The Lion has a quick fix of football to cure your Post Super Bowl hangover. Yes, this week featured National Signing Day, one of the strangest days on the football calendar. In the aftermath college diehard fans will have outrageous and overblown reactions to a bunch of 17 and 18 year old kids’ choice of hat. How crazy is today? It is the only day of the year that fax machines still matter. (JPoww’s head just exploded as he read this. Just kidding, he would never read this). It’s true though; people huddle around fax machines to wait for Letters of Intent to come in. People take off work to watch fax machines today. It’s insanity really. Especially when you consider a good deal of elite recruits graduate early (at least the ones who can read) and are already enrolled so they can participate in spring practice. Also, recruiting begins sophomore and junior years, so most guys are committed for over a year by the time they send their fax today. So why do people flip out for this day then? For the diehards it’s easy, every one of these 17 or 18 year olds could be the next big star. (They all look great on tape against guys like the Lion). That doesn’t explain everything though. The Lion suspects that this day became popular due to our society’s increased importance on information and specialization. The niche of gathering information on and evaluating high school talent is one that has only recently been carved out. The Lion is not recruitnik, but I am versed enough to give you a little cheat sheet for you to fake it. Who knows maybe you will even enjoy it.
For Jerks that don’t know, Espn, Rivals, 247sports, Scout, and a few other websites charge recruitniks money to go on their sites and see their rankings and to follow kids’ recruitment. I don’t put too much stock in what one particular website has to say about a kid. Whether a dude is #4 on rivals but only #34 on espn makes no difference to me. Either way, he is supposed to be good. They key is to look at broad strokes with recruiting. I think the best determination of the talent of a kid is to look at the schools who are recruiting him. Coaches are better at evaluating talent than these websites. If a guy is offered a scholarship by LSU, Bama, Oregon, FSU and Ohio State, he is probably pretty good. He is more likely to be good than a guy recruited by Connecticut, Rutgers, and Syracuse. The recruitnik buzzword for unaccepted scholarship offers is “cohort.” If you get into an obnoxious discussion with somebody who says the 3 star DT your school got sucks, your smartass answer can be, “yeah well, did you see his cohort? It’s pretty good for a mere 3 star.” (This should shut him up, if he knows the cohort off the top of his head, the argument no longer matters because you beat that poor lonely soul in the game of life).
Let’s talk about star rankings for a moment. Each of the recruiting websites rank high school kids on a star system, ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars. What does this mean? Almost nothing. There is almost zero way to tell if a 17 year old kid is going to be a NFL caliber player. Of course there are exceptions (Jadaveon Clowney), but for the most part, it’s merely speculation. What the star system does really is place a probability on a kid’s success. For those Jerks who frequent casinos, let me propose this analogy to explain the star system: 3 stars are roulette, 4 stars are blackjack, and 5 stars are single deck blackjack or one card Monty. So the odds are obviously in favor of a team that has a bunch of 5 stars to be good in 3 years than the odds are for a team with a bunch of 3 stars. However, sometimes teams can beat the odds by having superior conditioning, scheme and team chemistry. (Michigan State, a team with mostly 3 star recruits, beat out Ohio State, a team with mostly 4 and 5 stars for the Big Ten this year).
So, now that you have the vocabulary, let’s move on to how to enjoy this strange day. If you have a team you are particularly fond of, you probably already know who is committed. Today you wait to make sure you don’t lose any of these guys, and hope for maybe one or two surprises on guys who are undecided but considering. If you do not have a team, I suggest looking at the overall winners and losers of the day, and if there are any surprises. Don’t feel like putting in that effort? Do not worry, the Lion has gone through all of the information, has processed it and has spit out a streamlined rundown of winners, surprise winners, losers and surprise losers for you. This way you can impress your friends, co-workers, and otherwise sound like a know it all.
Winners: Much like the current state of our economy, in college football, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is disappearing. Exhibit A, Alabama. Yes Nick Saban has all but locked up a third of the nation’s five star talent. ONE THIRD. Nobody comes close to bringing in the quantity of quality of recruits as the Crimson Tide right now. There are recruitniks touting Bama’s incoming OL class as the best ever assembled. So much for anyone worried about the negative impact that Saban’s year ending two game losing streak would have on recruiting. (The Lion is amused that ever Southern Miss, a team that went 1-11 last year, has won more recently that the Tide). Clearly, Saban isn’t going anywhere, unless something wild happens. (Insert joke about him being the antichrist and Armageddon here.) Bama isn’t the only winner on draft day. The SEC continues to dominate as a conference. By most accounts they are expected to have 6 or 7 of the top 10 hauls today. Texas A&M has a highly touted class, headlined by the highest ranked Pro-Style QB, Kyle Allen. Good luck replacing Johnny Football dude. LSU has not assembled a particularly large class, but has gone for quality. The Tigers are bringing in the highest ranked overall prospect, RB Leonard Fournette. He is supposed to be the next Adrian Peterson. We will see. Auburn, Georgia, and Florida all have consensus top 10-ish classes as well. Are there any winners outside of the SEC? Of course. Take a guess. FSU, Ohio State, Stanford, Notre Dame and Clemson are on everybody’s top 12 lists as well. All have had recent success.
Surprise Winners: Every year, there is a team that hasn’t had much success recently that somehow lands a great haul of top kids. A few years ago Notre Dame did this with Charlie Weis, and Brian Kelly took that group of seniors to the National Championship Game in 2012. FSU also did this around the same time and we all saw what happened this year. Ole Miss was the surprise team last year. This year, that team is Tennessee. Coach Butch Jones has a consensus top 5 class. He signed 34 dudes, so he is going with quantity, but he also has quality in this group. The Vols may be on the rise to recapture former glory in what is already a ridiculously tough SEC West. Other surprisingly good classes ranked in everybody’s top 25 are Miami (surprising considering the sanctions) Arizona State, and Kentucky (somehow is in everybody’s top 20). Penn State managed to gather a top 25 class with the coaching change and continued sanctions, so I will put them in as winners as well. UCLA is beating USC for talent.
Losers: The Big 12 has no team ranked in anybody’s top ten. The highest ranking team seems to be Oklahoma, who is around 14th or 15th on most sites. (The outlier is Scout has Oklahoma State as 11th, even though they are in no other sites top 20). While that is a respectable haul for the Sooners, the real loser in the conference is Texas. Once able to cherry pick the best from the state, they now lose their best to Bama and more importantly, A&M. The Aggies are the team the boys from the Lone Star State want to play for right now. The Big Ten (outside of OSU, Michigan, and PSU), continues to struggle. A Rose Bowl victory didn’t help MSU get a top 20 class. Nebraska has lost its prestige as a power program right now. USC is getting beat by UCLA.
Surprise Losers: Baylor has been unable to capitalize on its success last season with a top 15 class. South Carolina and Missouri both had very good years on the field, but their classes are well behind the rest of the SEC. I don’t know if I would call these two programs losers since they have top 20 ranked classes, but Oregon and Michigan have classes out of the top 12 for the first time in a long time.
Remember Jerks, this all means very little, because it is almost impossible to tell how a 17 year old kid’s body will develop and change between 17 and 21. It becomes even more impossible when you factor in how a kid will adjust to life away from home, their ability to handle college classes (not a factor in the SEC or at Ohio State), or even their college coach’s system. Still, it gives you an idea who is most likely to be competing for the national titles in 3-4 years. It also gives you something to talk about until the combine later this month. I will return then.