In what do you believe? Do you believe in ghosts, the hereafter? How about miracles, Martians or monsters such as Loch Ness or Bigfoot or your ex-spouse?
Each day we are asked to believe in ratings, be it television viewership or the numbers provided by polls relative to our beloved and believable politicians.
And for sports fans, on the first Wednesday of February, we are annually asked to believe rankings of college football recruiting classes and individual prospects provided by national scouting services.
It always seemed curious to me how someone sitting at his desk in Miami or Atlanta or Dallas or Houston could watch some film, read some reports, talk to some coaches and then arrive at the conclusion that the No. 1-rated linebacker in Ohio is somehow better than the No. 2-rated offensive guard in Georgia. In addition, we are informed on national signing day that Alabama hauled in the most impressive class in the U.S. by virtue of 2,621 points to 2,481 points for runner-up Texas.
As someone whose job it was to rank prospects just from a small state like Louisiana for more than 30 years, I can assure you that a similar task on the national level is virtually impossible. That holds true for numerically-rich states such as Texas, Florida or California.
So it is always interesting and revealing to look back at these rankings to see just how accurate they are or aren't.
Based on rating compiled by Rivals from 2007 to 2011 -- a period of five years that gives high school players ample time to mature as college contributors – here are some observations:
The best college football coach in the nation isn't Nick Saban of Alabama or Steve Spurrier of South Carolina or Urban Meyer of Ohio State or Bob Stoops of Oklahoma. It has to be Chris Peterson. Uh, who's that? Chris Peterson has coached at Boise State for six years and his squads have posted a 38-2 record in the last three seasons. Given, Boise State plays tepid opposition at best, but Boise State has won three consecutive bowl games against TCU, Utah and Arizona State and downed Oklahoma 43-42 in an epic overtime postseason game in 2007. But, in the last six years, Boise State has never once earned a recruiting rating among the nation's TOP 50 teams, and some lightweights exist in that grouping of 50.
And then there's Mack Brown, the 60-year-old coach at Texas who recently signed a contract extension through 2020 for $5.2 million annually, the highest salary in college football. If my high school math serves me correctly, the former Tulane coach receives a paycheck for $100,000 per week – almost comparable to mine. This comes on the heels of back-to-back 5-7 and 8-5 seasons for Texas, which during the past six years, has finished No. 5, No. 14, No. 5, No. 3, No. 3 and No. 2 in the national recruiting rankings in a state with arguably the best high school football in America. Since Oklahoma and Baylor smashed the Longhorns 55-17 and 48-24, respectively in 2011, maybe Mack should ink a few checks for charity.
If the services have misfired in Austin, their accuracy has been on point in Tuscaloosa. Since his hiring in 2007, Saban's recruiting classes at Alabama have earned the following marks: No. 1 in 2008, No. 1 in 2009, No. 5 in 2010, No. 1 in 2011 and No. 1 in 2012. The resulting deep talent reserves are reflected in national championships for 2009 and 2011.
As for LSU, its recruiting efforts have been assessed as follows: No. 4 in 2007, No. 11 in 2008, No. 2 in 2009, No. 6 in 2010, No. 6 in 2011 and No.17 in 2012, with the latter ranking attributed to the loss of two critical in-state players and several others who changed their minds and picked other schools. The No. 8 ranking in 2008 and the No. 17 ranking last week came on the heels of a national championship victory and a national championship appearance.
As for player rankings, Tiger fans have read headlines proclaiming that "LSU lands nation's No. 1-ranked quarterback" on three occasions since 2005. The first instance featured Ryan Perrilloux of East St. John, No. 1-ranked at his position along with another prospect named Mark Sanchez of Mission Viejo, Calif. (See New York Jets). Perrilloux was suspended as a sophomore but had one memorable effort in leading LSU past Tennessee 21-14 in the SEC championship game that proceeded a national championship victory against Ohio State. Coach Les Miles booted Perrilloux off the team in 2008. He transferred to Jacksonville State and had off the field problems there as well.
In 2009, LSU reached into Houston's Cypress Ridge High to land the top-rated, dual threat QB in the nation, Russell Shepard, who was compared favorably to former Florida and current Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin. In three seasons, Shepard has yet to display any semblance of Harvin's game-breaking ability.
And last month LSU managed to snare another top gun, Gunner Kiel of Indiana, who not only switched his final choice from LSU to Notre Dame. But the Tigers lost offensive line recruit Patrick Miller of Florida. So LSU fans were probably thrilled to sign 290-pound QB Jeremy Liggins of Oxford, Miss., if for no other reason than the fact that he is NOT listed as the nation's best at his position. Biggest perhaps but not best.
For your information, here are the top five recruiting classes, according to Rivals, for the past six years:
2007: No. 1 Florida, No. 2 USC, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 LSU, No. 5 Texas
2008: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Miami
2009: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 USC, No. 5 Texas
2010: No. 1 USC, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Auburn, No. 5 Alabama
2011: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 USC, No. 5 Georgia
2012: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Stanford.
Note: 14 of these 30 schools are from the Southeastern Conference.
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