Well well, national signing day 2013 has come and gone. The celebrations have begun by the hopeful fans and alumni of most of the elite programs across the country. And the nail biting has begun for the coaches who inked those kids in hopes that any class labeled as a banner group will indeed turn out to be just that.
Let’s take a look at the Lone Star State and some of the classes of the most notable programs. It seems that most of the recruiting gurus from across the country have crowned Texas A&M as the champ in the state of Texas for sure. And the reasons point, of course, to the Aggie success in 2012, the return of the Heisman trophy winner, and Coach Kevin Sumlin’s high powered offense. It has led Aggies everywhere to “whoop and holler” simply because they finally out-recruited the Texas Longhorns.
That is the good news for Aggies. The bad news is that in the Southeastern Conference, their haul was fourth behind number one Alabama, Florida, and yes even Ole Miss. It took one A&M defection to the Rebels for that to happen. As it was Mississippi was given the seventh rank just ahead of the Aggies at number eight.
And yes, those Longhorns who are perennial top ten recruiters had to settle for a number 23 or something near that rank. Most of that was due to the fact that they only signed 15 kids. Had the Horns been able to keep those commits from a year ago they would surely have been a top ten team once again. But they had four of the bluest of blue chippers decide to go elsewhere. This is not a good omen for the Longhorn faithful.
But as we all know high school recruiting is a guessing game at best. There is no doubt that there are high school football players out there who simply are “can’t miss” players and when enough of those end up on the same campus then it usually spells trouble for other competing schools. Those of us who have watched the science of recruiting for almost half a century realize that there are those classes that live up to their hype and there are probably even more that disappoint.
For one thing the limit on number of recruits and the number of football players that a program can have on scholarship at one time has really changed the landscape of college football. Football coaches now must target their needs and pay less attention to just signing blue-chippers regardless of their position.
Another factor is the development of those kids. Many times a three star recruit (five stars is the best) is a kid who has potential to get bigger, faster, and stronger in a polished Division I football program. There are also those five star recruits who have reached their peak in high school and that is what makes their stock so valuable. They put up great numbers because they are ahead of their peers both physically and mentally and then they get caught up with at the collegiate level.
I talked about UT and A&M earlier but said little about programs such as Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech. If the number of fours and fives on the recruiting scale was all that mattered then there would be no reason for the big state universities to ever even worry about winning or losing to those guys. But somehow those teams always end up in the mix of conference titles and bowl games.
Mack Brown, who I am sure is reeling just a bit today, probably said it best when he proclaimed that when the recruiting class is not quite as highly rated or the quantity is not there is when coaches sometimes do their best job in developing kids. I have been singing the praises of coaches like Art Briles and Gary Patterson for more than a couple of years now. I just believe that those guys are the ultimate developers of football players coming out of the high school ranks.
Mike Leach did the same thing at Tech and now I look for the same productivity from Kliff Kingsbury. Somehow in the next four years you will see each of those programs right in the thick of the Big XII. Schools such as SMU, Houston, North Texas, and Texas State also live off the two and three star athletes and all have coaches in place who are more than capable of turning those two stars into five stars.
The need factor as I alluded to earlier is also big. Getting the right position players is also extremely important. For instance the small class that Texas got this year is loaded with highly sought after offensive linemen. For those of us who follow them and have been frustrated with the fact that they have landed the top running back in the state the last two years and still can’t run the ball consistently, the signing of talented offensive linemen was a welcome sight. For that reason, I don’t think the Horns crop this year was that bad, but of course we will have to wait and see.
The Aggies had the luxury of having the opportunity to sign a large class this year with over thirty commits. That allowed them to not have to be nearly as selective in their offerings. For instance they signed five top quality receivers and added them to a team already loaded with a bevy of young pass catchers. So some will question why they did this and the answer is that they may convert some of those kids to defensive backs or let them specialize in punt and kickoff returns. Believe it or not quality special teams are just as important to winning championships as a good offense or defense.
Coach Sumlin doesn’t appear to be a coach who doesn’t have a plan in mind when it comes to recruiting and building a contender if not a champion. Somehow he will make the pieces fit. But here is the flip side of that equation: remember how Johnny Manziel became an Aggie! He wanted to be a Longhorn but with top ten recruiting classes at every grade level on the forty acres Mack Brown and staff just couldn’t find room among all the four and five star athletes to take a chance on a gutty kid from Kerrville. That is how it works when the big boys start to lose sight of the Johnny Manziel’s of the high school football world.
As I have stated many times the state of Texas is loaded with great high school players and they seemingly come out of those high schools with every graduation class being just a little more prepared than the year before. The Top 50 or Top 100 prospects as proclaimed by recruiting experts or the most prominent newspapers across the state are certain to be labeled as stars on signing day. But for everyone of those who top the recruiting list tabbed as a “can’t miss” there are five others who now have a chip on their shoulder because they were overlooked and underrated and have now tabbed themselves as “I told you so’s”.
This is what makes signing day, not only in Texas but all across America, a lot of fun and leaves the charged up fans and alumni anxious to see if the harvest will reap the desired results. It also leaves the big school coaches hopeful that their fives don’t turn into threes and the smaller schools threes turning into fives. In this day and age it seems that happens more often than it doesn’t.
It was indeed interesting to see the National Signing Day of 2013 come and go. On the surface it appeared that the rich got richer with Alabama once again on top of the college football world. It also appears that the Southeastern Conference once again dominated all other conferences just as they do during the regular season and in the bowl season. But only time will tell. Stay tuned!