 11th according to Rivals and eighth according to Scout.
With the exceptions of 2005 and 2009, which were anomalies (one high and one low, so they really balanced each other out in the end), over the last five years, Iowa typically is able to reel in a recruiting class ranked around 40th nationally.
Therefore, if these recruiting rankings are an accurate prediction of future team success, Iowa should finish out of the top 25 every year. Yet, in 2008 and 2009, Iowa has managed to crack the top 20 in the final polls both years (No. 7 this year and No. 20 in 2008). So, where is the disconnect?
Of course, it is in Iowa’s system. Kirk Ferentz is able to get more out of his recruits than the so-called experts think. Iowa tends to recruit more for guys that fit their system than guys that might rank high on some arbitrary ranking system. And who could argue with these methods the last couple of years?
As a few examples of this, note that Rivals gave linebacker Pat Angerer a three-star rating in 2005. Angerer turned out to have a nice little career at Iowa, I’d say. How about future NFL draft pick, cornerback Amari Spievey? He was only a two-star selection by Scout. Ricky Stanzi was given two stars by Scout. Even current New York Jets running back Shonn Greene only got three stars from both Rivals and Scout.
One other factor is that Iowa has had tremendous success with converting players to different positions. Although highly-touted recruit A.J. Derby played quarterback as his primary high school position, given the talent already in the fold at QB, it is possible Derby could contribute sooner at some other position, perhaps on defense.
Walk-ons are certainly another source of Iowa’s recent success—see Brett Greenwood, Rob Bruggeman, Sean Considine, Bruce Nelson, Dallas Clark and many others over the years.
On paper, the jewels of the 2010 Iowa recruiting class appear to be tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz from Johnsburg, IL, offensive lineman Andrew Donnal from Whitehorse, OH and Iowa City’s very own A.J. Derby. Each received a four-star ranking from Rivals (no five-star recruits are expected this year).
However, if recent history is any judge, don’t be surprised if several other unknowns with much lower rankings from the 2010 recruiting class makes a big splash and contributes to future Hawkeye success a few years down the line. At this point, we just don’t know which ones will be the Pat Angerer’s or Amari Spievey’s of the 2010 class.
So, later in the week when you hear that Iowa finished somewhere around 40th in the national recruiting wars, don’t think for one minute that Iowa is destined to finish around 40th in the national rankings. Iowa seems to have quite a knack lately for getting significantly more out of their supposedly middle-of-the-pack recruiting class than most other schools around the nation.