Northwestern Football: Signing Day Not the Real Key to Their Success

Joe SlowikCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2010

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1: Coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats directs play against the Auburn Tigers in the Outback Bowl January 1, 2010 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

I'm going to be perfectly honest about something: I don't get as excited about Signing Day as a lot of college football fans.

Obviously getting the right players is a major part of the success of your program, but that success is determined by the development and production over the next three to five years, not what happens on Signing Day.

Part of my attitude is also based in the school I choose to follow.

Northwestern has rarely been considered a big winner on Signing Day outside of one or two seasons during the Barnett era. They've only signed two four-star prospects on since 2002 (as far back as their commitment lists go), and yet they've been a fairly successful program.

They get as much out of their players as any program in the country. No one worries about how many stars you had when your career is over. One can find plenty of examples of productive players for the Cats that had little if any recruiting hype when they signed.

Tim McGarigle was only a two-star linebacker when he signed and went on to be an All-Conference player.

The same is true for Nick Roach, and he's now starting for the Chicago Bears after a productive Northwestern career.

Corey Wootton was actually signed as a 255-pound offensive lineman, but he had a huge junior season at defensive end and will probably be playing on Sundays.

Tyrell Sutton was rated as the 32nd best player in Ohio, and all he did was rush for almost 1,500 yards as a freshman.

Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips were both two-star after-thoughts in the 2006 class, but ended this past season as All-Conference picks.

I doubt that you will hear much about Northwestern's signing class from the national media this year considering that, as usual, they're not the big news-maker when it comes to signing four- and five-star prospects in bulk.

However, it actually looks pretty solid compared to years past. Only one NU recruit is considered a two-star prospect this year, and virtually all of them had other BCS offers. Ten of their 17 recruits are rated 5.6 or higher by, which is two more than they had last year and only two fewer than they had from 2004 to 2008 combined.

Rivals may have the Cats ranked only 77th on their big board, but I can pretty much guarantee you that they will get more out of it than many of the teams above them.  

Northwestern is building arguably the most talented core of talent that they've had since the 1995 resurgence of the program. Given the typical level of development from Northwestern's prospects, that's a very good sign for their fanbase.