Rambling on recruiting
Recruiting is vital in college football. But I think the way it is covered and measured is often misguided. With the quiet period approaching, BC and every other program is trying to do some last minute recruiting before a mandated silence that lasts until January. With that in mind, allow me to ramble a bit here on the subject of recruiting and BC.
Two of the highest ranked uncommitted QBs in this year’s class are Kevin Newsome and Tajh Boyd. They both hail from the talent-rich area of southeast Virginia. Both list BC among their finalists but those who follow this process closely doubt that either will end up on the Heights. (In fact, it looks like Newsome will commit to Penn State on Tuesday.) Newsome has already verballed and reneged on Michigan. Boyd verballed to West Virginia and then took his commitment back. He followed that by verballing to Tennessee only to see their new staff give him the kiss off. Kids change their minds all the time and BC has benefited from those changes (for example, Herzy originally committed to UVA), but the process for these two guys has been a little disheartening. Do we really want guys who are just shopping themselves around like this? I think to succeed anywhere, you need to be there for the right reasons.
The national perception of this class will ride on if we land one of these two guys. It shouldn’t. The only true measurement of a class is after five years...
BC’s ranking history
But even five years later doesn’t tell the whole story. Take a look at BC’s class of 2004. BC was ranked 24th. If we beat Vanderbilt, we will probably finish inline with our rankings. System works, right? Nope. Only seven of the guys from the class of 2004 played in the ACC Championship Game. And many of the best players from that class were under ranked. Some who never contributed (or even showed up at BC) drove the ranking into the 20s. And if you look at the other highly ranked classes of 2004, you’ll see plenty of mediocre programs.
After the season the recruiting sites will pat themselves on the back for foreseeing how good USC or Florida would be now. They probably won’t mention the misses that their system produced (like Michigan, Kansas State, Auburn, Washington). But we shouldn’t really be surprised at this point. Look how the NFL struggles in IDing talent...
Malcolm Gladwell likes to dip his toes into the sports world on occasion. Recently he’s turned his focus to football. In this New Yorker article he parallels the challenges of school teachers and NFL quarterbacks. It’s a good read, but the point I want to underline and apply to recruiting is that the NFL -- given the hundreds of hours of data and expertise it has on players -- still cannot predict with certainty how a player will adapt at the next level. Yet we expect college coaches to be accurate when forecasting younger, less developed players and using less data? I believe in an eye for talent and good coaching, but there is no way any of these guys are certain or right all the time. The key, like most of sports, is being right more than you are wrong.
In this Q&A, Gladwell also mentions the importance of nurture in the “nurture vs nature” argument. He believes that the nurture aspect is more important to the development of the player. Nurture is one area where BC continues to thrive. Heavily redshirting, making sure kids make it through four or five years, making them go to class are the foundation for BC’s football success. Although you cannot measure this, I believe there are guys who have come through BC and contributed who would have washed out if they had been part of a football factory. That development is more important than just raw talent and the reason why we continue to outperform our recruiting rankings.
Even when you are nuturing players, there is also a bit of luck in how one guy matures vs another...
Do you know the name Jamie Harper? He was a four star recruit out of Jacksonville last year. Rivals rated him as the No.1 running back in the whole 2008 class. Scout gave him five stars and said he was the fifth best running back in the country. Harper committed to Clemson last year with much fanfare.
Did you see the guy sitting next to him at the press conference? That’s Montel Harris, his high school teammate.
Harper's 2008 stats
Harris's 2008 stats
Now Harper may become a fine player. But no one, including their own high school coach, thought Harris was better. This is just another anecdotal example of the difficulty of predicting how players transition from one level to the next.
The 2009 Recruiting Class
In a few weeks we will know more about the next batch of BC guys. Unless there is a very strong finish the class will be ranked in the bottom portion of the ACC and probably not pick up many accolades. I am not concerned. Instead I’ll focus on what happens on the field. By the time we know how good this class actually is there will be more than 40 games played and approximately another 60 BC guys signed. How all of that comes together will have a little more meaning than what happens before Signing Day 2009.