“Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them, and your foes won’t believe them.”
— John Wooden
Tomorrow is national signing day, the day when a select few high school seniors sign binding agreements to accept scholarships to play college football. For some the decision has been made and is public. Their day will only be a formality, a confirmation of the known. For other prospects tomorrow holds intrigue. Where will they sign? Will it be this school or that?
It’s an exciting day. The stars of the future (and the busts) commit to their schools. Coaches and fans know which players are theirs and can begin to pin hopes to the incoming talent. Every coach will speak highly of his class. They will say that they are excited about the players, that they have a lot of upside and that the class meets the teams needs.
Sometimes that will be true; most of the time it will not be. On signing day there are winners and losers. There are teams who really do get the players they wanted and meet the needs they perceive. Other teams miss on their most coveted prospects. They take project players in positions of dire need. They lose on signing day.
There will be spin from the coaches and fans, and it will inevitably include a bald face lie: recruiting rankings don’t matter. Major networks make a living evaluating players and singing classes. They rate them and then rate the classes has a whole and rank both. At the end of the day we will know who has signed the best class. Those who haven’t will tell us recruiting rankings don’t matter.
It may not matter if you finish 6th in recruiting instead of 5th. It matters a great deal if you finish 36th instead of 5th. Recruiting rankings are a measure talent, and talent matters. Talent is almost always the difference between winning and losing. No scheme, no coaching, no pre-game speech matters as much as talent on the field. Talent alone is not enough, but try winning without it.
It’s true that recruiting is an exercise in evaluation and projection, both of which are inexact sciences, but every year the recruiting services get better. They have more film on more prospects; they are more experienced. They know what a five star bust looks like as well as a two star diamond. They, as evaluators, are more experienced, and there are more of them. Their rankings are a more accurate representation of talent every year.
If your signing class isn’t as good as you’d hope, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of the program. Some of those players may indeed outperform expectations. Some will make big, memorable plays. Comfort yourself with that, but don’t delude yourself into thinking your class is different, your coaching staff is different. Everyone got it wrong except you. Don’t allow yourself to believe it. You know it’s not true, and you’re only setting yourself up for the disappointment that will come when your class performs as projected. At that point the loss on signing day will manifest itself into losses on the field. Recruiting rankings will matter a great deal then.