(Bump. It's long, but there's loads of great data here. Definitely worth your time.)
In light of recent events, I felt this could talk some of our fan base off the ledge. My evaluation of Michigan State's, and a few others', recruiting success, and what it might mean for the future, after the jump. (Warning: this is long. Really long.)
There's a truly spectacular piece of bloggery floating around the internet, that manages to 1. cast considerable doubt on part of the recruiting service's ranking system and 2. provide every MSU fan with a reminder of what insufferable power-douches that fans of the University of Michigan were in the early days of Rich Rod.
A sample of the very best bits (but honestly, do yourself a favor and read all of it):
"If there was ever going to be a year in which Michigan State wrested instate recruiting from Michigan, this would be it. The results are Fred Smith and, depending on who you listen to, Tyler Hoover. Though Hoover claimed a Michigan offer, he ended up ranked a three-star at both sites. If he was part of the Michigan class, he would be the at best the #18 recruit in it. This is MSU's silver medal recruit. By any standard this is an immensely disappointing class... unless you're in the media."
"Sure. The fact that this is a class on par with Northwestern's shouldn't be interpreted as an indictment of the players' quality, just their ability to play football. Which they have none of."
"Tim Brewster, meet Mark Dantonio. You're both bats. Except you can recruit, Brewster."
"Indeed, Rodriguez, who hopes to have a spring game at Ford Field and will invite every coach in the state to come to his frequent clinics and camps and finished his first recruiting class with a flourish, will have to fear Michigan State's insane short-joke-making curmudgeon. Because Jesus, man... they got a guy!
This is what you need to know about Michigan State's class: its second-best guy would be Michigan's 18th, and this year is the first time in 40 years Michigan changed coaches. Meet the new boss, little brother."
For the record, Rich Rod's recruiting class 'flourish' has, to date, produced only 2 second team all big ten players (Mike Martin and Roy Roundtree), a few average starters, a few backups and lots and lots of LULZ. (Remember the on-field exploits of 4* recruits Boubacar Cissoko, Dann O'Neil, Marcus Witherspoon, Taylor Hill, and Sam McGuffie? Of course you don't.)
Meanwhile, Michigan State's supposedly '2nd rate, not good football playing, basically justNorthwestonian, group of people that Brian Cook thinks aren't good at football' produced 3 second team all big ten players, a big ten honorable mention, a few average starters, some backups, and, well, Glenn Winston (either LULZ or WhattheFuuuu- depending on where your fandom lies).
Compared to what the article, and I can only guess bunches of other fans predicted, 2008 was, at worst, a small heads-up recruiting victory for MSU, but more importantly, foretold a dominant storyline for the next three years: Michigan was going to have flashier, higher rated recruiting classes, and Michigan State was going win more football games.
I don't mean to pick on Mr. Cook. 'This Week in Schadenfreude' always delivers the goods, and I think MgoBlog's front page content is generally top notch. And, after all, by it's very nature, making predictions is a haphazard game. He probably could have been a little less condescending and arrogant about it in the article, but I sort of figured it was all in the past, and the last three years of 'Rodriguez' brand crow eating would have made Michigan Fan a little less likely to jump the gun on THE RETURN TO GL(B)ORY. I was ready to let this go.
Well, I was wrong. Now, like a virus that just won't go away, the recent, early, success of Michigan on the recruiting trail (and the related less hyped MSU class up til this point) has brought every pre-Rich Rod era UofM jackass up out of their hidey holes and into the world singing loud, Da Drought 3 era, Lil Wayne declarations that "We Takin' Over".
It has also caused every Self-Loathing Spartan fan (never a group to miss a chance at a good meltdown) to ratchet up their 'Eeyore the donkey' brand Gloom and Doom machines to FULL POWER (Good examples litter the Red Cedar Message Board). "They got Javon Ringer's nephew!" they cry, "And two people from Farmington Hills Harrisson! And the top quarterback from the 2013 class! And Aaron Burbridge is wavering! They have twelve recruits and all those 4 stars and whatishappeningohgodwe'regonnasuckandDantonioisgonnaleaveforOSU-"
Stop. Relax. Seriously, it's okay. Because Mark Dantonio and his staff are obviously better evaluators and developers of talent than Brian Cook is, or any of the guys at Rivals, Scout, ESPN, 24/7, or whatever the next service of gurus is. For that matter, he and his staff have also proven to be near the top of the Big Ten in developing highly productive players, no matter their star rating. And I think I can prove it.
Now, this isn't the first time someone has had the idea to evaluate the recruiting services. There has been exercise after exercise wherein a columnist or blogger 'tests' the recruiting service's star ranking systems (typically using some sort of easy to research, but sort of bizarre, criteria like 1st round NFL draft picks) and inevitably comes to the conclusion that generally, five stars are 'better' (as in more likely to be drafted) than four stars, four stars are 'better' than three stars, and so on down the line.
These 'studies' are usually pretty useless, because it's clear that you can't just look at star categories 'generally' (read: nation-wide). Critics of star rankings often bring up 2 or 3 star impact performers (Joel Foreman or Greg Jones) and four or five stars 'busts' (see: LOLCassTech). The existence of these players in itself is both self evident and relatively unimportant.
But when considered as a variable of recruiting, it means that a staff pulling in highly ranked classes won't succeed if they generate higher than expected levels of 'busts' and that a staff can thrive by identifying and developing 'under rated' players. A much better analysis is to look at specific coaching staffs or programs. Is X program succeeding despite low recruiting rankings? Is Y program never living up to their recruiting hype? These are questions we can analyze and remember when we discuss recruiting and player development.
During his time at MSU, Mark Dantonio's staff have shown they are better at identifying and developing talent than the so-called experts who supposedly work 24/7, while our main Rival's Scouts have proven their inability to say the same about their, uh... ESPNWatchlist150. Kaboom.
See, here's the thing about recruiting and I think college football in general. As a talent evaluator you only have to be right about one quarter to one half the time. On your 85 man roster, if you can bring in anywhere between 22 (your starters) and 44 players (a two deep for your offense and defense) who can perform at a average to high level, you're in really good shape. Depth is important to deal with injuries and transfers, but if you bring in a twenty man recruiting class and out of that class get 5-10 starters, of whom, most make some sort of all big ten list by their senior year, and maybe one or two of those turn out to be total studs, you're going to win a lot of football games. Those other ten players in the recruiting class? Hopefully they stay four years, fill in cracks when emergencies arise, give your top forty good competition in practice, and graduate with a a valuable education.
It's when you get lower than this one quarter strike rate that you start to get in trouble and it would seem a surprisingly large amount of recruiting classes do.
All Big Ten Conference Selections (1st team, 2nd team, honorable mention) players are included if they make either the coach's or media lists. If they make both lists their higher selection is listed (a player who is on the coach's 1st team and a media's 2nd team is listed as a 1st team in my data).
This is a better sample of production and development than say, NFL draft status or all American lists because it is based on college production, is from people who watch most, if not all, the B1G teams, and it provides a large enough sample size to look at, where even programs like Indiana or Michigan can get enough representation.
It also is a relatively good list of a team's best performers in relation to the league. It gets the best handful at their position, but doesn't include too many players. For example of the 2010 MSU team the most egregious 'snubs' were probably Keshawn Martin and Le'veon Bell. Did either of them have that good of seasons at their positions? I don't think so, they were average-to-good skill position backups last year. You could have thrown them on honorable mention, but they certainly weren't more important to the Spartan's success than Cousins, Dell, Cunningham, Foreman, or Worthy, the guys who actually did make honorable mention.
The 1st, 2nd, honorable mention rankings also provides a decent 'great starter-very good starter-good starter' framework. It also builds in a elasticity for the strength of a position across the conference (for example, Kirk Cousins was probably better than just a 'good' starter last year, but the strength at the QB position across the big ten moved him down the rankings, as it should have).
As to whether we can trust coaches who may or may not be filling out these ballots themselves or members of the media to make the right choices, I don't know, all I can say is that it seems pretty accurate to me. If someone wants to deliver a devastating critique of the all conference awards as biased or untrue, to prove me wrong, go for it.
The Mark Dantonio era. This means awards from 2007-2010, but includes recruiting data from way back in 2003 to make sure that the players of Dantonio's first teams are included. Yes, this means were heading back to the early days of Johnelle and, yes, his recruiting classes are just as badly thought of as you remembered them to be.
Teams (for now):
The Good Guys (Michigan State), the best team in the conference (Ohio State), the worst team in the conference (Indiana), our oh-so optimistic rivals (Michigan), and the team that should be closest to us in talent, and thus, productive players, if we believe Rivals and Scout (Illinois). I'd do the whole conference, but, digging through recruiting sites is time consuming and not exactly my favorite way to spend an afternoon. If there is a positive reaction to this article I could do the rest of the teams some time later, or I would encourage interested fans of Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, etc. to help me out, and dig up their own team's information. I'd assume if anyone in the conference could beat Michigan State's last four years in player development, it would be Iowa or Wisconsin.
What's up with the half stars:
Recruiting star rankings were taken from Scout and Rivals. Both of a player's stars were taken, added, then divided by two. Obviously in cases where the two sites disagreed (rivals gives a 2 star, scout gives a 3), you get a 2.5* 'consensus ranking'.
This was the same methodology used in calculating the class rankings (adding scout and rivals, then dividing).
Human error is inevitable. As a result, is it possible I might have made a mistake in awarding some player a higher or lower star rating or missed a player's inclusion in the all big ten sections despite double checking? Sure is. Certain walk-on or transfer players were especially likely to create errors. I don't think any possible errors are game-breaking to my conclusions. If you, brave reader, find a mistake ("No way Michael Hoomanawanui is only a 2.5*!" I agree, that's a 5* name), just comment and I'll fix it. Thanks.
Now, onto the glorious DATA! (I hope you enjoy tables)
First, something everyone can use. These are the averaged recruiting class rankings from Scout and Rivals for each team every year since 2003, the averages for those who played in the Dantonio era (2007-2010), and overall averages from 2003-2011.
|Recruiting Classes 2003-2010|
There are a couple things to notice here. First, going by star rankings from '03-'10, you can four pretty clear tiers: 1. OSU, UofM, PSU 2. UW, Iowa, ILL, MSU 3. PU, Minn 4. NU, IU. Second, whatever you put in recruiting stars, it's impossible to miss the jump MSU has made in the last three years.
With these class rankings in mind, let's look at the success of five programs in producing above average starters over the past four years, starting with Michigan State.
|Michigan State 1st team All Big Ten|
|Greg Jones||LB||2008, 2009, 2010||3|
|# of players:||9|
|1st team average stars:||2.33|
|Michigan State 2nd Team All Big Ten|
|Chris L. Rucker||CB||2010||2.5|
|# of players:||16|
|2nd team average stars:||2.69|
|Michigan State Hon. Mention All Big Ten|
|Brian Hoyer||QB||2007, 2008||3|
|Trevor Anderson||DE||2008, 2009||2|
|Charlie Gantt||TE||2008, 2009||3.5|
|Joel Nitchman||C||2008, 2009||3|
|Chris L. Rucker||CB||2008, 2009||2.5|
|Kirk Cousins||QB||2009, 2010||3|
|Joel Foreman||G||2009, 2010||2|
|# of players:||18|
|Hon. Mention average stars:||2.53|
|Michigan 1st Team All Big Ten|
|Zoltan Mesko||P||2008, 2009||3|
|# of players:||9|
|1st team average stars:||4.17|
|Michigan 2nd Team All Big Ten|
|# of Players:||8|
|2nd team average stars:||3.81|
|Michigan Hon. Mention All Big Ten|
|Tim Jamison||DE||2007, 2008||4|
|Stephen Schilling||G||2009, 2010||5|
|# of players||11|
|Hon. Mention average stars||3.45|
|Ohio State 1st team All Big Ten|
|James Laurinaitis||LB||2007, 2008||3|
|Malcolm Jenkins||CB||2007, 2008||3|
|Justin Boren||G||2009, 2010||4.5|
|# of Players:||18|
|1st Team Average Stars:||3.89|
|Ohio State 2nd team All Big Ten|
|Marcus Freeman||LB||2007, 2008||4|
|# of Players:||9|
|2nd Team Average Stars:||3.78|
|Ohio State Hon. Mention All Big Ten|
|Brian Robiskie||WR||2007, 2008||2.5|
|# of Players:||14|
|Hon. Mention Average Stars:||3.21|
|Indiana 1st team All Big Ten|
|Tandon Doss||WR||2009, 2010||2.5|
|# of Players:||5|
|1st Team Average Stars:||1.7|
|Indiana 2nd team All Big Ten|
|# of Players:||3|
|2nd Team Average Stars:||0.67|
|Indiana Hon. Mention All Big Ten|
|Ben Chappell||QB||2009, 2010||2|
|# of Players:||13|
|Hon. Mention Average Stars:||2.04|
|Illinois 1st Team All Big Ten|
|# of Players:||9|
|1st Team Average Stars:||3.39|
|Illinois 2nd Team All Big Ten|
|Xavier Fulton||T||2007, 2008||3|
|Ryan Mcdonald||C||2007, 2008||2|
|# of Players:||8|
|2nd Team Average Stars:||2.63|
|Illinois Hon. Mention All Big Ten|
|Juice Williams||QB||2007, 2009||4|
|# of Players:||14|
|Hon. Mention Average Stars:||2.82|
What is the final tally on the last four years? Out of this group, none other then your own MSU Spartans come out on top:
|All Big Ten Selections|
|1st team ABT||2nd team ABT||Hon. Mention ABT||Total||Class ratings|
Coach D and has staff have proven themselves to have great eyes for talent, turning out the highest amount of total listed players in this study, far exceeding their comparative case Illinois and even besting Ohio State. Their program is basically worth about a 1 star boost on any kid they get in the program, compared to the rank of a kid at Ohio State or Michigan (i.e. you can reasonably expect an MSU 3-star will preform at about the level of an OSU 4-star, and above the level of a UofM 4-star). Recruiting services inaccurately rated Dantonio past recruits
Ohio State has proven their high rankings are well deserved with football success, their talent eyes can be trusted. They have the highest class rankings and by far the most 1st team players of the team surveyed, and this has shown itself in their big ten dominance. Recruiting services accurately rated Tressel's past recruits
Indiana's past staffs have also proven their low rankings are justified, and we shouldn't hand them benefit of the doubt on 2 or 3 star pick ups until the new staff proves otherwise. Recruiting services accurately rated Indiana's past recruits.
Michigan has been proven (particularly recently) emphatically bad at turning high recruiting rankings into success. It remains to be seen if Brady Hoke and staff can break this trend in light of their mediocre success elsewhere. One should be patient at best and completely dismissive at worst of predicting success based on their incoming recruiting classes. Recruiting services have inaccurately rated UofM's past recruits.
Illinois has proven to be better than expected at evaluating and developing talent, and the Zooker and staff should be cautiously trusted that they know what they're doing (I know it sounds crazy to me too). Recruiting services have slightly underrated Illinois' recruits.
Depending on the coach and program, it seems the recruiting 'experts' are only OK at their jobs and should be trusted reluctantly (though my sample and study are admittedly small. They are neither useless nor Gospel, but are probably more useless than they are Gospel.
Dealing with General Discontent
In general, there are two things floating around the MSU football fan web-o-sphere right now regarding the state of MSU/UM recruiting. The first is spin. These excuses generally focus on factors either outside of Hoke and Dantonio's control (MSU's stronger depth chart, Michigan's bigger name, facilities, and footprint, kids are from MSU/UM pipelines, kids growing up or not growing up fans of one program or the other, these kids aren't good enough/are too small for our program, Michigan gets a fresh start and is '0-0' right now) or inside of it (Dantonio should have hired 'a recruiter' instead of Samuels, Hoke and Mattison are better recruiters, Michigan's 'hard sells' or promises of PT, Dantonio and his staff are being 'outworked').
Some of those excuses are clearly false (Yes, MSU would have taken the 8 kids who committed to UM over our offers. It's silly to say they wouldn't have. No, we probably shouldn't crap on Terry Samuels after he's been on the job for a couple months, who knows how good of a 'recruiter' he is. No, not every kid grew up a UM fan).
The others are probably some combination of the truth, but still generally downplay the fact that Michigan is clearly ahead of Michigan State on the 2012 recruiting trail to date in terms of # of recruits and the head to head. Look, what they have done in Hoke's first five months or so is impressive. Give them a hand, and then remember it's May, and he hasn't played a game yet.
The second emotion floating around the web-o-sphere is panic. This article is meant to resolve that panic.
Here's my best guess at what will unfold between here and Signing Day in February: UM will continue picking up 3 and 4 stars mostly from around the midwest. They will probably finish the regular season somewhere between 5-7 and 8-4. Whatever their record, I don't expect a bunch of decommits like some Spartan fans do. They will most likely finish with a higher ranked class than MSU.
Michigan State will also continue picking up 3 and 4 star recruits, also mostly from the Midwest, but with more recruits coming from places like GA, FL, MD, NJ, and maybe TX than we're used to the past couple years. Our class average will probably be somewhere between the 3.00-3.25 average as it has been the past three years. A tough schedule probably includes somewhere between 2 and 4 losses in the regular season. And MSU should beat UM on Oct. 15.
Michigan State's past and future recruiting classes will continue to exceed expectations and we join the top tier of teams that year-in, year-out can be expected to compete for big ten championships.
As for Michigan, who knows? Maybe Hoke really is the guy to turn that program around. Or maybe he's not the next Dantonio, his sub .500 head coaching record is no mistake, and Michigan continues on their spiral to NOTRE DAME status. Michigan is decidedly To Be Determined right now and anyone thinking the decisions of 2012 recruits changes that is kidding themselves.
It's indisputable that our program is in a much clearer, and much better, position to succeed than Michigan. Additionally, we're also in a much clearer, and much better, position to succeed than most other teams in the Big Ten.
I think we as fans sometimes don't appreciate or remember this enough, but Mark Dantonio and his staff took a team that under four years of JLS went 12-20 in Big Ten Play and in four years with a lot of those previously unsuccessful JLS recruits went 20-12. He won a Big Ten Title. He has improved recruiting both according to Scout and Rivals, and according to on field performance. Now that he's got a program of his guys, with his staff, and a great supportive AD, I'm supposed to roll over to the University of Michigan's 'four stars and three stars' May Recruiting Championship? Just because some UM fans think there aren't 17-20 great football players in America willing to come to MSU, a successful program that's still on the rise? Eff. That. Noise.
It's May. It's May and I'm completely confidant that by signing day Dantonio and staff will find those players, get those players to sign, and turn them into the next generation of Big Ten Title contenders. And why not? The hardest part is already over and the future looks good from where I'm sitting.
In Brief Conclusion:
Seriously, the comment, 'This staff coaches up players', isn't some stupid meme. Coach D and his staff are really, really, good at this game. Time will tell if Brady Hoke and co are better, but til then, cut 'em some slack, huh? Thanks. I'm welcome to feedback/suggestions/criticism in the comments.