In the history of college football, if we were to look up the most consistent and successful football programs, most of them have been true masters at recruiting top tier student athletes.
If you follow college football at all, you probably spend some amount of time looking at recruiting developments for your favorite team. While recruiting is not the most important factor to the success of a football program, it IS the FIRST most important step in terms of establishing winning consistency and long-term program success on the gridiron. The SECOND most important step, and one that that gets rather short shrift by Scout.com and Rivals.com and other sports media outlets, is the retention and development of recruits.
What makes college football recruiting so damn interesting (and worrying) is that fans consider it to be some kind of compass for the direction in which their favorite college football program appears to be headed. But we all know that getting kids signed is only the prologue.
Signing great classes is not the "be all and end all" of college football success:
|2002||19||Lloyd Carr||10-3-0||3||Jim Tressel||14-0-0|
|2003||8||Lloyd Carr||10-3-0||25||Jim Tressel||11-2-0|
|2004||5||Lloyd Carr||9-3-0||11||Jim Tressel||8-4-0|
|2005||2||Lloyd Carr||7-5-0||7||Jim Tressel||10-2-0|
|2006||8||Lloyd Carr||11-2-0||11||Jim Tressel||12-1-0|
|2007||10||Lloyd Carr||9-4-0||16||Jim Tressel||11-2-0|
Good coaching, creative offensive schemes and defensive strategy, superior team conditioning, and overall team chemistry are extremely important factors to consider as well.
But how many times have we witnessed college football fans high-fiving and backslapping each other in self-congratulation whenever their favorite college football team lands a Top 25, Top 10 or even Top 5 ranked recruiting class?
It's even worse when their favorite team somehow recruited a better class than their rivals.
Unfortunately, one or even two good recruiting classes does not a conference champion (or national champion) make.
Fans who celebrate prematurely like this really are “counting their chickens before they even hatch”.
In early May of this year, I explored just one of Lloyd Carr’s recruiting misadventures and it’s aftermath: The 2006 football class signees.
I decided to take a broader look at this issue since 2005. My question is whether we might be able learn something new from recent years Michigan football recruiting. Are we right to be doing cartwheels in the living room whenever Michigan manages to sign a Top 10 recruiting class? Are we right to hold head in hands whenever a recruit leaves or is dismissed from the team?
What I decided to do was capture Michigan’s recruiting classes, player position ranking and player rating from Scout.com since 2005. I counted up the number of signees (scholarships) each year. I calculated the average player position ranking and average player rating for each class (according to Scout.com). I then factored in the impact of attrition, including career-ending injuries, departures, transfers and dismissals. This is fundamentally an exercise in player subtraction from each class. While the attrition losses themselves have been enlightening to view as they occur over extended periods of time (not always during the year signed), I wanted to see what the impact would be of such player losses in terms of Michigan’s “average player position ranking” and “average player rating” to uncover whether the remaining players strengthened or weakened the class recruiting scores. If anything, the main impact should be a negative one in terms of available players to stack the depth chart.
Here's a summary:
2005 Michigan Recruiting Class
Michigan signed 23 players in February 2006. Eleven (11) of these (50%) would eventually leave or be dismissed from the Michigan team under Lloyd Carr. This was one of the most disasterous recruiting classes in recent history for the Wolverines. Each departure had it’s own sad story. Some of the key casualties to Michigan’s future rosters included: DT Marques Slocum (academic), OL Cory Zirbel (injury), OL Justin Schifano, DT James McKinney, QB/WR Antonio Bass (injury), QB Jason Forcier (transfer to UCLA), Chris LB McLaurin, DB Chris Richards, TB Mister Simpson, DE Eugene Germany and DB Johnny Sears. Many of these players signed in February 2006 and enrolled in September 2006 and, assuming no redshirt, might have been seniors this fall.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 17th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.7 stars.
2006 Michigan Recruiting Class
Michigan signed only 19 players this time. Overall UM roster casualties were lowered to only 4: OL Justin Boren (transfer to OSU), LB Cobrani Mixon (transfer to Kent State), LB Quintin Patilla (transfer to GVSU), DE Quintin Woods (transfer to Kansas). Assuming no redshirt, these players would have been juniors in 2009. The total class yield (so far) is 15 players.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 27th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.5 stars.
2007 Michigan Recruiting Class
Coming off an 11-2 season, Michigan landed 20 signees and the 10th best recruiting class in the land. However, 20% of them would go eventually go bye-bye, including the No. 1 QB recruit in the country Ryan Mallett (transfer to Arkansas), Toney Clemons (transfer to Colorado), Zion Babb, Artis Chambers and Avery Horn. Once again UM’s recruiting yield would be 15 players. A good number of these remaining players are now sophomores on the 2009 Michigan roster.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 20th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.7 stars.
2008 Michigan Recruiting Class
Michigan finished 9-4 in what would be Lloyd Carr’s final year. Michigan embarrassed Gary Danielson, Kirk Herbstreit and Florida by winning a bowl game over a great SEC team. Michigan had just named Rich Rodriguez as the new head coach of the team. Rodriguez secured most of Carr’s commits and nabbed a few more for a big class of 24 players. Michigan’s 2008 class was ranked 6th in the land by Scout.com. Soon we would see attrition rear it’s ugly head yet again as 4 high rated players would depart the Michigan team: 5-star tailback Sam McGuffie (transfer to Rice), OL Kurt Wermers (left team), OL Dann O’Neill (left team), Marcus Witherspoon (transfer to Rutgers). This leaves a total yield of 20 players.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 36th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.6 stars.
2009 Michigan Recruiting Class
This would be the first full class brought in by Rodriguez. It followed UM’s first losing in football season since 1967. Scout.com gave Rodriguez's solo recruiting endeavors a lashing in the rankings ranking Michigan's haul 14th in the country. Rivals.com was more generous ranking it 8th. Rodriguez signed another big class of 22 players. The attrition numbers for this class are not yet known.
The average player position ranking for this class is 34th.
The average star rating per player is 3.4 stars.
Overall, the impact of class attrition does not always negatively impact the average player position ranking or average player rating (# of stars)for the remaining players of the class after the attrition takes place.
The main damage that attrition causes(aside from shaming the coach and the school's reputation through lazy journalism and media sensationalism) is as we expected. It completely screws up a football team’s future depth chart. Michigan has unfortunately served as a textbook example of this, but other schools must surely suffer under the same phenomenon.
Just look at the total loss of recruits since 2005 and then consider what this might mean for the 2009 team, particularly given the defensive positions of need like DE, DT, LB and the secondary:
|No.||Name||Pos||National Rank||National Rating||Result||Class of|
|1||Cory Zirbel||OL||20||4||Career ending injury prior to 2008 season||2005|
|1||Justin Schifano||OL||16||4||Gave up football, left team||2005|
|1||James McKinney||DT||11||4||Medical Release, Transferred to Louisville||2005|
|1||Antonio Bass||WR||9||4||Career ending knee injury||2005|
|1||Jason Forcier||QB||8||4||Transferred to Stanford/UCLA||2005|
|1||Chris McLaurin||LB||58||3||Left team, medical reasons||2005|
|1||Chris Richards||CB||56||3||Kicked off team||2005|
|1||Mister Simpson||RB||53||3||Transferred to Cincinatti||2005|
|1||Eugene Germany||DE||33||3||Left team, transferred to Ariz. State||2005|
|1||Johnny Sears||CB||31||3||Kicked off team in 2007||2005|
|1||Justin Boren||OL||7||5||Transfer to OSU||2006|
|1||Cobrani Mixon||LB||30||4||Kent State||2006|
|1||Quintin Woods||DE||NR||2||Left team. Plays for Kansas||2006|
|1||Ryan Mallett||QB||5||2||Transfer to Arkansas 2008||2007|
|1||Toney Clemons||WR||4||10||Transfer to Colorado 2009||2007|
|1||Zion Babb||WR||4||55||Left team 2009||2007|
|1||Artis Chambers||FS||3||34||Left team 2009||2007|
|1||Avery Horn||TB||3||77||Lef team 2009||2007|
|1||Steve Threet||QB||4||9||Transfer to Arizona State 2009||2007|
|1||Sam McGuffie||RB||5||7||Transfer to Rice||2008|
|1||Kurt Wermers||OL||4||11||Left team Spring 2009||2008|
|1||Dann O'Neill||OL||4||14||Left Spring 2009||2008|
|1||Marcus Witherspoon||LB||4||14||Transfer to Rutgers||2008|
Assuming fewer recruit losses over this period, Michigan would almost certainly have far fewer worries than it currently does in the 2 and 3 deep for a number of key positions. Between 2005 and 2008 (so far) for ever 4 players Michigan successfully recruited, 1 player would "escape". This is about 6 players per year during this period.
This can only leave fans wondering all that could have been had Michigan just managed to retain even a few of these highly rated recruits.
Nevertheless, celebrating a strong, Top 10 recruiting class appears to be a rational response despite eventual player departures, as long as no consistent pattern develops that would resemble the train wreck that was Michigan’s 2005 recruiting class.