The three star conundrum


(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.

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.