Recruiting matters, but not in the rankings — in the final result

It used to be — back before Al Gore invented the InterWeb — no one knew much about the incoming football players each year. Now, we know so much about each and every individual, it has almost reached the level where you know a player’s favorite breakfast cereal.

Is this ridiculous? Yes. Does it mean I am going to follow recruiting less? Eh, no. Do fans need to place a huge weight on the commitment of an 18-year-old athlete? Absolutely not.

But with the decommitment of Se’Von Pittman this week, it looked a lot like fans care too much about the choice of a high schooler — as if it would make or break the future of the Michigan State football program. News flash: It wouldn’t.

The current state of the Spartans has been established by players who make the most of their abilities with coaches who helped them do so. And it will continue to be this way.

Take a look at the players who helped raise Michigan State to the top of the Big Ten the past two years, and established the Spartans as a force to be reckoned with once again.

Here are the ratings Rivals.com gave to each 2011 Michigan State starter as a recruit:

Offense — Kirk Cousins 2-star (’07), Le’Veon Bell 2-star (’10), B.J. Cunningham 2-star (’07), Keshawn Martin 3-star (’08), Keith Nichol 4-star (’07-Oklahoma), Brian Linthicum 3-star (’08-Clemson),  Dan France 3-star (’09), Joel Foreman 2-star (’07), Travis Jackson 3-star (’10), Chris McDonald 3-star (’08), Fou Fonoti 3-star (’11-JC)

Defense — Will Gholston 5-star (’10), Kevin Pickelman 2-star (’07), Jerel Worthy 3-star (’08), Marcus Rush 3-star (’10), Denicos Allen 3-star (’09), Max Bullough 4-star (’10), Chris Norman 4-star (’09), Darqueze Dennard 2-star (’10), Trenton Robinson 2-star (’08), Isaiah Lewis 4-star (’10), Johnny Adams 3-star (’08)

A few of things jump out at me. First, the highest-rated recruit on offense is Nichol, who of course was a 4-star quarterback not wide receiver. Second, Pickelman was a 2-star tight end prospect and turned into a solid defensive tackle.

Next, other than Gholston, Bullough, Norman and Lewis, none of the 22 starters were considered highly sought after recruits at their positions.

But more importantly, including those four, eight of the 22 starters saw substantial playing time as a true freshmen (Bell, Martin, Dennard, Adams). Linthicum also started at Clemson as a true freshman. Then, six were starters as either a redshirt freshman (Cunningham, Foreman, Jackson, Rush, Worthy) or true sophomore (Robinson).

What that says to me is that this coaching staff is great at getting the best out of its players — and quickly — but above all, they make a great team out of the players they recruit to East Lansing.

So, Pittman goes to Ohio State. That’s totally fine. We do have two more years of Gholston and three more of Rush, after all. And let the scholarship instead go to a player who really wants to be a part of this program turning into a perennial Big Ten title contender.

Sure, it would be easy to question if Mark Dantonio is capable of luring top high school talent to Michigan State if he loses his top recruit so easily, but that would be a mistake. The ranking of a recruit only reflects the subjective view of a level of talent in a player and not what the player will become. What Dantonio has done with what was considered “lesser” talent is win a lot of games and elevate a struggling program quickly — and turn many of those “lesser” recruits into NFL prospects.

While it would be comfortable to see a class coming in like the one Brady Hoke has assembled at Michigan, reality for Spartans is there are so many young starters and huge talents waiting in the wings that there isn’t the same level of immediate need. Sustaining depth is the goal of this class — and based on the players coming in, that is being accomplished with plenty of talent coming aboard.

Remember Rich Rod put together some pretty good classes there as well — consistently ranked ahead of Michigan State’s classes — and those haven’t turned out extremely well to date. The ratings of a recruiting class are not everything, and cannot truly be judged until those players have seen the field and contributed to the program.

To put it simply, on a fan level recruiting is nothing more than what keeps you busy during the offseason.

When you really get down to the bare bones of recruiting, it is about filling out a team’s roster for the future. That’s it. Yes, the moral of the story is how highly rated the players are before they set foot on a college campus, but what really matters is how they leave the program — both on individual levels and on the program level.

Speaking of program level, if it takes more proof than the rankings of the starters in 2011 to see what is going on at MSU, look at the future schedules and you will find: Boise State in ’12, ’22, ’23; West Virginia in ’14, ’15; Alabama in ’16, ’17; and Miami in ’20, ’21. Do you schedule those games without the full expectation that this program will be at a high level to compete with those teams? Not a chance.

Dantonio knows what he is doing in building a solid program and is bringing in the right players to do it with.

The Spartans are here to stay and the players who come to be Spartan Dawgs will be winners. The win totals and Big Ten/Legends Division titles are the only numbers and rankings that matter in the end.

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Posted on December 15, 2011, in Football, Recruiting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. MJW – excellent post. I quoted and commented on your post at my BLOG: http://www.BEATchUMps.com

    You have some great content here. I just don’t care for the name. Why validate that little chUMp with the big mouth?

    I also added your RSS feed to my BLOG. Would mind doing the same for us?

    -return2glory

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