Are 5-star recruits a must in college football?

The emphasis on recruiting suggests talent matters more than coaching. Is that true?
Can Florida coach Dan Mullen go from celebrating Peach Bowl wins to celebrating national championships even though he didn't sign a 5-star recruit? Can any coach win a title without 5-star studs? [AP Photo/John Bazemore]
Can Florida coach Dan Mullen go from celebrating Peach Bowl wins to celebrating national championships even though he didn't sign a 5-star recruit? Can any coach win a title without 5-star studs? [AP Photo/John Bazemore]
Published February 11

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?

It depends...

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.

RELATED STORY: Does the NCAA Transfer Portal include 1,400 names? It could.

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.