In the wake of last week’s National Signing Day, we asked our Roundtable team to explore the emphasis on recruiting. What stands as most important in college football: signing 5-Star recruits or having a system that maximizes the potential of less highly-touted talent?
Matt Baker, State colleges reporter @MattBakerTBTimes: If the program’s goal is to be pretty good, then maximizing lesser talent is fine. Dan Mullen’s lowest rated recruiting class at Mississippi State formed the backbone of a team that went to No. 1 in the country. But if you want to make the playoff, you need top talent. Blue-chip recruits consistently make up at least half the roster of teams that win the national title. Clemson won it all with a five-star left tackle protecting a five-star quarterback who was throwing to a five-star receiver while a five-star defensive tackle dominated the other side of the ball. That’s not a coincidence.
Ask Gene Chizik what’s more important
Joey Knight, USF and colleges reporter @TBTimes_Bulls: During my years at the grassroots level, I developed great respect for the coaches whose respective systems and philosophies maximized modest talent. But at the collegiate level, I concede it’s mostly about the stars. In this millennium alone, talent-rich teams have won national titles (i.e. Miami in 2001, Auburn in 2010) with coaches who likely never will reach the hall of fame without a ticket. And when you combine talent with a proven system, well, you’ve got Clemson and ‘Bama.
Got to have the horses
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney do a great job getting the most of the talent on their team, but they’re loaded. I’d rather muddle along with the high end than be a miracle worker. Talent is everything. Those stars mean something, even with all the overwrought ratings. It’s a mathematical certainty. Talent wins.
Transfer portal changes the landscape
Bob Putnam, prep sports writer @BobbyHomeTeam: The old adage is true. It’s not about the X’s and O’s. It’s about the Jimmys and Joes. Five star athletes are needed, no doubt, to contend for a national title. But with the NCAA’s transfer portal now in place, stockpiling elite recruits can be risky. A big-time prospect that is not starting is more likely to find playing time elsewhere. Miami took advantage of the system, landing a bunch of transfers in this class to give a young team with just seven seniors much-needed experience on the roster, not to mention balancing out its recruiting classes for years to come. Now, a program with an energetic coach who can develop talent can acquire it, too, via transfers to become a championship contender.
Clear eyes, full hearts
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor @hoop4you: Too many times, I’ve seen college football game turn on the success of a single player. As Santana Moss so prophetically said, big time players make big time plays in big time games. But I still want to believe in that magic of no one being bigger than the team. I want to embrace the old school concept that a coach can create a harmony that triumphs over talent. Mabye I’ve been watching too many episodes of Friday Night Lights, but Gators coach Dan Mullen just may prove — again —that good players with great coaching and unmatched chemistry can triumph over rosters stocked with 5-star studs.
You don’t get one without the other
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: If I’m picking one, and since answering “both” isn’t supposed to be an option, I’m taking a coach with a proven system. That’s what Nick Saban was before he started signing the greatest class ever every February. Remember when Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss signed all those five-star recruits? How did that work out? And those Ole Miss classes were outliers for several reasons, including this: The proven track record of maximizing talent is what attracts the top recruits.