Opening the mailbag: Bafflement over recruiting rankings

Happy Friday.

To the notes.

Amalgam from the College Football Cosmos writes: I don't get recruiting rankings. Why do so many five-star guys fail and low-star guys succeed? And why is there so much variety about final team rankings?

Ted Miller: Obviously, Amalgam's question is a blend of the many recruiting questions that inundated the mailbag this week.

As far as critiquing team rankings, I'm not going to do that. I know the fellows from Scouts Inc. that do recruiting rankings for ESPN.com bust their butts poring over film and trying to legitimately rate individuals and classes.

The differences between recruiting services? How could you expect anything else in a business that involves the always inexact science of evaluating and projecting of human potential?

One thing, however, I do think gets under-represented to the public are the fairly straight-forward reasons that star-ratings often don't hold true in college.

First, there's basic math: The huge pool of low-rated players vs. the small pool of highly rated players skews things a bit when a former two-star guy becomes a No. 1 NFL draft choice and everyone starts going, "SEE! Recruiting rankings are meaningless."

But there's another issue: Physical maturity.

When you meet a five-star recruit in person, you immediately see the same thing the recruiting services saw on film: A full-grown man.

You typically -- not always but typically -- see a guy with a full-beard who's filled out his frame and is buffed up. You see an 18-year-old who could pass for 25.

You see a man who has been dominating a bunch of boys. It's impossible not to rate this guy highly because he looks better on film than anyone else.

But when he gets to college a couple of things sometimes happen.

First, he stops being dominant. A lot of the five-star guys have been dominant their entire lives. They've never been knocked on the rears. How they react to that is often telling.

Second, he may turn out to be a finished product who's already physically peaked. Often guys like this become solid but never dominant college players and they fall short of the NFL. You see this with a lot of with linemen who arrive as 6-foot-6, 310-pound freshmen already bench pressing over 400 pounds. By their senior years, they are... 6-foot-6, 315-pound seniors bench pressing over 450 pounds. And their feet never really got any quicker.

Meanwhile, there are those baby-faced guys who are 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds as high school seniors for whom college operates as a phone booth did for Superman.

One of the things you see when you hang around super-elite programs -- USC, Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, etc. -- is they look different. At the Rose Bowl, it was impossible to ignore that the Buckeyes just looked bigger than the Ducks -- not really the starters but the 85-man team as a whole.

You go to a USC practice and you can't help but go, "Golly, who's that dude? He's a monster!"

Then you learn he's a senior and former five-star recruit who doesn't play much.

Coaches like Mike Riley often get praised -- and rightly so -- for finding diamonds in the rough, but know that there's also a certain amount of freedom involved in operating outside the high expectations of recruiting rankings and being able to evaluate an athlete and analyze what sort of football player might be inside.

It's balderdash when top-25 coaches say they're not influenced by star-ratings and recruiting rankings. I've been told by a couple of coaches that they've signed highly-rated players they didn't particularly like because of recruiting rankings.

The ideal situation -- and Pete Carroll always insisted that this is how the Trojans operated -- is to be an elite school staffed with outstanding talent evaluators who don't get fooled by the "finished products" who won't pan out.

Ryan from New York writes: UCLA signed no TEs and lost two to graduation. And only one WR, with both starters being juniors. Not sure how you missed that. It's amazing to me how you guys fall for Slick Rick's spin. He has a Svengali effect on you media types that cracks me up. You'll do or say anything for a quote.

Ted Miller: UCLA signed John Young, who is a tight end. The Bruins actually seem pretty solid at the position with Cory Harkey and Nate Chandler, both juniors, while sophomore Morrell Presley is a hybrid tight end/receiver.

Neuheisel said he wished he'd signed another receiver, but the only real issue with the Bruins class is the lack of a quarterback, which happened when Brett Nottingham decommitted and went with Stanford.

One of the problems with recruiting is folks put too much value on assigned positions. When I was doing write-ups on each class this week, one of the things I noticed was how often a coach called a player one thing while recruiting lists had him at another position.

But, really, it doesn't matter in the least. There are only four positions: quarterback, specialists (kicker, punter), linemen and athletes. Good coaches aren't slaves to high school positions.

UCLA's class is loaded with athletes. These are guys who could end up as running backs, receivers, defensive backs, tight ends or even linebackers and rush ends.

Here's a guess that Neuheisel is salivating over the possibilities with guys like Anthony Barr.

And I was fairly disappointed with the quotes I got from Neuheisel on signing day. He was far more happy than colorful.

Kenny from Corvallis writes: Regarding your article about recruiting and kids changing their mind.. These coaches have nothing to complain about. A verbal commitment means nothing. Sure, for the kids that absolutely know where they want to play and want to end their recruitment, great. But all an early signing period does is allows coaches to force the hands of players who may honestly not know where they want to go, rather just committed after an awesome weekend away at college where they most certainly were treated like stars.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. An early signing period would give leverage to coaches.

But it also would allow a young man to opt out of the process -- which can be a pain for the entire family -- as well as allow a player to grab an opportunity quickly. Decommitments make headlines, but pulled scholarship offers are more frequent. Moreover, an early signing period is a nice insurance policy should an athlete get injured his senior season.

An early signing period would allow a player to know if a program really wants him. Also, coaches would be less casual about making offers they don't fully intend to honor.

Elite players can do anything they want. Do you think Lane Kiffin got mouthy with offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson when Henderson decided to wait until USC meets with the NCAA before signing? Absolutely not.

Finally, an early signing period works in favor of school's that aren't perennial powers, which I think is a good thing. For one, it might reduce the number of last-minute raids of recruiting classes.

Scott from Yakima, Wash., writes: I saw something in the news reports about Josh Shirley having a secret commitment to UCLA for a few weeks. Why keep it secret? My question is ... do you think Neuheisel used that secret to try to hurt USC? Imagine that a few weeks ago, they look at each other and wink and say, lets keep this quiet but give out the appearance of being a lock to go to USC. That will trick USC into not pursuing other LBs as much, and then late in the process when Josh goes elsewhere, they will not have enough time to scramble to get another LB in there.

Ted Miller: Scott, I am shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that the UCLA coach would do anything sneaky during recruiting that might hurt USC.

Neuheisel was open about Shirley's "secret" commitment to the Bruins on signing day, saying it was Shirley's idea.

Moreover, a Bruins booster might counter that it would be impossible for a UCLA recruit to keep a secret from USC coach Lane Kiffin. After all, Kiffin said on signing day that he knows which recruits want to go to USC and which will end up at UCLA almost immediately. Said Kiffin: "I think, I've been gone three years but much hasn't changed. As you meet the kids there is a sense and I was reminded of the kids that go to UCLA and the kids that come to USC, and to be back here, I watched it over the weekend just to see if it's the same, and it's really still the same. I guess we waste time continuing to recruit them, we know within the first 10 minutes whether they're the type of guys that want to play here or there."

Mike from Lacey, Wash., writes: The [University of Washington] Daily has an article "It's time to legitimize the UW-Oregon rivalry" which calls for awarding a "Columbia Cup" to the winner of the Ducks-Huskies matchup each year. It says it could become something like Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma. Interesting idea. With all the recruiting frenzy that is going on right now, this is what recruits play for. I like it, it has GAMEDAY potential.

Ted Miller: Sounds cool to me. Oregon-Washington is an underrated rivalry, and it should return to the national picture as the Huskies return to respectability under Steve Sarkisian.

Drake from Los Angeles writes: Have you ever considered putting out team by team analyses in reverse alphabetical order? I'm a UCLA student and fan, and along with the Washington and Washington State (and, ahem USC) fans, I'm sure we are all tired of having to wait all day for our recruiting rankings or whatever just because we land at the end of the alphabet.

Ted Miller: And risk the wrath of the "A" and "C" schools! No way!

The "W" and "U" folks are tough, but those "A" and "C" people... they're just crazy.