Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Rankings Game

The month of May marks the time of the off-season where the college football magazines (those that still exist, anyway) and the various writers that pen pre-season previews begin the task of the pre-season picks for college football. As such matters go, it's a fairly easy job.

College football is about continuity and there's a reason why the Alabamas and Texases of the world sit on one side of the poll and Duke and Vandy do not. And way down the street in the Patriot League, it's about continuity as well, so that's why Lafayette, Colgate and Lehigh will be at the top of the list, and Bucknell and Georgetown will be at the bottom.

But is this the proverbial chicken or the egg? Does poor recruiting lead to poor records, or does poor records lead to poor recruiting?

In many cases, it's clear. Vanderbilt does not get the depth or breadth of recruits that make their way to Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU...well, every other SEC team. Expectations for Vanderbilt cannot be anything more than measured. Notre Dame is not the program it once was because Notre Dame is not the recruiting titan it once was, either. Once upon a time, the best players in the nation wouldn't dream of turning an offer to play under the Golden Dome. Now they do, and the results followed.

But in the case of the Hoyas, the issue is a little more complicated. To the surprise of many PL fans who would assume Georgetown could never sign the kids which end up in Easton or Hamilton or the Ivy League, Georgetown has done remarkably well over the years in bigger-name recruits, and over the last decade has signed more ranked high school recruits than any PL team except Lehigh. What happened to them is another story.

For this discussion, we are referring to a form of alchemy called college football recruiting rankings, an inexact science if there ever was one. Yes, five-star recruits are judged that for a reason, and more often than not it's because they are legitimate pro material. The farther down the list you go, however, the more intangibles and educated guesses become an issue, and so it was with Georgetown's ranked recruits this decade.

  • Among the first of the ranked recruits of the 2000's was Jim Goranson, a two-star linebacker who transferred to Georgetown from the University of Illinois. At 6-2, 240, Goranson seemed to be the kind of player who could have dominated the PL as a linebacker...if he had played the position. When he arrived at GU, the Hoyas were set at LB and Goranson was moved to defensive end, where he was out of place, dropped into the two-deep for three more seasons, and never had the impact at Georgetown he could have.
  • The hopes of depth in the Georgetown offensive line were considerably bolstered with a pair of two-star recruits in Jim Elliott and Tom Hutton, three years apart in 2002 and 2005, respectively. Elliott was among Georgetown's bigger "gets" of the decade, choosing GU over Rutgers and a number of other I-A offers. In a season and a half, Elliott may have cracked the starting lineup once, and he left the team thereafter. The 6-4, 290 lb. Hutton was ranked among the top 50 linemen in America in 2005, and ended up in just two games over two seasons.
  • The highest ranked recruit of the decade was three-star QB Nick Cangelosi, the North Carolina transfer. But Cangelosi's considerable talents were caught up in the mix of a weak offensive line and Georgetown's decade long revolving door of quarterbacks, and he graduated with  unfulfilled promise. 
Of roughly 120 recruits in the Kevin Kelly era, 23 were ranked by the recruiting service, and nine with two or more stars on a 0-5 star scale--not a bad number for a program off the national college football radar. The skeptic might ask with recruits such as this, why Georgetown is sitting at 5-38?  While some have been significant contributors, none were selected all-PL or even All-American candidates, and some were names that came and went before most fans knew they were there (Arius Ford, James Cherundolo, Keion Wade).

Stars alone don't maketh the team, a team does, and Georgetown has not had enough of the success in things teams need (talent, execution, or playcalling) to be much more than a last place PL pick this fall. While the body of work of the 2010 recruiting class may not be up to the rankings of the last 2-3 years, it's still what they do on the field that matters most.

Rankings only take you so far. Remember, Michael Ononibaku didn't arrive at Georgetown an All-American, he graduated as one. 

When you're 0-11 you need the lunch-bucket guys even more, the young men who aren't afraid to do the early morning practices and the heavy lifting week after week, year after year, even if they're not the starter they expected to be. Too many of the 23 ranked recruits gave up before the job was done, and never made the impact they could have. And the job still isn't done.

The problems of the last 10 years won't be solved in one recruiting class. Georgetown is still too small on the lines, too small in the backfield, too slow to have an effective passing game. Its defense is inevitably worn down and loses the battle of attrition. Some of these issues can best be solved with a deeper recruiting base and a stronger financial aid/scholarship strategy, but those are issues for off the field.

On the field, the freshman represent a start in that proverbial right direction, but everyone has to contibute. Yes, you keep reaching for the stars, but it's not all that counts. It's ultimately a team effort that is  going to decide if Georgetown gets out of the ditch in 2010, or spins its wheels.