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Second guessing

As good as Dion Lewis looked last night, it's not fair to get on the Rutgers football staff for not offering him a scholarship. With a total limit of 85, sometimes you have to make tough decisions. The year Rutgers signed Ray Rice, they did not offer UConn's Donald Brown, another New Jersey product. This is especially striking when you consider that Lewis's only other offers were from Tulane and Miami (OH).

I'll concede that Lewis looks wonderful. We don't know how good De'Antwan Williams is yet though, and probably won't until the offensive line gets their act together.

Reading through today's media, one Wannstedt quote really stood out to me.

"His highlight tape was five plays and they were all 80-yard runs. I seriously watched five plays and told [assistant coach] Jeff Hafley to offer him," Wannstedt said after the true freshman rushed 31 times for 180 yards in Pittsburgh's 24-17 victory Friday over Rutgers at Rutgers Stadium.

That has to be an exaggeration, right? Contrast that line with a Doug Marrone quote from earlier in the year.

I have a lot of friends that are high school coaches. A good friend of mine had a tape of a kid and he was good. I called my buddy and said, ‘What do I need to do to get in with this kid?’ He said, ‘You don’t want this kid.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Doug, I could make a highlight tape and make anyone look great.’ I said, ‘Whoa.’ That’s when I took a step back and said, ‘We need to go slow and make the right decision.’

Wannstedt had to be fibbing a little, because Marrone's quote; quite rightly, makes anyone who would actually offer based on a highlight tape look like a total moron. It doesn't matter how good you look on those five plays.

Clearly though, Lewis is talented. Recruiting is important, but it's just as much about proper scouting as beating your competitors, and later on it's about developing your talent. Sometimes, a prospect may be limited, but a coach sees one thing that projects to be a good fit in a highly specialized scheme. No name schools wanted Eric Foster, and yet I could not think of a more perfect fit in Coach Schiano's defense. For Rutgers, he was a five star prospect.

I mention this possibility, because there was a recent study published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. I'm still looking for a copy of the paper, but the abstract sheds some light on exactly the level of importants fans and the media should place on recruiting rankings.

The results indicated that RIV & SCO TOTPTS and AVESTAR predicted up to 45% of the variances in the end-of-season ratings and total wins. Thus, other factors (besides recruiting rankings) must be contributing to the end-of-season ratings for the 100 NCAA football teams included in this study. In addition, up to 51% of the variance in RIV & SCO AVESTAR and TOTPTS was predicted by the previous year's end-of-season ratings or total wins, which suggests that more successful seasons tend to yield better subsequent recruiting classes.

I'm going to try to find a copy of the full paper today, and I might have more to say about it and the methodology used at a later point. Still, 45%. Meaning, recruiting matters, a lot, but other things go into the petri dish as well. That's why FSU is struggling. I can't say whether the problem is with scouting, coaching, or talent development, but it's probably combination of those, other factors, and just plain random chance. You do have to take into account that sites like Rivals, Scout, and ESPN are businesses that intend to make a profit. That certainly will influence their ratings; whether it comes to just hyping uncommitted players left on the board as signing day approaches to build more drama, or just plain overhyping the mediocre classes that teams like Notre Dame bring in.

edit: Scratch all that. I took a look at the article, and I was surprised to the extent of how limited in scope it was. It unfortunately turned out to be a dud, and I continue looking for the definitive statistical analysis of the topic.