Posted by Frazier
Some folks have wondered why we here at the 323 haven't spent much time discussing the recruiting process. Well, we take pride in our dedication to at least try to look past the hype, and come to our own conclusions, based on what we have seen with our own eyes. Which means neither of us has seen more than short clips of any high school recruit worth mentioning. While the big man may be able to wax philosophic on the merits of various Bay State football talents, no one could possibly care.
So what can we say about the recruiting process, other than regurgitate other sites and other scouts boards, and simply trust their judgments. We are not going to bother disputing any of those rankings, how the hell do we know? So we're going to take them at face value, and just comment on a couple of the broader trends. So here are a couple of recruiting truths:
The Strong Find Strength In Their Own Backyards
Texas, USC and Florida should always excel in recruiting. That's where the talent is. These teams are, and should be, football factories. Now, Florida usually has to split talent with FSU and Miami, but with a brand new national title, and the tough times those other programs are enduring, the Gators are ruling the roost. Meyer has been doing a fantastic job in Gainesville, but it's a lot easier when your recruits grow up dreaming of donning your uniform. USC and Texas are just teams that gave fantastic talent all around them, and all they have to do is open the doors.
Even Late in the Game, a Good Coach Changes Everything
North Carolina is going to have a top 20 recruiting class. That is astounding. That administration moved swiftly, and confidently, and by doing so gave Butch Davis enough time to snag some recruits John Bunting wouldn't have been able to even sniff at. Davis has proven that he is an astounding recruiter, and a winning coach, and he was able to sell that to high school athletes across the south. This was an absolutely incredible job, and the hire is already paying dividends. Davis is the real deal, and he is going to be on fire next year with a full recruiting season. This is why this was an A+ hire.
Alabama, with Saban, has also made some late moves. Saban is known as one of the best recruiters in the game, and he still has ties all across the south. While he came on the scene too late to really make some noise, he is making a lot of other teams sweat out commitments they thought they had in the bag. He's another guy who is going to be fearsome competition next year.
Being a Legend Helps
Steve Spurrier has turned in a top 5 recruiting class at South Carolina. That tells you pretty much all you need to know. Quarterbacks and wide receivers want to learn from the master, defensive players want to win a title, and everyone wants to see what he's all about. He still has ties all across Florida, and no one has a bigger name. His recruits have heard that he won at Duke, and so the have faith that he can win anywhere, and they know he isn't going to ditch them for some better opportunity. He is doing something special down there, and is determined to cement his legacy by turning the Gamecocks into a national threat.
Some Men are Born Recruiters
Ron Zook apparantly has the gift. I don't know how he convinces all these talented players to give him a shot, especially since he's a total burn-out coaching at a second tier school in a loaded conference. Champaign is nothing special, Zook is nothing special, and Illinois is nothing special, and yet special athletes seem to be banging down the door over there. Zook was always a great recruiter, that was never in doubt. Hell, he recruited the team that just won a national championship. And yet, he could never do anything with them. Still, he is doing an excellent job in this phase of the game at Illinois, too bad he has to coach 'em, once he gets 'em.
The Big Ten hasn't shown a lot of life in the recruiting department this time around. Many pundits don't have a single Big Ten team in the top ten classes, and this is after the conference finished with some real strength. Ohio St. and Michigan may be in the top 20, but that's lower than these two storied programs usually reside. Really, the only bright spot is Zook and his Illinois recruiting mojo, which kind of tells you what you need to know about the state of things in the conference. At the same time, many of these teams recruit to fit their own style, so don't pursue the top "athletes" that other schools covet. Still, it's not a great year for the midwest.
It's Just the Beginning
As a UVA alum, I know all about recruiting hype. During my time there, Al Groh recruited some of the top classes in the country, and got everyone buzzing about a program on the rise. Unfortunately, Groh also had to coach them. He turned top 5 classes into teams lucky to crack the final top-25, playing a bowl game in Charlotte, NC or Boise, ID. Recruiting well is just the first step. Zook might be able to get them, but can he use them? Also, sometimes you need players to fit your system. Wisconsin, and other Big Ten schools, don't always land the top talent, but they get what they need. So we haven't really learned anything yet. Still, there are definitely some trends in the recruiting process, and we're really seeing those play out. Being from a talent-rich area is the most important aspect, having a great coach is probably next, and being a great recruiter, like a Zook, is another huge factor. As does winning. Then you have teams with all four, just ask Florida.