Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thoughts on MSU's 2012 recruiting class

Toward the end of Mark Dantonio's presentation to the media about his newest recruits yesterday, there was a line that caught my attention.

"Right now, based on our record, I would say we have very, very few misses as recruiters here."

The line was in response to a question about the decision to offer every recruit four-year scholarships, something the Big Ten was pushing this year. But it also was a reflection of signing day as a whole. MSU never has elite recruiting classes, but they've won 11 games in back-to-back seasons led by average recruits and have become one of the top programs in the Big Ten.

(For video of the entire presser, click here)

But if they don't bring in top talent, how can they win?

This isn't going to turn into one of those "Player X is good and he only had three stars" arguments. Recruiting obviously is vital to success. There's a reason the SEC has won six straight national championships: they have the best players. But they also have the best coaches. Outside of the top 100 players or so, you have to trust coaches' ability to evaluate talent more than the analysts, as Joe Rexrode put it.

You can be successful without pulling in the top players every year. It's about finding players that fit and being able to develop them, and Dantonio and the MSU coaches have proven they can do it.

Wisconsin's class had 12 players, including some two-star recruits. But no one questions the Badgers' program. Dantonio has earned the same respect at MSU. The Spartans brought in 18 freshmen, plus transfer DeAnthony Arnett. Not a big number, but a solid class nonetheless.

We know recruiting is called "an inexact science." But it is a science, or at least a math. MSU lost its top three wide receivers from this past season, so they brought in five receivers in this class. Dantonio said the secondary that was recruited in this class could be the best he's ever had — led by Demetrious Cox, whom Dantonio said could compete in an NFL camp already. It's about filling the holes.

From @MSU_Football
Only two true freshmen played last season for MSU: linebacker Taiwan Jones and long-snapper Matt Giampapa — both mostly played on special teams and Giampapa was a walk-on. Dantonio has stocked this team with a lot of depth. There isn't a need to plug in some freshmen somewhere.

But because this is the only Big Ten state with two good football programs, MSU fans are trying to defend this class against Michigan's, which is one of the best in the nation. Again, Wisconsin doesn't have to deal with that. Michigan always has a better class, so what's different? But so goes a rivalry I guess.

The Wolverines had 25 players in their 2012 class. Numbers always factor into irrelevant class rankings. Eight of the top 10 classes according to Rivals had at least 22 recruits, and one of those two had scholarship limits (USC). A CBS recruiting analyst had his own theory as to how the rankings are determined.

"What I notice is that Internet sites have to make money and they make that money with the big programs, the Notre Dames, Florida States, Texases. So if a guy goes there, you never see those schools sign a two-star player do you? Well, you do because they see a lot of guys transfer that actually can’t play at all."

Including this class, Alabama has signed 103 players to national letters of intent in the last four years. The NCAA allows 85 scholarships. So how does that happen? Attrition: Something MSU hasn't had in Dantonio's time at MSU. Some players choose to leave Alabama when they're at the bottom of the depth chart. Some don't have a choice.

So it's not a surprise that Nick Saban didn't answer if he had given out multi-year scholarships. MSU was one of several Big Ten schools that did. But that didn't stop Rivals from awarding the Tide "another national recruiting title."

The only thing missing from MSU's class is defensive linemen. The Spartans lost their top three defensive tackles from this last year. However, MSU had seven defensive linemen in last year's class, all of whom redshirted or had to sit out due to transfer rules. So it shouldn't be that much of a worry for Spartan fans.

From @MSU_Football
I'm not going to break down each individual player and tell you what they can bring, because no one knows what they will bring. I'll tell you that MSU did a great job of filling holes, which is the most important thing. No more running backs playing defensive back (since Jeremy Langford is back to offense now).

When you look at MSU's roster, there isn't a position lacking depth. MSU has recruited to every position over the past few seasons, kept those players and developed them. This program isn't going anywhere, folks. You already know Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, Le'Veon Bell and Jerel Worthy weren't highly-recruited. But they came into a solid program, and developed into players that have professional futures. That's how it's supposed to go: You're supposed to get better in college.

Yes, Urban Meyer has changed how recruiting works in the Big Ten with his anything-goes, SEC attitude. That's fine. The Big Ten couldn't stay in its bubble forever. But Jim Tressel got whoever he wanted from Ohio anyway. Meyer can't do much better, in all honesty. Yes, the recruiting grounds in the Midwest aren't what they used to be, but MSU has five players from Georgia and Florida in its last two classes. MSU isn't a national program, but it's not relying on the state of Michigan for all its recruits.

Everyone wants to rank recruiting classes. But how can you rank something that hasn't happened yet? I'd like to see someone rank outgoing senior classes. Who cares how they were rated when they came in? How much did they produce when they were there — including transfers? That would say a lot more about a program. MSU just graduated one of its most decorated classes since the 1960s. And success for future senior classes is on the way.

(P.S. Hipster Dantonio is just fine with his class.)


  1. Good stuff Chris! This senior class that won 11 games back to back was ranked 8th in the B10 and mocked by some. Talent eval and development will trump how many five sided figures some guy who watches youtube videos of a kid puts next to a recruits name.

  2. Looking at rankings is misleading since they are heavily influenced by the numbers of players. A better approach is looking at how the teams stack up based on average star ratings which gives a better insight into the athleticism of the players being brought in for the coaches to develop. Under that scenario MSU's recent class looks a lot better, ranking 3rd in the big ten and 21st in the nation according to Scout.

  3. "I'd like to see someone rank outgoing senior classes."

    They do. It's called wins and losses.