College Football Recruiting 101: Stars Mean Everything...and Nothing At All

Justin HokansonSenior Writer IJuly 21, 2008

College football recruiting news has become increasingly popular every year.  This is mostly due to the demand by fans that they just want more information.  The season isn't enough anymore—they want to know the future of their program before it happens, so they follow recruiting services such as Rivals and Scout.

Also, games like the US Army All-American game and the Under Armour All-American game have put high school football and recruiting in a national spotlight.  These kids are becoming well-known before they even set foot on a college campus.

Oftentimes, the perception of your team's recruiting can be far from the truth.  You never know who exactly your team offered or didn't offer.  There are just some things you don't know as a fan.

As someone who follows recruiting pretty closely and has a pretty good grasp of how rankings and such things work, I wanted to give you a little information on recruiting—how things can work, and how you should view who your team signs in February.

What do stars mean?

The recruiting services give out stars to players like you are in third grade and completed your homework on time.  Stars are a way of grading a player.  The question is, how are they graded?  What goes into a player's ranking?  This question is what makes recruiting rankings a little questionable.

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Are they graded strictly on current talent?

Are they graded on NFL potential?

Are they graded on how quickly they will make an impact in college?

All three of these are different and you could have a player that's got great potential down the road, but he may not be a first-year starter in college.  So you never know exactly what these stars are supposed to be telling you.

Until recruiting services are more clear on exactly how they rank players, there will always be questions raised on certain players, and how one service has him a four-star and the other service has him a two-star.

As an example, here's a breakdown of the 2008 Preseason Coaches All-SEC team that was just released.

Five-stars: Nine players

Four-stars: 27 players

Three-stars: 24 players

Two-stars: 11 players

So there were more two-star players that made the team than five-stars.  Some of these guys could have just developed later in the process than others.  You just never know sometimes.

Do four and five-stars directly translate into championships?

No.  People seem to think that because you land a four or five-star kid, you are automatically going to win 10 games a season from here on out.  Highly-ranked players do not equal a championship—what they do is increase the probability that you win a championship.

If you have a legitimate blue chip guy, and you recruit an entire class of them, then the chances of your program winning just went up.  They do not guarantee wins, but they increase your chances.

Also, you never know when a four or five-star player has peaked in high school and doesn't continue to get better in college—yet another reason you can't bank on a ranking to win championships.

But the biggest reason highly ranked players don't guarantee you championships...coaching.  Depending on the coaching at your program, you have no idea the progression a kid might have in college.

If you have great coaches to develop a four or five-star player out of high school, then you are looking good.  If you have an average coach developing that same four or five-star player, well then, you aren't going to get out of those players what other teams will.

What isn't evaluated in a player, but plays just as big a part as talent?

A guy can have all the talent in the world, but there are some key attributes that are not being evaluated that will play a huge part in whether that player is successful or not.

1. Character

It doesn't matter how high a kid can jump or how fast he can run.  If he doesn't have a good work ethic, then he won't succeed in college.  If he can't accept coaching, forget about it.  If he doesn't have the desire or heart that maybe a player that has something to prove and was slighted by the rankings has, he will get beat.  If he can't follow team rules and accept authority, then he won't be a member of the team for long.

2. Academics

Nobody said that this five-star player was a genius.  First of all, if you can't qualify out of high school, then that obviously presents a problem. You are either heading to junior college or prep school.  You can be an absolute stud on the field, but if you can't subtract two from two, then your college career will be just that—nothing.

If a player does get into college, now the question remains: Can he stay eligible?  He might have just gotten into college, but now he has to keep up with the demands of football and classes and stay eligible.  Star rankings don't take any of this into consideration.  A five-star player doesn't mean a thing if he's academically ineligible after a year and a half.

Ideally, you would rank kids not only on talent, but on character and academics as well, to get a more well-rounded view of a player.  This would give you a much better idea of how he will turn out.  Coaches do this, but fans don't, and recruiting services don't.  So perception doesn't equal what a coach thinks about a player or his future oftentimes.

Anyone seen Demarcus Ware lately?  A two-star player out of Auburn High School that everyone in the SEC passed on turned into an NFL first rounder and a Pro Bowler.  That's just one example among many that are out there.

To sum it all up, recruiting is a very important part of your program—it's the lifeblood of your program and where your future championships will start.  But recruiting is only one part of the winning formula; coaching, scheduling, injuries, and luck are all things that can decide whether you are a national champion or a three-loss team.

Anyone take a look at the USC Trojans lately?  Their best teams were in 2003 and 2004.  Their recruiting rankings in 2001, 2002, etc. probably had an average of 10.  Their most recent classes since then have been some of the best in the nation, landing at number one numerous times.

Anyone see the Stanford game last year?  The Trojans lost to a 40-point underdog and then had 10 players drafted into the NFL.  It's just interesting that the two classes that people say were their best were two teams full of lesser-ranked players than what USC is blessed with now.

So enjoy recruiting if that's your thing, but understand what it means.  Stars don't mean everything—they are just one indicator among a bunch of other things that determine how successful your program will be. 

Having said that, I'll take a class full of four and five-stars and take my chances.

Get more college football talk at my blog, Gridiron Guru.

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