Though Light on Stars, Syracuse's Recruiting Class Is Impressive

Dan Kelley@DanKelleyWritesCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2009

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Doug Marrone of the Syracuse Orangemen watches the action during the second half of their game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium  September 12, 2009 in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State won 28-7. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. There’s no way around it—in order to have sustained success in this game, a coach has to bring in quality players that fit his system.

That fact is especially true at a place like Syracuse, where the Orange football program had to start building from the ground up after the hiring of Doug Marrone about this time last year. The rookie coach had to scramble to put together a respectable class in very limited time last year, but he managed to hold previous commitments and add several of his own to a group that put four players on the all-Big East freshman team.

The 2010 class is Marrone’s chance to really show what he can do with a full year to sell the Syracuse football program. At this moment, the head man has gathered 25 verbal pledges from players all over the country who want to wear Orange next season. 

There’s no way to know for sure just how good this group of players will perform in their time at Syracuse. The results will be shown on the field. However, it is somewhat interesting to attempt to project the success that these individuals will have.

The much maligned "star-system" that makes recruitniks everywhere lose sleep this time of year doesn’t paint a particularly stellar picture for Marrone’s first full class. Scout.com has the Orange recruiting class ranked 57th in the country, not rating a single player with four or five stars and listing only seven players as three-star caliber.

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The other behemoth of the recruit rating business, Rivals.com, is a little more optimistic about this battalion that Doug Marrone is assembling. They rate one player with four stars and 12 with three.

The merit of this system is often debated. Personally, I feel these ratings are about as useful to college football as the BCS system—which is to say, that they're utter trash. Of the four players that Syracuse put on ESPN’s all-Big East freshman team this year, only Alec Lemon was considered a three-star prospect by Scout.com, while E.J. Carter, Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas were all given only two stars.

When you throw away this meaningless method of grading that’s only fit for a kindergarten teacher, and dig a bit deeper, there is plenty to be optimistic about with this class.

Probably the best predictor of the quality of a high school football recruit is what kind of offers he’s getting from other schools.

It seems obvious. Who would you trust more to evaluate a football player, the head coach of a major BCS-level program or some geek writer who gets paid to chase down high school kids with a stopwatch?

Right now, Doug Marrone is going head-to-head with other major programs hailing from BCS conferences...and winning his share of those recruiting battles. A number of his current verbals have come from players with healthy lists of offers.

Max Beaulieu—a three-star defensive end, according to both sites—has a pile of scholarship offers that dwarf his meager collection of stars. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida product has reported offers from Arkansas, Nebraska, Purdue, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wake Forest, Wisconsin, and Illinois, but decided to head north to play for the Orange.

Another Florida kid named Jeremi Wilkes made a pledge to play for Doug Marrone next season, spurning offers from Florida State, Iowa, Louisville, and Rutgers. He was getting only two stars from Scout and three from Rivals.

The list goes on and on.

Ryan Nassib could be challenged for the starting quarterback job next year by a two/three-star prospect named Jonny Miller. He collected offers from the likes of Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico State, and Wisconsin. 

You can go ahead and put a more under-the-radar quarterback named John Kinder from Long Island into the mix as well. He lacks the long offer list that some of the other incoming freshman have, but has an impressive video showing scrambling ability reminiscent of former Orange great Donovan McNabb. He’s also ranked slightly ahead of Miller by Scout and was given a three-star rating by both recruiting services.

Marrone has also picked up a few JUCO commitments, highlighted by a pair of offensive tackles named Louiszell Alexander and Michael Hay. Alexander has offers from Oregon, UCLA, and Washington, while Hay had the option of heading to Arizona State and received interest from Rutgers and Miami. Both are two/three-star prospects according to Scout and Rivals respectively.

Signing day is approaching, and this year’s class is nearly wrapped up. However, there are still a couple of huge prospects that could be leaning Syracuse’s way to top things off.

Another two/three-star defensive end/linebacker named Darrin Kitchens has been rumored to be favoring Syracuse over the rest of the schools on his lengthy offer list; which includes Florida, South Florida, Florida State, Maryland, Michigan, UCF, and Wake Forest. I don’t care if Scout thinks this kid is only worthy of two stars—if Urban Meyer wanted Kitchens to come to Florida, then this would be an absolutely massive score for Syracuse.

Also pondering his choices is Nduka Onyeali—a Colorado defensive end and teammate of current SU commit, Jonny Miller. Onyeali may also be close to committing to Syracuse over offers from Arizona State, Minnesota, TCU, Colorado, Colorado State, Kansas State, and Kansas—and he’s listed as a three-star prospect by both services.

One of the important things to keep in mind when judging the recruiting ability of Marrone and his staff is that he’s pulling these kids away from other major programs on the heels of a four-win season. Selling a program in snowy Syracuse is already a difficult task, but doing it at the front-end of a massive recruiting project is even tougher.

As the product on the field continues to improve, so too will the caliber of players who decide to give Syracuse a shot. In college football, success is the wind that pushes a team to even greater achievement. For now at least, Doug Marrone appears to have the ship heading in the right direction.

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