February 11, 2011

Mailbag: Why get excited for National Signing Day?

No banners are raised and no space is reserved in the trophy case for recruiting championships.

A high ranking on National Signing Day does not help in the BCS standings. Winning in February doesn't count toward bowl eligibility -- not directly, anyway.

We've seen highly rated players fail and two-star prospects flourish enough to know that recruiting -- and recruiting rankings -- is nowhere near an exact science.

But on the first Wednesday in February, radio and TV shows spend hours upon hours discussing recruiting. Actually, it's a year-round obsession for many college football fans. Why is that?

That's a question to be addressed in this week's mailbag.

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

Hope is a good thing

Why do recruiting ratings seem to dominate the media landscape when it's on the field where the recruits will be compared three to four years from now?
Jim in Laramie, Wyo.

The nation's top 10 recruiting classes for 2011:
1. Alabama
2. Florida State
3. Texas
4. USC
5. Georgia
6. LSU
7. Auburn
8. Clemson
9. Oregon
10. Notre Dame
Just like the NFL draft, National Signing Day is captivating because it provides hope for the future.

Everybody is hoping this five-star prospect or that four-star recruit will choose their team, fill a need and lead the way to glory.

Sometimes it happens that way. Sometimes it doesn't. But that's very much like the NFL draft. Sometimes you hit big with a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. Sometimes you're disappointed with a Ryan Leaf or Jamarcus Russell.

There always will be critics who will point out the errors that the recruiting analysts make.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, who was announcing his plan to fund a scholarship at his alma mater. As I introduced myself as a reporter for Rivals.com, Edwards said, "Rivals? You guys had me as a two-star."

Fair enough.

Remember, though, that Tom Brady wasn't drafted until the sixth round.

There have been numerous four- and five-star prospects who didn't pan out, but I cannot remember one that college coaches didn't aggressively recruit.

Reeling in a bunch of four- and five-star recruits doesn't guarantee future championships. But going back to 2002, a team with a recruiting class ranked among the nation's top five either won or played for a national championship within the next four years.

Rivals.com ranked Texas' recruiting class No. 1 in 2002. The Longhorns won the national championship in 2005.

Ohio State was ranked fifth in 2002 and played for national championships in 2006 and '07.

LSU was ranked No. 1 in 2003 and second in '04. The Tigers won the national championship in '07.

USC was ranked third in '03 and won the national championship in '04 and played for it in '05.

Florida was ranked No. 3 in 2003 and won the national title in '06. The Gators also ranked second in '06 and first in '07 and won the national title in '08.

Oklahoma's 2005 class was ranked third. The Sooners played for the national title in 2008.

Texas' '07 recruiting class was ranked fifth. The Longhorns played for the national title in '09.

Alabama followed a No. 10 recruiting ranking in '07 with a No. 1 ranking in '08 and went on to win the national championship in '09.

Auburn's 2010 recruiting class was ranked fourth and included five-star prospect Cameron Newton, who led the Tigers to the national title.

Several other teams with highly ranked recruiting classes went on to win conference championships, too.

Again, there are examples that didn't work out. Tennessee's class was ranked third in '07 and the Volunteers haven't managed more than seven wins in a season since. Miami and Florida State have been inconsistent on the field despite some high recruiting classes. Georgia has faltered despite strong recruiting classes.

Still, there have been enough examples of highly rated recruiting classes developing into championship teams in the next few years. That's more than enough reason to keep fans interested.

In addition, being able to taunt your archrival when a five-star recruit chooses your school doesn't hurt, either.

No more cupcakes?

With Alabama playing Penn State, LSU playing Oregon and Georgia playing Boise State in non-conference games this fall, has the SEC finally started scheduling real games against decent non-conference competition for a change?
Sam in Pasadena, Calif.

I hate to be put in a position in which I have to defend the SEC, but let's look at the entire picture here.

It's true that last season, every SEC team except Vanderbilt scheduled an FCS opponent. But every major conference has teams that schedule FCS opponents -- and that's good because those smaller schools need those games to fund their programs.

I don't have a problem with the giants scheduling one FCS team. But it's going too far when "Big Six" teams schedule two. By the way, one of those "Big Six" teams that scheduled two FCS opponents was Arizona State of the Pac-10. Arizona, Oregon, Cal and Stanford also played FCS teams.

Last season, SEC teams scheduled 15 "Big Six" opponents, including Penn State, Clemson, Texas A&M, North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Connecticut, Louisville and Oregon.

LSU faced two "Big Six" opponents in non-conference play that posted nine wins (North Carolina and West Virginia).

USC fans such as you often send me messages boasting about USC's strength of schedules and rightly so. Over the years, USC hasn't ducked anybody.

But last season's non-conference schedule really wasn't that challenging. USC always plays Notre Dame, which was pretty good. The Trojans also played Hawaii, a respectable WAC team. But their other non-conference games were against Virginia and Minnesota.

Not every SEC team plays a demanding non-conference schedule. But that can be said for virtually every conference.

Last season, I received an e-mail from a Wisconsin fan criticizing Alabama's non-schedule. But then I pointed out that Alabama's was actually stronger than Wisconsin's. Both played San Jose State. Both played an FCS opponent (Wisconsin played 2-9 Austin Peay, Alabama played 6-5 Georgia State). Wisconsin played 2-11 UNLV, Alabama played 3-9 Duke. Wisconsin played 6-6 Arizona State, while Alabama played 7-6 Penn State.

That's just an example to illustrate that, for the most part, all conferences schedule similarly. Most teams play a good, comparable opponent (perhaps an annual rival). They typically play an FCS opponent. After that, they often fill in the schedule with lower-division Big Six teams or teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences.

For example, South Carolina of the SEC played archrival Clemson and FCS member Furman. The Gamecocks also faced Southern Miss, a Conference USA team that went 8-5, and Troy, an 8-5 team out of the Sun Belt Conference.

That's not too bad.

Oregon scheduled much the same way. The Ducks faced Tennessee of the SEC, FCS member Portland State and Mountain West member New Mexico, which finished 1-11. Cal, Arizona and Stanford were similar.

So before criticizing the non-conference games of other leagues, remember that not every team schedules like Oregon State, which played TCU, Louisville and Boise State.

The Beavers went 1-2 in those games and failed to qualify for a bowl, so they probably won't schedule that way again. In fact, they open the 2011 season with FCS member Sacramento State.

Not quite

Vince Ferragamo is a California alum as well as a Nebraska one, so we get credit for him as a Super Bowl starter (Where the Super Bowl QBs come from, Feb. 4). That puts Cal alone in first in regards to Super Bowl starters. Don't try to lump Cal with football lightweights like Alabama and Notre Dame!
Patrick in Sacramento, Calif.

Kudos for your sense of humor, but yours was one of more than a dozen responses I received from Cal fans wanting to claim Ferragamo.

That's sad, really. It's kind of like a divorced guy whose ex-wife has remarried, but he still calls her his wife.

Let Vince go, Cal fans, and get along with your lives.

By that rationale, Florida could claim Heisman winner Cameron Newton. After all, Newton originally went to Florida.

When a player transfers from one school to another, he's no longer "from" the first school.

Troy Aikman originally went to Oklahoma. But he's from UCLA. Stan Humphries, the Chargers' quarterback in Super Bowl XXIX, began his college career at LSU but transferred to Northeast Louisiana (now known as Louisiana-Monroe).

Face it, Cal fans: Ferragamo left you. He's a Husker.

Close the loophole

Can you comment on the ever-increasing trend of oversigning in college football? And also why we see this is done a lot more in the SEC? Shouldn't this be regulated at the NCAA level and not by conferences?
Keith in Austin, Texas

I think NCAA should close the loopholes that allow programs to sign more than 25 players per year.

Teams are supposed to be limited to 25 scholarships a year, with a maximum total of 85 players on a roster. But programs get around that by bringing in players early so they can count against the previous year's signing class.

Some teams sign several players that are borderline academically. Those that qualify get a scholarship, and those that don't qualify don't count against the signing class.

Personally, I think the 25/85 rule should be rigid. That would put even more pressure on coaches to make sure a prospect is academically sound and of good character, but shouldn't that be the case anyway?

Sometimes, a program loses a player for reasons that aren't its fault. That includes career-ending injuries and defections to the NFL. But what's the old saying? Those are the breaks.

Of course, a lot of coaches and recruiting fans would disagree with me -- some vehemently -- on the subject. I understand that. Still, I don't think a player who signs a national letter of intent in 2011 should be counted as part of the class of 2010.

Vision problem?

LSU and Alabama aren't dominating the SEC? (Next great coaching rivalry?, Feb. 4) Are you blind or just not that smart? Alabama won the national championship in '09 and LSU two years before that. Yes, Florida has won it twice in the past five years, but did you not see the Gators this past season? The SEC West has won the SEC championship three out of the past four years. But Florida was dominating the SEC that entire time? Gee, I guess facts really are irrelevant, aren't they?
Bret in Dothan, Ala.

Actually, I didn't write that Florida was dominating the SEC. Rather, I just wrote that Alabama and LSU have not dominated the SEC the way Ohio State under Woody Hayes and Michigan under Bo Schembechler dominated the Big Ten in the 1970s.

It's true that Alabama and LSU have combined for four SEC championships in the past 10 years, but that's not domination. Heck, neither even won the SEC West this past season.

Dominance would be Oklahoma, which has won seven Big 12 championships since 2000, or Ohio State, which has won or shared each of the past six Big Ten championships. USC won or shared seven consecutive Pac-10 championships from 2002-2008. Virginia Tech has won three of the past four ACC titles. Boise State has won or shared eight of the past nine WAC championships.

That's dominance. So is what Michigan and Ohio State did from 1968-84: That duo either won or shared every Big Ten title in that span.

Since the turn of the century, five different teams have won the SEC championship. Florida and LSU have won three each. Georgia and Auburn have won two. Alabama has won one.

That there are so many SEC programs that compete at a high level makes it unlikely any team will dominate the conference, at least not at the level that some powerhouses in other conferences have.

If you can't see that, you're either blind or just not that smart.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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