About Those Rankings

ATHENS – This is the time of year where recruiting rankings do seem pretty dead on – at least at Georgia.

Georgia had three players ranked in Scout.com’s top 100 in 2014, and those three players are the most impressive freshmen at practice right now. Nick Chubb (No. 53 overall), Sony Michel (No. 13 overall) and Lorenzo Carter (No. 23 overall) have all not just looked the part at Georgia’s Woodruff Practice Fields – they have people gossiping behind the scenes about just how good they might turn out to be.

Physically Chubb and Carter are obvious players to pick out on the field right now – probably Carter more only because of his height. Its funny hearing offensive players giggle about how Chubb is going to “take somebody out in the secondary when he gets there.”

They’ve seen him running all this summer. They know what you are about to know.

This isn’t supposed to be a surprise, so it always makes me a bit confused when recruiting rankings prove correct once more and yet on Signing Day in February I guarantee you 100% that a national (or all national, regional and local) columnist will talk about how recruiting is a crapshoot – and that you never know what you are going to get out of recruits.

Lie. Total lie.

Recruiting isn’t a crapshoot – its just misunderstood or even dismissed… even though it is more popular than ever.

That sort of gets to my point about recruiting rankings and ratings. I don’t know why many in the mainstream media – or the media that doesn’t cover recruiting – feels the need to point out that every prospect doesn’t live up to their billing. And therefore, that the hype surrounding recruiting rankings is some sort of folly for Internet trolls and “for men interested in 16 year-old boys.”

SMH.

As Nas so eloquently put it in 1999: “(Humans) fear what they don't understand; hate what they can't conquer.”

In other words recruiting haters, for lack of a better term, are looking to poke holes in coverage of the recruiting game whenever they can because they don’t get it or choose to dismiss it for some unknown reason. They don’t live it every day. They don’t watch prospects in the winter, summer, spring and fall. They only tune in, perhaps, for an all-star game and figure that all of the high-level prospects are prima donnas.

They are kind of the way I am with baseball. I don’t get it. But I also don’t bother watching it or complaining about it, either.

Let’s be frank: There is an argument to be made for the “prima donnas” aspect of things. But there isn’t a coherent argument against ranking players. If VH1 can make a weekend out of top ten lists – and your newspaper and or website can run a photo gallery counting down the top out-of-conference SEC games then why wouldn’t you rank college football prospects? People want to know how good the prospects are – so we list them, in order of skill and potential. We do this so that we can answer the question people want answered:

“How good a quarterback is Johnny, and is he better than our tree-killing rivals’ quarterback or our current idiot quarterback?”

And after about a half-decade (2000-2005) of some questionable results, recruiting rankings are more often right than they are wrong now. Why? Simple. We have more data to work with. That leads to more telling results. Not only are the rankings correct – they are correct sooner than you might expect. For instance:

Georgia has signed 13 Scout top 100 players in the last three recruiting classes (2011, 2012 and 2013) – nine of the 13 players started at least one game their freshman year. That’s 70% of top 100 players who signed with Georgia who started right away.

Think about that. Only four of those players didn’t start their freshman seasons – Ray Drew, Tim Kimbrough, Jonathon Taylor and Brice Ramsey. Ramsey and Kimbrough seem destined to be multi-year starters. Drew, too, will likely be a multi-year starter.

So, at least according to the actual data of top-level players over the last few years, recruiting prognosticators are pretty much dead on. Of course, anyone against something is going to make an argument against it and have ammo for that argument.

The easiest criticism right now against recruiting prognosticators is that Todd Gurley was a four-star player, and not a five-star player. Being considered the No. 107 prospect in the country is a misdiagnosis of Gurley’s potential, but it’s hardly a huge miss. Guys like Keith Marshall, South Carolina’s Mike Davis and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon were ranked in front of Gurley in 2012. Gurley is better than those three, but those guys are hardly busts.

My point is not to get down in the weeds worrying about if or why you got one wrong when you are getting what amounts to be 70-plus percent right. Winning 70% of the time in sports is a heck of a percentage.