Over the past few years, I've seen an explosion of interest in college football recruiting. Much of this can be attributed to internet sites like Rivals.com and Scout.com which allow die-hard college fans to actively follow recruiting battles across the country. It's now reached the point where just a few days before the Super Bowl, ESPN.com devoted more space on its home page to National Signing Day than to any story it's covered in months.
While I'm always thrilled when people take an interest in sports, especially niche subjects like recruiting, I'm here to tell you not buy into the hype. At best, recruiting is an inexact science, and it is hardly worth obsessing over.
By all accounts, USC and UCLA have excellent recruiting classes. The three major services -- Rivals, Scout, and ESPN -- all rank the local schools in the top-10 for 2010. Rivals even ranks USC No. 1, which is impressive considering the school changed head coaches just a few weeks ago.
But the successes at USC and UCLA don't guarantee anything. Just three years ago, USC had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country according to ESPN. This was largely due to the Trojans securing the nation's No. 1 player (Joe McKnight), the No. 1 defensive recruit (Everson Griffen), another Top-5 recruit (Marc Tyler), and a top-flight QB (Aaron Corp).
Well, how has that worked out? Not so well. Dubbed "the next Reggie Bush," McKnight never realized his potential at USC, failing to consistently run between the tackles and only occasionally breaking off a big play. McKnight missed the Emerald Bowl this year because of an investigation into his use of a car that belonged to a marketing representative, and some fear it could lead to NCAA sanctions. McKnight initially said he'd come back to play in 2010, claiming he could win the Heisman, but after the investigations began he chose to enter the NFL Draft. After being the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2007, he's now projected to be taken in the fourth round, meaning he's fallen from No. 1 to roughly No. 100
Griffen's first two years at USC were frustrating to watch, as he seemed undisciplined and unable to fulfill his potential. He finally became a full-time starter this past season, and did OK, being named Second-Team All-Pac 10. Griffen could barely wait for the Emerald Bowl to end to announce he was declaring for the NFL Draft. Based on potential alone, he's projected to be a late-first or early-second round pick, but he's been a disappointment at USC.
Tyler has had two injury-riddled seasons with the Trojans. In the one year in which he did play, Tyler rarely saw playing time, being stuck behind four other RBs on the depth chart. He hopes to have a good 2010, now that some of his competition has left.
Corp got passed on the depth chart by another top QB recruit in Matt Barkley. He started one game last season against Washington and looked horrible, subsequently falling to 3rd string. He has since decided to transfer to Richmond.
So as you can see, these recruiting lists aren't exactly a crystal ball. Three years ago, Boise State, TCU, and Cincinnati were on no one's top-25 recruiting lists, but all three made BCS games. Schools like Oregon, Iowa, and Georgia Tech, which also made the BCS, didn't have hyped recruiting classes either.
In the meantime schools such as Clemson, South Carolina, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M continue to produce well-regarded recruited classes with little to show for it on the field.
The truth is, when you're talking about 17-year old kids, you never know what to expect. It's easy to watch a highlight tape of a high school kid and see that someone is fast or strong against lesser competition. But it's far more difficult to know how hard a kid will work, how he will work with others, whether he cares about team success or his own NFL prospects, and if he is able to withstand the pressures and lifestyle changes that accompany playing on the college level.
There's no question that it's important to recruit top talent. No team can win without good players. But it's more important to coach and develop players. There's a lot of development that goes on between ages 18 and 21, and young football players are no exception.
Recruiting rankings have little correlation with actual results on the field, so it's silly to wrapped up in the hype.