College football recruiting has gone from the obsession of a few well-connected alumni/boosters to an internet money-making venture. The somewhat controversial star rating system is a part of the success of sites like Rivals and Scout. But how excited should fans get when their school bags a class full of 5 and 4 star prospects?
I won't pretend to have a definitive answer. But we can take a gander at it (I'll resist calling this analysis...) from the perspective of the 2007 AP All-American list and see how it relates to recruit rankings.
There are many All-American lists - I'm choosing the AP. Just 'cause. And I'm choosing Rivals star ratings for the same reason. And I'm choosing the 2007 list because the seniors that year were recruited no earlier than 2003, one year after both Rivals and Scout started posting star ratings on the internet. So I'm giving them 2002 as a warmup year.
Also, I fully realize that All-American status has as much to do with the team surrounding an athlete and the team's season (TV exposure, etc) as anything else. However, any methodology would have similar shortcomings. This one allows me to compare a short, quick, universally referenced list without bogging down in mind-numbing and fruitless detail. It's as useful as any other methodology short of Master's thesis.
2007 AP All-Americans
QB Tim Tebow (5 Stars, #22 overall, Rivals 100)
RB Darren McFadden (5 Stars, #23 overall, Rivals 100)
RB Kevin Smith (2 Stars, unrated)
WR Michael Crabtree (4 Stars, #16 WR, Rivals 250)
WR Jordy Nelson (2 Stars, unrated)
OL Jake Long (4 Stars, #21 OT)
OL Anthony Collins (2 Stars, unrated)
OL Duke Robinson (4 Stars, #15 OT)
OL Martin O'Donnell (5 Stars, #11 overall, Rivals 100)
OL Steve Justice (3 Stars, unrated)
TE Martin Rucker (3 Stars, #28 TE)
AP Jeremy Macklin (4 Stars, #24 WR)
K Thomas Weber (2 Stars, #17 K)
DE Chris Long (4 Stars, #6 DE)
DE George Selvie (2 Stars, unrated)
DT Glenn Dorsey (4 Stars, Rivals 100)
DT Sedrick Ellis (4 Stars, Rivals 100)
LB Dan Connor (5 Stars, Rivals 100)
LB James Laurinaitis (3 Stars, #28 LB)
LB Jordan Dizon (3 Stars, #8 Fullback)
CB Aqib Talib (2 Stars, unrated)
CB Antoine Cason (3 Stars, #37 CB)
S Craig Steltz (4 Stars, #11 S)
S Jamie Silva (2 Stars, unrated)
P Kevin Huber (unrated)
Relatively few 5 Stars. And noone was in the Top 10 of their class. Four out of 24 - about 17% were 5 Stars. If you ignore the kickers, it's 4 of 22 or 18%. That's a small suprise. I expected two or three more 5 Stars in that list. If I had guessed blindly, I'd have guessed just shy of 30% of the All-Americans would've been 5 Stars. Certainly no less than 25%. So 18% is a little surprising. But, thinking further about it, there is probably not a bunch of difference between say half of the 4 Stars and most of the 5 Stars. So, what about combining 4 and 5 stars?
Four Stars - Still not Automatic. 12 of 24 All-Americans were at least 4 Stars. Half. 50%. Again, a little surprising if you say it a different way - half of the All-Americans last year were 3 Stars or less. This is a bigger statement when you consider how many recruits get 4 Stars and the difference between a mid-4 Star and a 3 Star. If you ignore the kickers, that number is 12 of 22, or 55%.
You Go, Two Star Boyeee. Perhaps most amazing is that fact that six 2-stars made the All-American list. 7 of 24 - 29%. Again, if you put the kickers aside - let's face it, kickers are rarely more than a 2-star - that's 6 of 22 or 27%. Still a very high number. How many fans these days cringe when they see a 2-star on the recruiting list?
Star ratings are a useful guide to judging potential, but not good at predicting success. Jacob Hester and Brett Helms are examples for LSU of 2 and 3 star recruits who outperformed their more highly touted teammates. And not all 5 Stars pan out. Some get injured and never recover. Some get into legal trouble. Some are head cases - do we know anyone like that? I'm sure if we try we can think of someone...
There is a bit of a pack mentality to the folks who do the ratings. I don't know this for sure, but it appears to me that internet buzz about a certain assessment will drive these sites to spend more time on the recruit and therefore increase the chances that exposure will lead to a better rating. It's not always true. But I think kids in large market cities (compared to rural areas) get better ratings and better coverage because they get more looks.
College football is about team chemistry more than individual talent - for the most part. So a bunch of talented 3 and 4 stars who work well together will outperform a few 5 star prima donnas. Again, just an opinion. But it's why I think LSU, in the end, is way better off without Ryan Perrilloux.
Best class ever? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'd say the most important part of the class will end up being team chemistry, led by the 4 and 5 stars, and not those guys themselves.