How USC’s 2006 Class Epitomizes the Silliness of Recruiting Rankings

From this Rivals article on today’s storylines:

…but the biggest question about Florida’s class is about whether Urban Meyer and company can surpass the record-setting 2006 class signed by Pete Carroll at USC.

Record-setting seems like an odd word for that class. Let’s examine what actually happened in the true reality of real life that is not Rivals’ massive virtual snake oil distillery!

This is USC’s 2006 class. It was worth 3,018 “Rivals.com Points,” which is probably enough to get one visit from Chris Hansen expunged from your record. Florida’s 2010 class is apparently worth 2,938 points, which is probably not enough to even get a sincere appositive phrase from Todd McShay. (And, get this, it’s not even the best class of the year: USC strikes again.)

A brief aside of Florida fan impersonation: We win! Go Gator! The college football landscape is ours to sow with the molars of our enemies! Urban Meyer will win two straight championships, reveal his true form as the Mayan rain god Chaac after his third straight SEC title in December 2012, and end the world by telling everyone what Lost was about!

But, um, what happened to that USC class after Signing Day?

The five-star recruits, according to Rivals, were Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable, Vidal Hazelton, Stafon Johnson, and Taylor Mays. Bradford, Gable, and Johnson have all shared the running back role for the past four years, and shared it further with Joe McKnight for the last three; none is over 1,600 yards for his career, and they combined for just 937 yards in their senior seasons in 2009, though it should be noted that Johnson only played four games before his weightlifting accident. Hazelton is gone, a transfer to Cincinnati who caught just four touchdowns in three years at USC.

And Mays, who kept his high profile longer than the rest, earned a reputation as a big hitter who rarely channeled that into game-changing plays, forcing one fumble and making four interceptions in his USC career. Compare that to Eric Berry, who forced 16 turnovers in his three years at Tennessee.

The 13 four-star recruits disappointed similarly. Jamere Holland, Emmanuel Moody, and Antwine Perez transferred. Kenny Ashley ended up at community college. Shareece Wright was first arrested, then declared academically ineligible. Butch Lewis went from highly-rated defensive tackle recruit to unremarkable offensive tackle. David Ausberry had 44 catches in his career. The best of the four-stars may be Stanley Havili a serviceable fullback who may be better remembered by Trojans fans for his fumble against Washington than for his fine collegiate career. Tight end Anthony McCoy was underwhelming.

None of the three-star recruits is even worth mentioning.

And, in case you were interested in the team’s records from the period, as a more holistic measurement of the team than individual stats:

Best recruiting class ever would seem to be a rather silly title to affix to this crew. (There is a hypothetical contender for that title from 2006, but Florida’s class, headed by Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, and some guy who likes God, wasn’t nearly as hyped as USC’s “record-setting” haul. We’ll get to that hype later.)

It is, rather, one that was overloaded with running backs who gummed up that position, failed to provide a stopgap for the transition from Mark Sanchez to Matt Barkley, continued a string of disappointing USC wide receivers, and neglected both lines with just three recruits set to play at any of those positions.

In retrospect, the Trojans’ recruiting strategy was ill-conceived. It resulted, however intentionally or unintentionally, in a lofty Rivals ranking, but that ranking is flawed, and was highly flawed in favor of USC. Read Rivals’ description of their points:

Next to the national player rankings, recruiting fans want to know how their favorite team stacks up in the race for the recruiting national championship. Rivals100 has developed a state of the art point system for the team rankings that allows teams to be rewarded for landing the top players in a number of different criteria areas.

Teams are awarded points through a formula that rewards them for both the quantity of commitments and the quality of those players. Prospects with higher star ratings earn more points for the school to which they commit; prospects that are ranked among the top at their positions earn still more points; and prospects that are ranked on the Rivals 100 earn even more bonus points.

The team rankings will be updated once a day in the early morning hours until we move closer to signing day when team rankings will be updated on a more timely manner. So that way as the recruiting wars begin to heat up, you can see how your favorite team does in the battle for the recruiting national championship.

That points system failed in this instance because it is nearly impossible for it not to fail. It was impossible to predict that almost a third of the class would turn into collegiate running backs, certainly, but Bradford being listed as a linebacker and Gable and Mays both being listed as athletes probably helped lard USC’s numbers. I assume the “different criteria areas” also do not account for the diminishing return on bringing in multiple recruits at the same position, nor does the Rivals 100 adjust for the relative value of a wide receiver or an offensive lineman. I don’t believe that Rivals accounts for the value of a recruit who will take the second slot on the depth chart behind Tim Tebow being different from the value of a recruit who will back up Jonathan Crompton. And I have no clue how much weight, if any, the rankings give to teams who recruit to fill needs and fail to capture five-star talent as a result.

So, basically, these rankings and points are totally, fatally flawed, and calling any recruiting class the best anything before any of the players involved even practice with the team is as absurd as anything to ever combine sports and hyperbole. (Like that sentence!)

I don’t doubt that Florida’s incoming class will be good. It might even be very good. It might help Florida win more SEC and national championships. But it might not be. It could be riddled by transfers, or plagued by academic ineligibility, or racked by injuries, or submarined by a tragic clown accident, or simply disappointing on the field. It could be anything.

Right now, that’s the beauty of the entire enterprise of recruiting: Anything is possible.

That’s why I won’t believe any definitive statements about the players who comprise Florida’s until they are all finished with their careers, and why I won’t be making any before they start.

These rankings are guesses made because humans love lists, because lists get hits, and because the number of hits available in the college football realm is astonishing. Mix those lists with a little bit of hyperbole, and you get an even more attractive link to click.

If you won’t listen to me, listen to Public Enemy. Don’t believe the hype.

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6 Comments

Filed under College Football, Florida Gators

6 responses to “How USC’s 2006 Class Epitomizes the Silliness of Recruiting Rankings

  1. Pat

    “So, basically, these rankings and points are totally, fatally flawed…”

    Like ANY set of non-scientific rankings, yes?

    • Like ANY set of non-scientific rankings, yes?

      And many of the scientific ones, too. Plus, there’s pretty much no way to make this a scientific process; there are just too many variables involved.

      Recruiting rankings are for fun, but the sick thing is that they’re probably responsible for more money changing hands in a year than you or I will ever see.

  2. david

    Don’t count Vidal Hazelton out yet. He is the REAL DEAL. He was one of the main reason that the Bearcats was so successful. Brian Kelly awarded him the Scout Team MVP prior to leaving for ND. I believe Vidal was hindered by Steve Sarkisian at USC. It is one thing to have competition but the real question is: Will they allow you to compete. USC is notorious for this. Vidal’s dad did not get along with USC and was caught in the middle of a dog fight. Because the can do it with the stable of players they recruit.This kid was by far the best player at USC but wasn’t allowed to be the BALLER he is. What Pete Carroll and company tried to do was very petty. I look for Vidal having a great year and the NFL boards drafting him high in 2011. Maybe you should go take in a Cincy practice and see the TRUTH. Vidal is the REAL DEAL. 6′ 3″” sub 4.4, Runs crisp and precise routes, VERY Physical and probably the best blocker I’ve seen in college football. Lane Kiffin was the man that recruited Vidal and he knows his stuff. I think SC is in so much better hands with Lane Kiffin calling the shots. That is why USC lost so much game. USC wasn’t playing the best players. Lane Kiffin won’t stand for that. He’s all about business. Pete Carroll was a happy go lucky dude that won’t last 2 years in the NFL if shorter. Nice guy but not NFL material. Go Trojans

  3. david

    Why is Cincy ranked higher that USC in the Polls
    Why? Because USC has all the 5 Stars? Cincy has all the 2 Star players> Answer: Bad coaching decisions at SC and GREAT coaching at Cincy. I think USC will do very well this year. Kiffin will make good business decisions and not base his decision on a father disagreeing with the USC staff. Who made Pete Carroll God. Vidal’s dad wasn’t getting the result from Pete so take the fight public. Pete Carroll is not use to dealing with strong black men but he got one from Mr Hazelton. Pete hires a guy name Joe Mendes for SC. Cornerstone Consulting. Remember this name folks. http://cornerstonesports.com/jmbio.html Ask Mike Garrett if this guy is not on their payroll. Former VP for the Redskins. His job is to help Pete prevent kids from leaving for the draft and push them in the direction of certain agents. They tried this with Mark Sanchez. Didn’t work. Tried it with Ray Mauluga. Didn’t work. Who knows who else kid they tried this with. LOOK people. I hate to bust your bubble but Pete Carroll is no saint. I saw an interview with Mark Sanchez on the NFL network. They asked him what advice does he have for Pete Carroll going to the Seahawks? He replied “Stay in school” Pete laughed when they played the clip for him. It is very easy to play nice guy on TV and in the public eyes. BUT. Do you folks ever wonder what really happens behind closed doors. There was a lot about to come down at USC. I got the inside scoop. Pete got out fast and boy did he run that 40 in a sub 4.3. THIS IS AN EXCLUSIVE. STAY TUNED FOLKS

  4. On one hand, it might be completely ridiculous to rank high school players and recruiting classes but on the other, there’s the hat ceremony! So full of suspense!

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