Opening the mailbag: Are recruiting rankings meaningful?

Everybody get my Christmas list?

To the notes.

JT from New York writes: Do you think the success of Utah, Cincinnati, Boise, and Oregon, and the fall of USC, Georgia, and Notre Dame, will put a damper on the star system for recruits and the overall ranking of recruiting classes? Seems that the emphasis placed on the incoming guys becomes less and less relevant (or relates less to success) every year given the season ending outcomes.

Ted Miller: Short answer: No.

Folks love reading about recruiting. They love ratings. They love the whole thing, even when they are complaining about it.

Any responsible recruiting guru will tell you that the "star system" is an inexact science, but measuring things in shades of gray is part of college football -- see the national polls and BCS system as a whole.

I also don't know if the recruiting rankings look that much different than the final polls. If you go here, you see a lot of Alabama, Texas, Florida, USC and other national powers.

If you're asking why schools that typically don't rank highly in recruiting seem to end up scattered throughout the national polls annually, there are a handful of explanations.

Evaluation: Some staffs are particularly good at projecting how a high school senior might develop physically over the next few years. They also seem to see the inner football player. Oregon State's Mike Riley would be a good example, as would Arizona's Mike Stoops.

Development: A good strength and conditioning program is critical, and nutritional guidance is often underrated. On the field, it's about assistant coaches who are superior teachers of fundamentals and technique. Often less highly rated guys take coaching better, too.

Coaching: A well-coached team can make up for talent deficiencies by outsmarting its opponent. I'd throw Brian Kelly and Chris Petersen into that pool and I suspect you could add Chip Kelly, though he's been a head coach for just one year. Those guys strike me as schematic savants. But coaching isn't just a big brain. It's also motivating and unifying a locker room. Again, that's Riley and also Jim Harbaugh and, though he's also a newbie, Washington's Steve Sarkisian.

Kai from Castro Valley, Calif., writes: The new thing in college football is to leave high school early and join college spring camp. What are your thoughts? Good or Bad decision?

Ted Miller: It's not really a new thing. I recall back in 1991 being among the throng who couldn't wait for super-recruit Eric Zeier, the pride of Marietta (Ga.) High School, to win the starting quarterback job of Georgia. But it seems like early-entry -- some call it "greenshirting" -- really became more popular over the past five or six years.

The reason players opt for early-entry is simple: They want to get their career started and showing up early might help them play sooner.

Quarterbacks, particularly, seem to want to get a head start with the playbook and coaching -- see Philip Rivers, John David Booty (who skipped his entire senior year of high school), Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, Matt Barkley, Richard Brehaut, etc.

The oft-cited downside: What about enjoying your senior year of high school? Why skip a step growing up?

That's not invalid, though it might be a tad sentimental.

To me it comes down to this: What's right for the young man and his family?

If a player is that focused on football and getting his career started, then there's no reason for him to spend his final months of high school trying to figure out when everybody's parents are going out of town so they can throw a righteous house party.

Also, there are a number of advantages for the student-athlete: He gets more bang for his buck on scholarship -- it's a free semester. And it also gives a young man a chance test drive the school and program before he gets lost in a crowd of 25 or so incoming players.

This is a nice story on the topic by the LA Times' David Wharton.

Mike from Seattle writes: After reading your post on the pac-10 quarterbacks returning next year I found myself wondering who is the deepest?

Ted Miller: That's tough to evaluate, but here are the backup situations (class standing is for 2010).

Arizona: Junior Matt Scott. He started three games last year, so he's not completely green.

Arizona State: Both junior Samson Szakacsy and sophomore Brock Osweiler saw significant playing time in 2009. Michigan transfer Steven Threat, a junior, started eight games in 2008. One of those three will start.

California: Neither sophomore Beau Sweeney nor junior Brock Mansion have seen significant action.

Oregon: Senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas are a solid tandem with some game experience.

Oregon State: Sophomore Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich will compete to replace Sean Canfield this spring.

Stanford: Redshirt freshmen Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo will be very green behind Andrew Luck.

UCLA: Sophomores Richard Brehaut and Nick Crissman will start spring behind sophomore Kevin Prince on the depth chart. Brehaut threw 17 passes in 2009, Crissman two.

USC: Junior Aaron Corp and senior Mitch Mustain will backup sophomore Matt Barkley, unless one opts to transfer.

Washington: Junior Ronnie Fouch stepped in for an injured Jake Locker in 2008, though things didn't go well. Redshirt freshman Keith Price and incoming freshman Nick Montana also are in the mix.

Washington State: Junior Marshall Lobbestael figures to be sophomore Jeff Tuel's primary backup.

Kevin from Fullerton, Calif., writes: What do you think about the Beavs playing TCU next year along with Louisville and at BSU? Yikes! Not a great schedule for starting fast. I'm excited because those are all great games, but I'm just not confident the Beavs can win big, early OOC games.

Ted Miller: It's great that Oregon State is giving college football fans games that they can get excited about. Both Boise State and TCU probably will start out next year ranked in the top-10, and Oregon State also figures to be ranked in the preseason, perhaps even in the top-15.

Now, we all know that Oregon State has started slowly in recent years, but the 2010 squad will be veteran at just about every position other than quarterback. So the Beavers may be more in sync early.

Win these games, and the Beavers could launch a special season. And, even if they lose, they will have plenty of ranked teams in the Pac-10 they can crawl over as they make their typical late-season run back into the national polls.

Still, it's a brutal slate, particularly playing TCU in Texas and Boise on the blue turf. And some folks still will sniff over TCU and Boise State not being BCS conference teams, no matter where they are ranked. Losing to, say, a 15th-ranked Penn State squad still doesn't carry as much downside as losing to a No. 6 Boise State team.

Please, that's not my idea. Just the way it is.

If I were the Oregon State athletic director, I wouldn't have scheduled these games. If I were an AD, I'd always go with an A, B, C scheduling philosophy, with "A" being a marquee game with a BCS conference foe, a "B" game vs. a solid team -- not a Boise State or TCU -- and always at home and a "C" game with a patsy.

Still, it's hard to raise too much hell about matching up against two ranked programs during the early-season. I can't wait to watch both those games.

Aaron from "SEC country" writes: Maybe the Pac-10 is generally the #1 conference. When you look at the map, they should be! Where the SEC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC - 55 of the 65 AQ schools - are all either contiguous or co-located and must compete with each other for players and exposure, other than outlier Colorado the Pac-10 is the only game in town west of Texas.Example: the SEC. 4 of 9 SEC states are shared with ACC and Big East schools (i.e. Florida, which has 2 ACC schools and a Big East school). The SEC East borders ACC and Big East country to the north and east and Big 10 country to the north. The SEC West borders the Big 12 and Big 10 to the north and west. So, programs like Miami, FSU, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Louisville, Missouri and Cincinnati compete directly with the SEC for players, coaches and media attention. Whatever obstacles the Pac-10 has, that sort of direct competition is not among them!Meanwhile, the Pac-10 has a whole 1/4 of the country to itself! So, the question must be asked: isn't the Pac-10 doing a better job of exploiting this clear advantage?

Ted Miller: Maybe.

First, I would direct you to this map of U.S. population density.

Second, I think some of the Pac-10 blog readers would say, "You had me at your first sentence."