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Thursday, May 26, 2005

My name is Brian, and I follow recruiting. I realize that this is on some level a disease. I am at the beck and call of athletic 17-year-olds who may or may not choose to attend the same school I did in the rapidly receding past and play a fundamentally meaningless game. I do this because it is just that important to me that Ohio State is defeated and slinks back to their system of prehistoric ape-caves they dare to call a "state" with its collective tail between its collective legs.

You're either with me on that point or not. If you aren't, I commend you on your sense of perspective and lack of obsessive, addictive tendencies. You are probably bad in bed. You lack passion for everything except a well-peeled carrot. You are free to go.

But if you're like me--the kind of person who would seriously consider offering your first-born child to a mysterious hobgoblin in exchange for twenty straight victories over the Buckeyes and wouldn't think twice if it was fifty--this kind of stuff does matter. Why? Well, it's something to do. Life is basically a series of things to do of varying desirability and far be it from me to judge your decision to watch reality TV compulsively, so don't get all huffy about my attention to the minute details of the activities of young sweaty muscular men. NTTAWWT. I'm the kind of person who reads mock drafts with interest and likes playing pretend GM in fantasy leagues and simulation games. There was little chance I could avoid this fate.

I do acknowledge that the recruiting thing is sort of a character flaw. I have many character flaws, though, and this one is much less critical than "hates most things" and "sees children as bargaining chips for deals with paranormal creatures that do not, in fact, exist." That said, I believe there is a right way to pursue this slightly shady activity and a wrong way. And because I am in need of words to put on the Interweb, I share these things:


Always a good one, and it goes triple for recruiting. There is a significant difference between a player like five-star Justin King and three-star Johnny Sears, but it is not so drastic that failing to acquire King should be a cause for anything more than a shrug and a "that's rather unfortunate." PANIC is the root cause of many of the immature, stupid things people post on message boards across the internet.

2. Do not disparage recruits except in extraordinary circumstances.
This goes quadruple for uncommitted recruits--a recent flagrant example on Rivals occurred when someone posted some idiocy about how he doubted Justin Boren's "love for Michigan" because he hadn't committed yet. Boren committed soon after and then expressed his love for Michigan. How do you feel now, anonymous internet moron?

The primary reason not to disparage a recruit is the fact that if you do so, you are a douchebag. You are running down a person you have never met because he is not going to your school or is unlikely to do so. This is a sign of mental illness or extreme immaturity. These players are choosing the direction their life will go in, narrowing down their choices from a bewildering array of schools all rolling out the red carpet and promising a moon or two.

The secondary reason not to disparage a recruit is there's a damn good chance they'll read it. Lord knows I obsessively hunt down references to this blog when they appear on the internet (far, far too infrequently). Any teenager on the planet is going to want to know what people think about him, and if he comes across someone saying something stupid on a message board he's probably going to think less well of that particular school. It won't hurt much--but it won't help.

I said "extraordinary circumstances"... what are extraordinary circumstances? Jerking people around like Jeff Smoker's "University of Michigan... State" announcement, or Marquise Hill directly stating that he was going to LSU all along and was just having some fun with the Michigan coaches. And, of course, anything to do with Willie Williams.

This does not include last minute swerves like Cameron Colvin telling the Michigan coaches he was coming and then committing to Oregon at the last second or Travis Johnson going to bed a Wolverine and waking up a Seminole. There's a reason for the LOI. Going to school is a huge decision and there are going to be some last minute changes of heart. It happens. There must be obviously malicious intent.

Even then, it's best to just let it go. If I was held responsible for all my youthful mistakes my child support payments would be enormous. (Or maybe I just sat in someone's basement playing D&D... you'll never know! Except you probably do. Dammit.)

3. Don't make sweeping generalizations based on one player.
Don't be that guy on the message board saying "recruiting doesn't matter because Kelly Baraka." A sample size of one is not statistically significant. That's akin to saying "you don't want the first pick in the draft because Aundray Bruce sucked." (The reason you don't want the first pick in the draft is because that means your team sucked.) Recruiting rankings are important, and though there are good reasons why they are not all-important, going blah blah blah about how it doesn't matter because of ANECDOTE 1 and ANECDOTE 2 is demonstrably incorrect.

More importantly, it is very annoying.

Filtering information

4. Don't listen to Tom Lemming or Max Emfinger.
Dudes just don't know what's going on and always vastly overrate players in their immediate geographical area (Chicago for Lemming, Louisiana and Texas for Emfinger).

Emfinger hands out ratings extremely early and gives anyone looking like a high-major recruit the full Chad-Ford-on-Darko treatment. Everyone's a phenom if your interest in a "phenom" who's considering your school might slide a couple bucks into Emfinger's hands. Yes, this is true to some extent for everyone involved in the mildly creepy world of recruiting. It's a matter of degree. If Rivals is negligent homicide Emfinger is second degree murder. Rivals articles have their share of rah-rah, but Emfinger radiates the panting sycophancy neatly summed up by the word "stud."

Plus he makes kids wear egomaniacal jerseys that actually say "MAX EMFINGER'S H.S. ALL AMERICANS." And don't get me started on his website, which I suggest you avoid if you are the kind of person who gets seizures from watching the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Emfinger's site will cause you to convulse so violently you'll either die or come out the other side with a bizarre suite of super powers.

Lemming's major sin isn't as severe. His problem is that usually he has no idea what he's talking about. He throws out things that are completely wrong without repercussion. The example that comes most immediately to mind is that last year her claimed that Indiana WR Selwyn Lymon was "leaning to Michigan" when everyone else had him pegged for Purdue. Lymon went... to Purdue. No one ever suggested Michigan was ahead. That wouldn't be bad, except it happens *all the time* with Lemming. Instead of merely saying "I don't know" when he doesn't--which is often--he throws some approximate schools out there that often correlate with how much money he thinks a particular fanbase can throw at him.

He's better than nothing, but if he directly contradicts the conventional wisdom on a recruit, ignore it. He's wrong. Also, he used to deliver mail. He's about as qualified to evaluate high school football talent as I am.

5. Don't regard guru rankings as the be-all and end-all...
The guru ranking process is heavily weighted by the camps a player attends the summer between his junior and senior years. This is understandable, as the gurus have to rank hundreds of kids in a short span of time and don't often get to see top recruits go head-to-head in actual games. It's common for players who either can't afford camps or simply don't want to attend to be neglected by the ranking process. Recruits who commit early are especially likely to have this happen to them, as they aren't likely to go out in an effort to earn more offers and gurus' attention is generally focused on players who have yet to make a decision.

Justin Schifano is an excellent example of this phenomenon. He committed to Michigan at the 38-0 Notre Dame blowout, before he had begun playing his junior year of high school (the commit would become public much later, after the 2004 recruiting class had signed). The other school that was after him heavily at the time was Miami. The gurus ranked him a four star and omitted him from the top 100, even though there couldn't have been more than one or two players at any position that Michigan had offers out for by the time Schifano accepted his. But since he kept a low profile and played a low profile position (guard) he didn't get the hoopla many other recruits did.

I see guru rankings as one of several significant components of the opinion I form about recruits. Other things I look for:

  • Early offers, especially at positions of relatively little need. If Michigan does not appear to have a tremendous need at a position (for instance, running back or wide receiver this year) and they extend an early offer to a recruit, that's a guy the coaching staff wants badly. That goes double if other major schools are also pursuing heavily.

  • General visibility of a recruit. Carson Butler sat out his junior year at renaissance after transferring and focused mainly on basketball until his senior year rolled around. He attended no camps and played in the low-profile Public School League in Detroit. He wasn't even rated by Rivals until he committed to Michigan. Butler fits the definition of a sleeper to a tee... the good definition of sleeper. Most people call a low profile recruit their team has acquired a 'sleeper' instead of 'project likely to be sucky' because it's nicer to envision national championships than Motor City Bowls. Butler is a sleeper in the true sense--there was every reason for people to miss the boat on his potential and his upside (-1 point for saying 'upside') is very large. Huge, even. There's more reason to be excited about his potential than that of someone like Rondell Biggs, who didn't labor in anything approaching the obscurity Butler did.

  • Offer timing. I don't harbor any illusions about offensive lineman Mark Ortmann, who visited, was offered, and committed all in one weekend... immediately after it became clear that Michigan's blue-chip OT targets not named "Zirbel" were all heading to Iowa. Ortmann was a backup plan, and my expectations for him are correspondingly lower than they are for someone like Schifano.
6. ...but don't disregard them entirely, either.
Guru rankings miss players but that does not mean that the ones they rate highly are trash. They aren't a guarantee, but neither are NFL draft picks. Blue-Gray Sky's recent review of 2002's top 50 shows that the gurus are actually pretty good at identifying a select group of players with obvious athletic advantages over the rest. They find it hard to quantify something like Mike Hart's vision, but they're good at picking out the fact that Gabe Watson is able to move around real good for a man of his leviathan proportions.

When comparing guru ratings, I mostly ignore Lemming and Emfinger. Scout and Rivals are where its at because each composite list is the amalgamated opinion of a few dozen sets of eyes, and mgoblog believes in the wisdom of crowds. They're far from perfect but also far from useless. If a player is rated as a five-star, he's significantly more likely to become a useful player than a three star.

7. Be sure to translate recruit speak into normal English.
Recruiting articles contain a large number of quotes from recruits that do not mean what you think they mean. A field guide to the strange sounds that come out of recruits' mouths follows.
  • "My favorites are Illinois, Northwestern, and Toledo" - I will immediately commit to Michigan or Ohio State if offered.

  • "The visit was a 10. It was the best visit ever." - The visit occurred and it was either good, bad, or mediocre. I'm not telling.

  • "I want to play in warm weather." - I will never in a million years forget that sorority at Florida State.

  • "I'm wide open." - Stop looking me like that, Emfinger.

  • "I want to play early." - I want to play early.

  • "Early playing time isn't important to me." - I'm an offensive lineman.

  • "Academics are extremely important to me" - I don't care about academics in the slightest.

  • "No, seriously, the academic reputation of a school is critical in my decision making." - My mom is in the room.

  • "They're talking to me about playing both ways." - Seriously, Emfinger, step off.