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The Recruiting End Game

Notre Dame's number one ranked recruiting class is holding pretty solid heading into the final stretch run of recruiting with no fewer than 16 Notre Dame commitments heading to All-Star games this week.

The recruiting focus has turned to wide out with most of the speculation around five star wide receiver Deion Walker and four star wide receiver/quarterback Gerrell Robinson. Both wide receivers have big bodies with very good athleticism. The 6'4" Robinson has the more physically imposing frame of the two and has already won the admiration of incoming Notre Dame quarterback recruit Dayne Crist. Crist obviously sees a great player in Robinson who's also considering Oregon and Arizona State. But Walker looks like he can be the down field threat Notre Dame has been missing. Listed between 6'3" and 6'4" he's a very fluid player with surprisingly quick feet, awareness and sure hands. If his speed is legitimate, there's no doubt Walker has the tools to be an NFL player down the road. At this point, he’s only lacking in weight room time and technique – those things can be fixed quickly. Either would be a steal to match up with Floyd (whom I call a plug and play talent) and Goodman. Still, the Notre Dame wide receiver position is lacking in talent, depth and experience and given where Weis is headed with Crist and Clausen – we need as many wide receivers as we can get. I’m expecting air-Weis in the next four years, but we need wide receivers to make that happen.

Thinking about a more wide-open offense, one kid I would love to see ND nail down is running back Cyrus Gray out of Texas. Like Walker, Gray brings the breakaway threat that Notre Dame’s been lacking for years at the running back position. A Cyrus Gray opens up the field, because you just can’t let him break the first lines of defense. I don’t see any running back on Notre Dame’s roster now that’s capable of doing that. Allen’s top end speed is questionable, Hughes obviously doesn’t have that extra gear and Aldridge hasn’t fully recovered from his High School knee injury. IMO, what ND needs is a back who can play in space (a Reggie Bush type) and exploit the more wide open game that Weis is moving to. Gray is the only one we’re recruiting who fits that profile. He’s a game changer.

Regardless, Notre Dame is poised to pull in its best back to back classes since the late 80s and has secured the talent to play with anyone in the country by 2009.

Next week I’m going to break down the recruits by position and also look at the obstacles Notre Dame faces to becoming a contender in 2008.

The Program

Now that this season is behind us, our focus is thankfully turning from the funhouse rear view mirror. As you can see on the left, Notre Dame has been absurdly behind the top programs in the country the last three years in upper class top talent.

But next year the gap begins to close rapidly. For the first time since Bob Davie, Notre Dame will field as many upper class 4 and 5 star players as Michigan. And while ND is still considerably behind Florida and USC, the slope of the talent line in South Bend is rising faster than anywhere else in the country -- which is both hopeful and hurtful. Hurtful because it's painful to see just how far Notre Dame has fallen compare to programs like Michigan, but hopeful in that Notre Dame will pass Michigan in 2009 and rise to the same overall level of talent that Texas had when it won its National Championship. When this year's incoming number one rated recruiting class reaches their junior year, Notre Dame will be at the "program level" -- where it's upper classes are full of top talent without giant holes or gaps.

What are the characteristics of a "program level" contender?

1 - Strong junior, senior and 5th year talent
2 - High (5-star) potential in the sophomore and freshmen classes
3 - Position depth

A "program level" contender has one of two things at most of their starting spots: experience or talent -- and you need both at (and this is a guestimate) 80% of your positions on the field if you're going to contend.

This ensures that if you have to play young players, it's because you can't keep them off the field. It also ensures that you have competition every practice. Sam Young is a great talent, but he's been thrust into the starting role without anyone to push him or mentor him. It's heartening to hear that he's one of the younger players who's taking charge, because he's been a symptom of why Notre Dame hasn't reached program status. There is simply no one to challenge him or push him to be better. Auburn started true freshman on their Offensive line, but it was because they actually beat out senior talent. Building enough depth to create internal competition is one of the key features of a program contender.

Fans are often under the illusion that star ratings=ability to contribute at a championship level immediately. That's not the case. Very few of even five star players are ready to play at a championship level on a full time basis until their junior years. You have to giggle a bit when you hear fans pronounce that "player X or Y isn't as good as we hoped" and the sample pool is a few games of his freshman or sophomore year. There is simply no way you (rationally) can label a true freshman or sophomore a bust early in their careers.

Think about Ryan Grant's performance at Green Bay this season. He's STILL developing and it helps to understand that we're talking about developing players here, which is why seniority, depth and talent are all necessary. Most 5-star recruits DON'T pan out, so you need all three elements to compete on a year in year out basis. All teams are going to have holes and weaknesses, but the best have surrounded their weaknesses with strengths.

Three straight years of top level recruiting will put Notre Dame back in program contention by 2009 and (get those shades) because this year's recruiting class might be the strongest in recent Notre Dame history, the expectations for 2009 and beyond should be nothing less than NC contention every year.

So there's a lot to look forward to, but I don't think we're going to get there without some pain along the way over this next year -- in the next Rock Report I'm going to take a look at pain points for 2008.

BCS Lessons in Greed

First and foremost, no one's going to watch this slate of bowls this year. They're all but unwatchable. There are two games that look palatable. But more importantly, the process is so rigged by coaches juicing the rankings and BCS bullying, there's little probability of fairness. The "system" is collapsing on itself.

There are some endemic problems with the BCS beginning with purpose. The BCS is an affiliation between super conferences to consolidate power. It wasn't formed to produce a true champion, it was formed to stave off a playoff. It's actually the third iteration of Bowl Alliances all formed with intention of saving the bowl system.

Right now the BCS super conferences control almost all of the power and most of the money. For the most part, it's been okay, but now two phenomenons are rigging the system: lack of accountability for scheduling and coach's favoritism.

Teams are scheduling their way into the BCS and there's no accountability for cream puff slates.

Ohio State should be banned for their non-conference fluff, not rewarded:

09/01 YSU W 38-6
09/08 Akron W 20-2
09/15 at Washington W 33-14
10/13 Kent St W 48-3
Does anyone truly think they'd have a one loss record with Florida's schedule?

Don't even try with Kansas and Mangini, they're a joke this year. They played the 88th ranked schedule in the country and not one top team until they met Missouri and lost (who was beaten soundly by Oklahoma.)

The idea that Hawaii would be undefeated with Notre Dame's schedule is ludicrous as is the idea that being unbeaten makes you somehow more deserving -- it only works when there is relative parity in scheduling.

On to the coaches. It's quite clear that Illinois was voted up higher by Big Ten coaches, but that wasn't the only shenanigans going on.

ndmagi broke down the latest coach voting this way on Cartier Field:

Since this year presented as much jockeying in the last poll as there has ever been (because of the large number of one and two loss teams that were ranked in the top 5 at some point this year), I thought it could be interesting to see which coaches deviated the most from their peers. I used the method Wes Colley developed and applied it to compare each coach's ballot with the final tallied coach's poll.

http://www.colleyrankings.com/matrate.pdf (Section 8, "Performance")

Below are the teams, ranked from "eyebrow raising" at the top to "conformist" on the bottom. The score indicates the percentage deviation between the tallied vote and ballot (a score of 1.1 can be interpreted that the ballot and tallied vote were within 10% of each other).

Interesting results: Of the two national championship teams, Miles (ranked #8 with a 1.29) was significantly more bold than Tressel (ranked #51 with a 1.11). Charlie Weis came in at #44 out of 60 with a 1.14. Bob Stoops and Bobby Bowden are the trendsetters of the major college football coaches with a 1.36 and 1.34, respectively, landing them at the #2 and #3 spots. But, they seem to disagree on something . . . the ranking of Oklahoma. Bowden rated Oklahoma the lowest of all college coaches (#10) while Stoops rated it the highest of all college coaches (#1).

Surprisingly, BigN buddies Bill Lynch (Indiana), Joe Tiller, Jim Tressel, and Ron Zook vote conservatively with 1.08, 1.11, 1.12, and 1.13. I wonder if their horse didn't need any help...

Rank Score Name, School

1 1.5187 Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic
2 1.36 Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
3 1.349 Bobby Bowden, Florida State
4 1.3475 Joe Glenn, Wyoming
5 1.3447 Mumme, New Mexico State
6 1.3286 Mario Cristobal, Florida International
7 1.3127 Pat Hill, Fresno State
8 1.2922 Les Miles, LSU
9 1.2892 Butch Davis, North Carolina
10 1.2835 Bill Doba, Washington State
11 1.2761 Bill Callahan, Nebraska
12 1.2756 Dan Hawkins, Colorado
13 1.269 Tyrone Willingham, Washington
14 1.2566 Art Briles, Houston
15 1.2522 Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
16 1.2446 Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
17 1.2441 Chris Petersen, Boise State
18 1.2432 Tommy Tuberville, Auburn
19 1.2423 Rocky Long, New Mexico
20 1.2323 Mike Leach, Texas Tech

Certainly helpful, but its the individual screw job stories that really stand out in here -- with coaches trying to influence the final BCS picks. TSN highlighted ten others.

1. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer voted his own team No. 2 and LSU No. 1. Now
that's a man with principles.

2. Talk about principles (or at least conference loyalty): Lloyd Carr voted for Ohio State to be No. 1.

3. Sooners coach Bob Stoops voted Oklahoma No. 1 (defensible) but voted LSU No. 6 (not so defensible).

4. Hawaii got a No. 1 vote (from Hal Mumme) and a No. 22 vote (from Dennis Franchione). Coach Fran, why so much doubt?

5. Ohio State's lowest vote (No. 6) came from Mario Cristobal of Florida
International. He picked LSU No. 1

6. Most coaches ranked Missouri above Kansas, but Howard Schnellenberger of Florida Atlantic voted Kansas No. 2 and Missouri No. 4. The man believes in Ws and Ls ... he ranked Ohio State No. 1 and Hawaii No. 3.

7. Virginia Tech's lowest ranking (No. 10) came from Fresno State's Pat Hill.

8. No. 25 South Florida's highest rank came from Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

9. Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Georgia's Mark Richt both pegged Illinois at No. 13.

10. Colorado State's Sonny Lubick and Eastern Michigan's Jeff Genyk got the farthest in matching the final poll ... each got the top six picks "right". But Oregon
State's Mike Riley seemed to come closest to matching the consensus, top to

Note that Tyrone Willingham didn't even list Boston College. Snicker. Here's another look at the voting from the Courier Journal:
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops voted his team No. 1 -- and bumped Louisiana State
down to sixth, behind Virginia Tech, a team the Tigers beat by 41. Mike Bellotti of Oregon, who got into a major dustup with Oklahoma last season because of a controversial overtime game, negated Stoops' ballot by placing Ohio State first, LSU second and the Sooners eighth. Stoops and Bellotti should be sent to their rooms and have their ballots taken away for five years. Frank Beamer put LSU first, Virginia Tech second, Oklahoma third and Ohio State fourth. Stunning disclosure: Beamer coaches Virginia Tech.
On top of these two factors, you then have the bowls which pick based on conference loyalty, draw and match up.

When pundits talk about BCS fairness, you want to laugh, cry or punch a wall. There is no fairness or altruistic reasoning in this third incarnation of the bowl greed. It's about promoting yourself, protecting your own and making money.

What a wonderful lesson to teach the next leaders of the country. Or maybe that's exactly the lesson they need to learn.

This is the first year I may not watch a game on New Year's Day.