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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

February 3, 2012 at 2:06 PM

The Pac-12 signing-day hype machine

With another football signing date now in the past, I’m reminded of a whimsical question asked years ago by George Raveling, the former basketball coach:

“Where are all the bad players?”

He was referring, of course, to the tendency of a lot of football coaches to lay it on thick when they announce their recruiting classes. You know, everybody was an All-American, this kid was really the one we wanted anyway, this class is the fastest ever signed by our school (even though analysts say it’s the fattest).

So I figured it would be worthwhile to comb through what was said by Pac-12 coaches on signing day and assess how much they pushed the hype needle. To be honest, what I discovered overall was a relatively reserved approach – enthusiastic but not over the top. But that doesn’t describe every coach.

Before that, a couple of random observations:

While the assessment of players by scouting analysts is always going to be risky business related to eventual performance, I’m seeing greater acceptance by public and media of their ratings. To be fair, that could be because the ratings are increasing scientific and credible — who knows? But when a newspaper refers to a player as the “No. 5 cornerback in the country,” that’s a pretty sweeping, silly assumption, even if it’s referencing what some scouting service believes. Can’t we at least refer to him as the No. 5-rated cornerback?

Where the ratings don’t necessarily reflect the real strength of a class is in the equal assignment of stars regardless of position. They thus minimize the impact of playmakers, especially quarterbacks. For instance, Stanford was ranked No. 43 by Scout.com in 2008, despite the five-star signing of Andrew Luck. What do you suppose Luck was worth to Stanford’s success the past two years? Forty percent of it? Fifty? More? (For more on that, Robert Griffin III of Baylor was the 12th-ranked quarterback in that class, and Baylor ranked 55th that year.)


This was the recruiting year of (a) assistants’ outsized roles in the process, and (b) social-media impact. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian took the opportunity Wednesday to call it “an absolute mess and we have to figure it out” – the interaction between recruits and fans on media like Twitter, wherein a recruit might hear from fans, who may or may not have the best interest of a school at heart. I suppose it’s too much to ask for such fans to, uh, get a life. But it’s also fair to note that Sarkisian’s practice of texting “Woof” and UCLA’s new little ploy of texting “8 Clap” (a Bruins cheer) play into the whole phenomenon.
Oh, and for those who might get too hung up on recruiting analysis: In 2008, RG3’s signing year, Scout.com’s four quarterbacks ranked immediately in front of him were Tommy Dorman, Nick Crissman, Sean Renfree and Star Jackson.
But now, to the hype:
1. David Shaw, Stanford. Indeed, it appears that the Cardinal signed a boffo class, highlighted by its offensive linemen. Just in case you weren’t convinced, Shaw told reporters, “This could be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history.” Hey, why limit it to “modern?” Why not say, “one of the best offensive line classes, going back to medieval times?”
2. Jim Mora, UCLA. “We had a choice with this first class,” Mora said. “We could have conceded it and focused all the efforts to 2013. We chose to attack it.” Oh, really? So the choice was: Get out and recruit, as 119 other Division 1 programs would do, or sit in the office with your feet up watching video of the Bruins running the Pistol offense the last few years?
3. USC. This is a school citation, not one for coach Lane Kiffin, who appears to have been circumspect about his recruits. But athletic director Pat Haden, normally a voice of reason, called the class “sensational” under the circumstances.
4. Jeff Tedford, Cal. Tedford had to admonish reporters for worrying too much about whom the Bears lost, not the ones they signed. Of offensive lineman Freddie Tagaloa, he said, “I think Freddie one day will be a first-round draft pick.” He didn’t offer an opinion on what year Tagaloa might be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
5. Todd Graham, Arizona State. “This class is one that exceeded my expectations,” Graham said. As Raveling might say, when’s the last coach who said, “This class is one that came up well short of my expectations.”?
6. Steve Sarkisian, Washington. “It brings in some very talented kids that aren’t just about filling a need, (but) that are going to have some special qualities that will elevate our football team.”
7. Mike Leach, WSU. “When you consider most of our competition had a year and a half head start, I think it’s a very impressive effort.”
8. Kyle Whittingham, Utah. “We added a bunch of good football players. The coaches did an outstanding job of putting this class together.”
9. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. “In a short recruiting period, I thought we addressed a lot of our needs, not all of them.”
10. Mike Riley, Oregon State. “I’m real excited about this group.” Ah, Mike Riley, always the voice of reason.
11. Jon Embree, Colorado. “We definitely got better.”
12. Chip Kelly, Oregon. Kelly is often the contrarian, and on this occasion, it’s certainly appreciated. “It’s where you rank at the end of the year,” he said sagely, “not at the end of today.”

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