How do we measure talent and success? Better yet, how do we project talent and success?
The one thing I've enjoyed most in my 10 years in this business, covering recruiting and National Signing Day,isn't that we geeky sports fans and reporters sit on edge waiting for a pimple-faced teenager to finish this sentence: So, after yanking your chain for six months, having schools spend thousands to wine and dine me and after putting these five hats on the table I've decided I'm going to...
Nope, the thing I love most about National Signing Day is how we all end up getting bent out of shape on the number of tiny, shiny little stars Joe Blow Jr. has next to his name. I love the way we believe how Joe Blow Jr. is going to be the next Ray Lewis or Michael Irvin because Joe Blow expert who watches Joe Blow Jr. films for a living says Joe Blow Jr. is going to be "special." Aren't they all, every year? The funny thing we often forget is what exactly all those stars really mean: an expert's opinion. Yet, every first Wednesday in February, we collectively beat our chests about how good or bad the collection of Joe Blow Jr.'s our schools signed to scholarships. We believe whole-heartedly, NSD, is the day the future is made or broken. Then, when the team goes 6-6, then 5-7 under a new coach named Randy Shannon we like to kick and scream. And then we say... "but the stars... they said we were supposed to be good."
The truth is judging high school football talent and projecting what it will be like at the next level is practically impossible. Simple mathematics will tell you that. How is it humanly possible for an expert to fairly judge talent in a country with hundreds of thousands of high schools and millions of football players? And how do recruiters honestly know what they're getting? How do they know players will come through the way they hoped they would when they get here? How will they know they'll behave themselves, grow into the players they are supposed to be? Sure, there are hot-beds for talent. And it's pretty easy to figure out a 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound lineman with 10 percent body fat is going to have a better chance of being a better football player than a 6-1, 250-pounder with 25 percent body fat. But after those first 300 "blue-chip," "can't miss" prospects, isn't recruiting pretty much a best guess?
Recruiting talent is one thing. But the real secret to college football success isn't just collecting gold stars like your in the fourth grade. It's building a team with depth and then making sure that talent grows the right way once its in your home. And then, its making sure you adjust when things don't work out.
A look at the last five years in recruiting at Miami could tell you all you need to know about the value of star-ratings. It also should tell you how poorly the guys on this staff adjusted to recruiting mistakes and how they might not have gotten enough out of the talent they did have here. In the 2003, Rivals.com rated Devin Hester, Greg Olsen and Kyle Wright as Miami's only five-star recruits. Defensive tackle Teraz McCray was the lowest-rated recruited player for UM at two-stars. McCray as it turned out sure seemed to have a better career than nearly all of the guys rated ahead of him in his class (4-stars: CB Terrell Walden, RB Tyrone Moss, S Willie Cooper and 3-star: OL Cyrim Wimbs). And Hester, Olsen and Wright sure didn't play at a consistent 5-star level while they were here. But Hester (everyone knows what he's doing) and Olsen (a first round pick last season) are sure doing pretty well now aren't they? How about 4-star linebacker Jon Beason (another first round pick)?
So what does that all tell us? That somewhere between those Joe Blows getting to UM and then leaving not enough good happened. There are so many factors, so many places to lay blame. Like the players. Why couldn't Willie Williams get his act together? Why did Tyrone Moss, Broward's all-time leading rusher, get beat out by a freshman by his senior year? Why couldn't Greg Olsen hang onto the ball on third downs in college? Why is Jon Beason such a stud now and why couldn't he do more at UM?
But to me, the blame goes to the inconsistency and leadership at the top. I'm sure Wright didn't imagine he'd go through as many coordinators (4) as he did when he signed at Miami. I'm also sure Wright had no idea that after Darnell Jenkins, UM wouldn't sign a receiver in 2005 and the rest of his receiving corps would include five-star bust Lance Leggett, troubled Sam Shields, converted cornerback Ryan Hill, Khalil Jones and George Robinson.
- If you're a fan, ask yourself how Miami couldn't sign a quarterback for three years after Kirby Freeman walked through the door in 2004?
- Ask yourself why the Canes have signed one linebacker in 2006 (Colin McCarthy) and one in 2007 (Allen Bailey who is likely going to be a defensive end), after signing four in 2005 (Spencer Adkins, Eric Houston, Demetri Stewart and Daryl Sharpton) who have rarely seen the field? And how they never really replaced two big ones they lost in 2004 (Willie Williams) and 2003 (Arlington Highsmith)?
- Ask yourself how four highly-rated players in the last five classes still haven't or never really did end up sticking to a position -- Kylan Robinson (2006), Richard Gordon (2006), James Bryant (2004), Hester (2003)?
- Now that you're done assessing just part of the mess, ask yourself how Miami had classes ranked by Rivals to be 5th (2003), 4th (2004), 7th (2005), 14th (2006), 19th (2007)? Then wonder why UM ended up with seven fewer wins than Kansas this past season when the Jayhawks' classes were rated 50th (2007), 38th (2006), 48th (2005), 51st (2004) and 39th (2003)?
Yes, Randy Shannon was a part of all these decisions and part of the previous coaching staff. And yes, he shouldn't be let off the hook completly. But last I checked, wasn't UM's defense before this past season the only good thing about this team for about three seasons? And how about the fact coordinators aren't nearly as involved in recruiting as assistants are? Does his burden lessen al ittle now? And how could I forget the Hurricanes, until Shannon assumed control, didn't have a recruiting coordinator in place for at least two seasons.
Whether or not ESPN, Rivals or Scout.com decides to rank UM's Class two Wednesdays from now No. 1 when it comes to those little gold stars shouldn't mean as much to you as what the Hurricanes have already accomplished in the year leading up to this class. Miami's staff has not gotten nine early entrants into school -- saving scholarship spaces for others and getting a head start on the future and spring drills -- they've addressed long-standing needs this program has had with only not only guys who have a lot of stars next to their names, but well, depth.
* Since last February, Shannon and his staff have brought in more quarterbacks (4) than the two the previous leadership of this team inked in five years from 2002 to 2006.
* This class already has five receivers -- Aldarius Johnson, Davon Johnson, Thearon Collier, Travis Benjamin and Kendal Thompson -- who could run circles around the majority of the receivers still on this team. That's my opinion anyway.
* The collection of linebackers -- Sean Spence, Arthur Brown, Jordan Futch, Marcus Robinson, Antonio Harper, Brandon Marti and Zach Kane -- not only adds serious depth to a position that was lacking, but it gives you, I believe, two major studs (Spence and Brown) who should be on the field quickly.
* Defensive tackle, a position the Hurricanes have been hurting at, has potentially three studs in Marcus Forston, Micanor Regis and Jeremy Lewis who are likely more talented than anyone UM has at the position now.
Is it a perfectly constructed class? Does it fill all the needs right now? No. The Hurricanes sorely need to get a few cornerbacks (Brandon Harris would be really nice) and need another offensive lineman (Ben Jones, anyone?). Do I think all the guys going to pan out as superstars? History would tell you no. Somebody is going to be a bust. But whether or not the stars align, the one thing Hurricanes fan can't deny is that Shannon and this staff have raised the level of intensity in recruiting. They've addressed the majority of the serious needs. And whether or not UM gets five stars or just one for that, in the end that's all you can ask this staff to do. The hole left behind is a huge one to dig out of. Hopefully, we don't need stars to help us see that.
** PROGRAMMING NOTES: Susan Miller Degnan is going to have a very good Sunday feature on Taylor Cook and the rest of UM's incoming quarterbacks. Be sure to check it out. Also, if you haven't already been over to our new recruiting site, do so. I've been busy this week doing interviews and writing stories for our new recruiting page, which The Herald is apparently planning on keeping past National Signing Day. I've done audio interviews with Florida-bound receiver Frankie Hammond, Ohio State-bound linebacker Etienne Sabino, Pahokee receiver Martavious Odoms and a feature story on Micanor Regis, who Larry Blustein keeps telling me is going to be a force with Marcus Forston. Speaking of Blustein, he and I did another podcast. We covered FIU's class and what's happening with UM at the cornerback spot. Check it out.