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Recruiting in Retrospect

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The bottom line is that, with so many variables impacting football teams, prep player rankings are just one of those influences.

Recruiting lists are often a good indicator of success, but rankings are not directly transparent into the national polls. Evaluating high school players who face varying levels of competition and play in different systems aside, so many intangibles impact the recruit-to-player process. Some never make it in school, others get injured, quit or transfer. Some change positions, don't pan out or become contributing role players. Grading high school prospects is one thing; how that talent progresses at the next level is another.

A look back at past team rankings by nationally-acclaimed recruiting leaders Rivals.com and Scout.com provide some interesting results.

Redshirts not included, of course, freshmen entering college in 2007 would have just completed their senior seasons. Of the teams who finished ranked top ten nationally by the two major recruiting services in 2007, four of the top five teams on each list and the top four per Scout's compilation finished unranked after the 2010 season. Florida, Southern Cal, Tennessee and Texas went a combined 27-24 with a collective conference record of 14-19 last season. South Carolina had unprecenteded league triumphs, winning the SEC East for the first time. Auburn won the national championship, albeit with great help from two JUCO transfers. Oregon, 9th on Scout's list, had their best season in school history. In all, however, seven of the top ten teams per each network finished outside of the 20 or unranked. The results? A mixed bag. The two teams playing for it all were both ranked, along with many teams who weren't.

2007 Rankings
Rivals.com
1. Florida
2. Southern Cal
3. Tennessee
4. LSU
5. Texas
6. South Carolina
7. Auburn
8. Notre Dame
9. Georgia
10. Alabama

Scout.com
1. Florida
2. Southern Cal
3. Texas
4. Tennessee
5. LSU
6. Auburn
7. South Carolina
8. Pittsburgh
9. Oregon
10. Michigan

The 2008 recruiting classes reflect players, not redshirted, now headed into their senior seasons. Both Rivals and Scout gave Alabama top honors and many feel the Crimson Tide are national championship favorites for 2011. Ohio State and Oklahoma will carry a similar distinction; the Sooners many actually be pre-season number one. That said, Notre Dame, Florida, Miami, Georgia, Southern Cal, UCLA and Michigan may all enter the pre-season unranked. Some of those schools, dealing with coaching changes (another overwhelming factor), appear to be in rebuilding modes.

2008 Rankings
Rivals.com
1. Alabama
2. Notre Dame
3. Florida
4. Ohio State
5. Miami
6. Oklahoma
7. Georgia
8. Southern Cal
9. Florida State
10. Michigan

Scout.com
1. Alabama
2. Notre Dame
3. Miami
4. Ohio State
5. Georgia
6. Michigan
7. LSU
8. Florida State
9. Southern Cal
10. UCLA

The job of evaluating high school talent is a difficult one and both Rivals and Scout do a very good job. Teams regarded with great classes this season like Alabama, Florida State and Auburn do appear to be on the rise and gathering top talent for future contention. The bottom line is that, with so many variables impacting football teams, prep player rankings are just one of those influences. We will see what happens this National Signing Day, but neither TCU or Boise State has ever signed a top 40 class nationally. West Virginia has rarely had a nationally-ranked class, Virginia Tech hasn't been top 15 consistently and Stanford has been a fringe top 25-type team at best in recent years.

There is no question that recruiting is the catalyst for success in college football; from fans to media to coaches, however, comprehensively grading the classes before the players realize their potential is a different, and oftentimes confusing, process.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports