The 2017 recruiting rankings are complete, and fans of teams that finished in the top 10 are jubilant. Yet perhaps some of those fan bases should tone down the message board ecstasy, at least in terms of regarding these rankings as a hallmark of certain future success.
See Georgia at No. 3, LSU at No. 7 and Auburn at No. 9? It's nothing new for those teams to rank in the top 10 in recruiting, but they haven't of late produced equivalent results on the field and in the final AP polls. Then there's Texas at an atypically low No. 33. Maybe that's a good thing, though, as top-10 recruiting rankings have yielded what could charitably be called mediocrity in Austin.
Recruiting rankings are not an exact science, just like the NFL draft isn't one. Predictive models are like that -- imperfect -- particularly when human beings are being evaluated. Still, the correlation between highly rated recruiting classes and success on the field is established. For example, every national champion since 2006 had a top-10 class the season before winning the title.
Then there are teams that are notably lopsided in terms of doing much better in recruiting rankings than in national rankings (and vice versa).
After reviewing top-10 finishes in ESPN's RecruitingNation's rankings over the previous six classes to 2017's national signing day Wednesday, and then comparing them to total victories and top-10 finishes in the final AP poll, a couple of teams predictably stood out in a positive alignment.
Teams that turned A-list recruiting classes into national title contention? Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Florida State, each of which finished in the top 10 again this go-around, got a lot of bang for their celebrated and consistent recruiting. Those are the last four national champions, by the way. They got production from star ratings, which speaks well of a program's ability to motivate and develop talent after it arrives.
On the underachieving side, as noted, there are Georgia, LSU and Auburn, and Texas was just awful, turning four top-10 recruiting classes into just 33 wins over the past five seasons, with no top-10 finishes.
Just as there are myriad reasons for the Longhorns' recent struggles on the field that led to the firing of Charlie Strong and the hiring of Tom Herman, there also are myriad reasons their recruiting fell short of its projections. For one thing, just because a guy looks good in his uniform or on his high school film doesn't mean he has the character, grit and work ethic to become a consistent achiever at the Power 5 level.
"Yes, they were athletically talented, but they didn't have that extra fight, push, drive that it takes to win at the highest level," RecruitingNation senior writer Jeremy Crabtree said. "I had a number of high school coaches, even some from the schools that the UT recruits came from, that said some of their kids felt a sense of entitlement because they were going to the University of Texas."
Beyond entitlement and a lack of drive, the word "overrated" comes into play when you talk to various recruiting coordinators about prospects from Texas and, to a lesser extent, players from the Southeast. Understand: That term doesn't predominantly apply to what a coach or recruiting analyst sees on film. It's more about a player peaking in high school -- and receiving four or five stars -- but then lacking potential to develop and improve.
In other words, in regions where football is practically a religion and is the sport of choice for boys by the time they are 7 years old, the 18-year-old prospect might not be much better as a 22-year-old player.
"I see a lot of that with guys from Texas," said a Power 5 recruiting coordinator. "I believe it's because they've played so many years of football and have had so much coaching and support and year-round training that they kind of peak their senior year of high school, and when they get to the next level, they just don't get better.
"Those guys are tough because they are hard to turn down because they are very productive on the film. But are they going to get better in your program?"
Sometimes teams don't live up to their recruiting pedigree because they fail to land an A-list player at the most important position: quarterback. With Auburn and LSU, that's a notable area of failure. While LSU had some success under former coach Les Miles without stellar play behind center, Auburn is a different story. It played for national titles with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall but otherwise mostly flopped without quality play at the position.
"They've not truly gotten the right fits for the QB spot in the last six classes or so, and to make Gus [Malzahn's] system go, it needs the right guy at the helm," Crabtree said. "That's why I think there's probably no more valuable recruit in the 2017 class for any school than [Baylor transfer] Jarrett Stidham is for the Tigers."
Georgia is a special case. While it consistently ranked high in recruiting and sent plenty of players to the NFL, it also consistently missed on many of the top players in its talent-rich home state under former coach Mark Richt. From 2012 to 2015, Richt only twice signed the top player in the state. One of those was Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was kicked out of school and transferred to Louisville.
"There are a lot of guys on the roster at Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama that are from Georgia that would have maybe made things a little bit different for Richt in his final few years," Crabtree said.
That's not the case in this class, however. Second-year coach Kirby Smart signed five of the top six players from his home state, including all three five-star recruits.
Head coaches tend to pooh-pooh recruiting rankings and player star ratings. To them, it's amateur hour, with non-coaches who often lack playing experience beyond high school evaluating football players.
"As a coach, you can't get caught up in the stars or the rankings," said USC coach Clay Helton, in his second year leading a Trojans program that often has underachieved on the field compared with its recruiting rankings. "Primarily, you need to look at the holes you need to fill."
That said, those same head coaches know that fans look at the recruiting rankings as another way to win something or to beat a rival even when the season is over. Most coaches will confess that recruiting services and star ratings do insinuate themselves into the process inside the football building. The Power 5 recruiting coordinator admitted as much.
"I read everything I can get my hands on," he said.
In the end, it's clear that not all four- and five-star players who fortify top-10 recruiting classes are created equal. While players often look the same and perhaps even make the same plays on the field in high school, it seems that some programs and coaches are simply better at projecting intangibles and character that will engender a drive to improve as well as developing natural talents.