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The three star conundrum

Dec 26, 2009, 3:00 PM EDT

(I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and enjoyed some time away from the internet. I did. I’ll keep everybody posted with breaking news and some (hopefully) interesting articles, before getting things cranked back up to full-speed next week.)

As usual, the Wall Street Journal came up with something interesting. Their blog, The Count, tackled the world of college football recruiting, and after analyzing the 1,496 bowl-game starters found that having a highly-rated recruiting class didn’t always correlate to success on the field.

From The Count:

When USC signed every prized football recruit west of the Mississippi
over the past five years, most fans expected national titles every
season. Instead, the Trojans are playing in something called the
Emerald Bowl on Saturday.

If bowl season teaches fans anything, it’s that getting top recruits
doesn’t guarantee success. In this year’s 34 bowls, half of the
participating teams didn’t have a single starter in their final
regular-season game that was considered a top-100 prospect in high
school, according to recruiting Web site The Count analyzed
1,496 bowl-game starters and found that just 8.4% of them were top-100

USC starts 13 top prospects–most among all bowl teams. By contrast,
its opponent Saturday, Boston College, didn’t start a single top-100
prospect in its final regular-season game. In the title game, Texas
starts nine top prospects and Alabama only has three, yet Alabama is a
4-point favorite. Both teams are led by players (Colt McCoy and Heisman
winner Mark Ingram) who weren’t top-100 prospects in high school. This
trend continues in the Rose Bowl, where underdog Ohio State has eight
top prospects compared to Oregon’s zero. Then there’s the Fiesta Bowl,
featuring undefeated TCU and Boise State. Neither team starts a top

Notre Dame fans of all people know that winning recruiting titles doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win big on the football field. But the Journal’s statistical breakdown is certainly lacking in the kind of depth you’d want if you — well, you know — want to make a good point.

Andy Staples over at beat me to the punch with an intelligent counterpoint to the Journal article.

I’ll let him take it from here:

Author David Biderman analyzed this year’s 1,496 bowl
starters and their teams’ bowl destinations and concluded that
recruiting highly ranked players doesn’t necessarily help teams reach
BCS bowls. Unfortunately, the fact Biderman pegged the story on — that
USC, with a multitude of starters who were ranked in the top
100, is playing in the Emerald Bowl against a Boston College team that
has no starters who were ranked in the Rivals100 — turned a blind eye
to some critical data. Biderman never mentioned that USC, with players
who are still on this year’s roster, won the Pac-10 and played in a BCS
bowl each of the past three years. Biderman didn’t do anything wrong other than use too small a sample size.

Staples enhanced Biderman’s work and drew some pretty interesting conclusions of his own. Working with the raw data and cataloging it to accurately account for a recruit’s contributions, Staples found a pretty strong correlation between Top 100 signees and BCS Bowls.

“Over the last four seasons, the top four stockpilers of Rivals100 talent have combined to earn nine BCS bowl berths,” Staples concluded.

Those four teams? USC, Texas, Florida, and… Notre Dame.

For those that were clamoring for Charlie Weis’ ouster, that fact might have been your most effective when making the argument to dispose of the former coach.

Staples himself states the case pretty well:

The most curious case is Notre Dame (24 signees), which played in a BCS
bowl in 2006 but has fallen off in recent years. If there ever was a
program ripe to have its recruits overrated, it’s Notre Dame. The
Fighting Irish have a huge, passionate fan bases with plenty of members
more than happy to fork over $9.95 a month to read a treasure trove of
recruiting news. So it’s good for business to keep the rankings high.

That still doesn’t explain one fact. The main reason why Notre Dame
recruits are ranked so high is that they also were pursued by other
elite programs. So either the other schools’ coaches evaluated the
players incorrectly, or the players aren’t reaching their maximum

For the past two seasons, a chicken-egg argument raged as to whether Charlie Weis
was coaching overhyped, poorly evaluated recruits or whether Weis had
failed to develop accurately rated recruits. Notre Dame’s 2009 team
featured 11 starters ranked in the top 100 as recruits. With the
exception of receiver Golden Tate — ranked No. 101 in the class
of 2007 — the group included Notre Dame’s best players. The players
came in ranked higher than their teammates, and they turned out to be
more talented than their teammates. They just couldn’t beat other teams
outside the closed system that was the Notre Dame practice field. That
speaks to player development.

In other words, the data suggest athletic director Jack Swarbrick made the correct choice when he fired Weis.

  1. StephenOfTroy - Dec 26, 2009 at 7:47 PM

    Solid article, Mr. Arnold. Well-thought-out and clearly presented.
    I agree that Weis didn’t get much out of his 3-star recruits, but I don’t think that’s the main reason the Irish didn’t win. I think they didn’t win under Weis because he failed to motivate any players to play to their full potential for 60 minutes, whether you’re talking about Golden Tate or the O-line.
    If a 3-star recruit never blossoms, can we not chalk that up to coaching failures? Moderately talented players, placed in the correct situations and buoyed by great players, play above and beyond their previously anticipated capability.
    Take the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s for example. John Paxson, Ed Nealy, B.J. Armstrong, and Steve Kerr are names you may not know, but they’re championship players. They would definitely not be championship players (and you wouldn’t know their names) had Phil Jackson not been a superlative coach (and had Michael Jordan not been a more than superlative player).
    Finally, I think it IS fair to compare ND to the top three teams over the past 5 years. Certainly, the Irish’s fan base continues to believe ND should be winning titles or at least contending for them.
    At any rate, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

  2. kejji - Dec 26, 2009 at 8:18 PM

    Slightly skewed view by the Count in my estimation…just because USC has many of the top 100 picks does not mean they will automatically win when these players are thrown in there too soon as starters..they need time to develop.
    They lost eight starters on defense last year and did not have one senior on the defensive line.
    I think Matt Hayes from the SportingNews has it right when he says: “USC didn’t lose games this fall because it is all falling apart.It lost games because-for the first time under Carroll-it started a freshman quarterback from Day 1. The Trojans also played with a completely revamped defense full of inexperience that couldn’t rely on physical ability in crunch time.
    The step back this fall has more to do with inexperience in key positions than USC losing it’s mojo, or Carroll losing top assistant coaches and not finding qualified replacements.
    The biggest improvement for most young players comes from the first season as starter to the second.USC isn’t going anywhere,people.”
    Notre Dame better hope he is wrong…..but I don’t think so.

  3. bill litke - Dec 27, 2009 at 1:27 PM

    it’s probably me, perhaps the “new math”, but if there are 100 “top” recruits and 1500 (so sue me, I rounded up by 4, did I mention I’m lazy!) overall players in all bowl games, then according to my math, that works out to 6.7%!!!…again, I probably missed something but it would be mathematically impossible for any number above the 6.7% (again, I rounded up) using the numbers described…help!!!

  4. grandpashyena - Dec 27, 2009 at 4:32 PM

    Bill, the number of recruits are not 100. The number of “top 100 recruits” playing in this years bowl games are 8.4% of the 1496 total players in all the bowl gsames. The rest of the “top 100 recruits” were not on a team that made it to a bowl game.
    So. If an Escalade leaves South Bend going west to L.A. at 57 miles per hour and a Range Rover leaves L.A.heading east to South Bend at 72 miles per hour. Where and when will they simultaniously run over robertg?
    Anyone? Anyone?

  5. Art Vandelay - Dec 27, 2009 at 7:36 PM

    Hey, nobody told me there was gonna be math on here.

  6. Jake - Dec 27, 2009 at 7:43 PM

    As fast as possible!

  7. StephenOfTroy - Dec 27, 2009 at 8:35 PM

    kejji, good post and thanks for the Hayes quote. What DO you think of the new SC offensive and defensive coordinators, by the way? Kind of hard to evaluate them this year considering the inexperienced defense, freshman QB, and key injuries on offense, IMO. (I’d be more bashful about talking about USC on this blog, but Keith Arnold made Joe McKnight’s rides to and from campus the subject of an entire post, so what the heck…)
    grandpa, do I get extra credit for knowing that the math problem cannot be solved? Robert will not be hit by any car. He’s writing his posts from the “secure undisclosed location” previously used by Dick Cheney (in other words, the “foreign language” section of Barnes & Noble in Oklahoma City — you’ll never see a soul there).

  8. kejji - Dec 28, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    So. If an Escalade leaves South Bend going west to L.A. at 57 miles per hour and a Range Rover leaves L.A.heading east to South Bend at 72 miles per hour. Where and when will they simultaniously run over robertg?
    Anyone? Anyone?****************************************************
    That math question is only workable if Tiger Woods is driving the Escalade and Joe McKnight is driving the Range Rover.

  9. kejji - Dec 28, 2009 at 8:55 AM

    Hard to venture a guess as to the coordinators for reasons you mentioned…crazy season in the Pac-10, although I must say even tho’ it was a painful year for the Men of Troy, they gained gobs of experience and will be a force to reckon with next year because of their trial-by-fire season.

  10. grandpashyena - Dec 28, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    Interesting posts about USC and their year. Folks that beat them this year better frame and cherish the win. I feel that SC will return with a vengance once they get a little more playing time and coaching under their belts. These are talented kids. No doubt about it. They are going to come back bigger, better coached and motivated to prove that this year was a fluke. The new recruiting class is the usual high quality athletes. The PAC 10 especially better watch out. USC rightly feels that it belongs at the top.

  11. grandpashyena - Dec 28, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    In a tip of the Hatlow Hat to ND. I hope the same can be said for the Irish. Though the recruit class won’t be at USC, Texas, Florida level it will be solid. The new coaching staff will have good material and should certainly not lose to any but the top teams. And who knows, in a few years the Irish can be back up in the top level of teams and can look forward to championship play. It will be interesting to see if robertg will come back around to embracing the Irish if they are at the top or has be taken his ball and gone home except to a few banshee (Irish analogy) cries from the basement of his disbarred world. Any thoughts?

  12. Jake - Dec 28, 2009 at 12:15 PM

    Robertg will credit Weiss if the Irish win and blame Kelly and the “cancer” that has invaded ND if they loose.
    He is currently preparing his next rant from the bowels of an abandoned missile silo in Montana.

  13. grandpashyena - Dec 28, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    5,4,3,2,1, blast off to Alfa Centauri. Jake, you are probably right. Fair weather friend, that robertg.
    He needs to hole up in the silo and practice “wax on, wax off”, for about twenty years.
    robertg—-Look eye, always look eye.

  14. kejji - Dec 28, 2009 at 8:17 PM

    robertg will jump on the shillelagh wagon as soon as they start winning on a regular basis..then he will take credit for the improvement because of his “behind the scenes” work.

  15. jfrie63780 - Dec 29, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    I think the actual number of top 100 recruits would be 400 not 100. You have to figure in the fresh-senior classes. So the percentage will be different than that of just one class of 100.

  16. jim fenlon - Dec 29, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    Does anyone know whether Notre Dame has a training table? Unless I’m mistaken Nebraska made a living for three decades off less than four or five star athletes who were developed nutritionally and in the weight room and they have a reputation for welcoming and developing walk-ons.

  17. Jake - Dec 29, 2009 at 2:17 PM

    Yes, there was conversation about that subject about a week or so ago. Apparently the defensive players lost considerable weight during the season. I’m not sure what that thread was. Perhaps someone else remembers.

  18. kejji - Dec 30, 2009 at 1:27 PM

    Can’t remember what thread it was, but I remember that on average the players lost 13 pounds apiece..that is unacceptable and I don’t understand how the coaches didn’t pick up on that.
    I’m sure Coach Kelly will rectify that.
    I remember reading another Irish blog awhile ago…I believe “rakes of mallow” and the administrator had a thread about the importance of good nutrition…and he commented on the fact that he would see the players on campus pigging out at various eating joints…and he was very concerned about it.

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  22. Terry - Jan 25, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    The story is told that just before the 2008 ND – BC game the BC coach asked his players “How many of you were recruited by Notre Dame?”
    Not a hand was raised.
    BC 17 ND 0
    It’s the coaching
    When Ara Parseghian came to ND in 1964 the first team he fielded was made up ENTIRELY of players he had not recruited. He came to within a few minutes of a National Championship with players that had gone 2-7 the previous year.
    It’s the coaching.
    Last season Cincinatti, with 10 new starters on defense was 12-0 and ranked as high as #5 with 2 and 3 star players.
    It’s the coaching
    Granted they got blown out by Florida but Florida had both superior players and superior coaching.
    The measure of a coach – any coach – is what he does with what he’s got. So far Kelly has done fine work with the material he’s had. Now that he has reached the big stage – can he bring the Irish back to prominence? Given his record so far I think he can, but we’ll have to wait another 7 months before we begin to find out.

  23. Terry again - Jan 25, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    StephenofTroy – Re. – your reference to Dick Cheney. One of my favorite t-shirts says “I’d rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than for a drive with Ted Kennedy.”
    Just thought you’d like to know that.

  24. Daniel Feller - Jan 25, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    I got to hand it to you. This was a great article and I agree 100% I’ve been watching ND recruiting for about three years now and in my mind I was thinking that ’09 was going to be a blow out season and we would easily get into a bcs game. I don’t care the level of the recruit, I just care the level of play. And based on his track record, I believe Brian Kelly will have these guys roaring and raring to go next season. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.

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