Recruiting rankings are for fun and not much else

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 11, 2010

After last week’s National Signing Day, college football fans have stars in their eyes.

Or at least on their mind.

The “star system,” which is how recruiting Web sites Scout and Rivals evaluate talent has become the big buzzword among fans. That and the mythical recruiting “national championship” give fans fodder for winter months when basketball is a bore and the cleats and pads won’t emerge until spring.

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But how accurate are these rankings, which go from a one-star, a middling college prospect, to five stars, which is, according to Rivals and Scout, a can’t-miss talent?

Sometimes they are right on the mark. Sometimes they miss like a Shaquille O’Neal free throw.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of the Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at or at 601-636-4545, ext. 142.

For every five or four-star prospect who meets expectations like Florida’s Tim Tebow, Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon or Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher, there are guys like Ole Miss back Dexter McCluster or Alabama’s Mark Ingram who run under the proverbial radar. McCluster, who rewrote the offensive record books at Ole Miss, was just a three-star according to Rivals and Scout. Heisman Trophy winner Ingram was a three-star prospect in 2008 and rated the 58th best back in the country, according to Scout.

Then there are guys like Darrell Scott, whom Scout considered the best back prospect in the country in 2008. He suffered through an injury-plagued freshman season in 2009 and is transferring from Colorado.

Scouting is an inexact science. The changes that happen to kids between ages 18 and 21 can be either detrimental, as in the case of some, or for the better in the case of McCluster.

And how much scouting can these Web sites do? Considering how many high school football programs and top-flight prospects there are in this country. Just in the state of Mississippi alone, there are 282 high schools. How can a recruiting analyst pick the wheat from the chaff when there is so much of both?  Even with the scouting combines the two Web sites put on, plenty of potentially five-star talent slips through the cracks. There are places in this state and others where there are no newspapers covering their team and thus there is no way for a talented prospect to even get his name in circulation.

The ultimate arbiter for fans of recruiting should be the list of schools seeking the player’s services. But even that can be challenged, as kids will often claim a scholarship offer when it’s only one that is contingent on the recruiting team missing on a player they want more. If they get the guy they really want, the offer to the other kid goes by the wayside.

Ultimately, the coaches don’t take much stock in these highly subjective ratings. Alabama’s 2008 recruiting class, ranked by all services as the nation’s best, did lead the Tide to a national title. But for every Alabama, there is Miami’s infamous 2004 class, led by Willie Williams, whose infamous recruiting diaries in the Miami Herald led to a whole host of NCAA rules changes on recruiting visits. To make a long story short, that class didn’t amount to much.

Coaches laugh at these rankings.

“I don’t really care how many stars our guys come in with; it’s much more important to me how many stars they leave with,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told The Clarion-Ledger.

The key for fans is to take the recruiting rankings with a big, fat hunk of salt. They’re fun, they’re a guide, but in the end, they’re often just plain wrong.