Recruiting never stops. Neither do your questions.
And if we didn’t get to your question, don’t be discouraged! We will be addressing some on “Stars Matter,” our weekly recruiting podcast, which can be found on the feed of “The Andy Staples Show.” Look for new episodes every Thursday morning.
Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
It seems to me that head coaches are limited to using soft power to indirectly steer NIL operations that are key to their recruiting and therefore their overall success. We see how this can be effective, as with Nick Saban’s admonishments to Bama boosters last spring likely contributing to the No. 1 class in 2023. (Bama fans, I know that there’s also an appeal to playing for Bama, but five-stars also get paid, let’s call a spade a spade.) And, of course, the legendary Texas A&M class of 2022. But we now have arguably our first example of an NIL rogue agent, or at least rogue contract, with the Jaden Rashada situation. How much responsibility lies at the foot of the head football coach to stay unofficially apprised of the NIL situations affecting his programs? If a coach says, “Who will provide me with a blue-chip quarterback?” and a group of boosters go forth to do just that but muck it up, does the coach bear the blame as well? — Catherine B.
This is the No. 1 question I’ve had to ask myself as I continue covering recruiting in this new world of college football.
Anyone who has read my work over a long period of time knows that I’ll be critical of a coach who isn’t getting it done. In my opinion, coaches are being paid way too much to not be good at recruiting, so when they aren’t, it’s my duty to point it out. But what about now? How can I accurately critique or criticize a coach for missing on players if these players are going to schools because of better NIL deals?
What’s the timeline, who are the central figures of the Jaden Rashada-Florida saga?
Now, that’s all speculation at this point. And if you’re the head coach at a big-time program who expects to compete for national titles, there’s a no-excuse policy. Get it done, NIL or not.
I don’t know this for an absolute fact because NIL contracts are not public information, but I’d be willing to bet that the teams that finished No. 1 and No. 2 in this year’s recruiting rankings (Alabama and Georgia) weren’t the programs who paid the most in inducement money. Like you said in your question, there are other factors to consider than how big the check is going to be before you sign. National titles and NFL Draft development are invaluable selling points — and, frankly, assets — that don’t immediately get directly deposited into your checking account.
But what about a place like Notre Dame? What about Clemson? Penn State? Michigan?
There are many examples of other schools in that category. These are all big-time programs that we don’t think are playing the NIL game at the same rate as some of our SEC friends supposedly are.
What’s the proper way to break down what Marcus Freeman did in his first full cycle if we *think* he lost out on players because the NIL checks weren’t big enough? Is it fair to criticize the man for losing both of the five-star prospects he had committed if we feel as though both players left for bigger checks? It’s even a bigger problem because we can’t be sure that’s why those players opted not to sign with Notre Dame. It’s a gray area, and being fair and accurate is always the No. 1 priority for people in my position.
So what have I done so far? I’ve done my best to acknowledge the existence of NIL while also not being completely beholden to it. The results are still written on plain paper the way they were in previous cycles, so we have to do the best we can with the information that we have. And an athletic director — the person in charge of hiring and firing these coaches — has to be astute enough to change the expectations to be more in line with how effective their program’s NIL operation is.
It’s a good question, Catherine, and I wish I had a better answer. College football is evolving and how we analyze recruiting is evolving, too.
Do we officially switch the nationwide hatred for Alabama with Georgia now? Georgia seems completely unbeatable right now. How many titles in a row will it win before finally being dethroned? — Jordan T.
One of the more unbelievable stats about Alabama football — other than the six national titles Nick Saban has won — is the Crimson Tide have won the recruiting crown 10 times since 2011, including the 2023 cycle (which technically isn’t over). Of course, dominating recruiting at that level goes a long way in explaining why Alabama has become such a monster on the field.
Georgia is the only other program in college football that has won the recruiting crown more than once during that span (2018 and 2020). And here we are, with the Bulldogs as back-to-back national champions.
Being the villain of college football is about what happens on the field, not where you finish in recruiting. If recruiting rankings were still the determining factor in that, Alabama still holds the title in my book given the Crimson Tide just signed 15 top-100 players in the 247Sports Composite. But because Georgia has won two national titles in a row — one of which came after beating Alabama in the national championship game — there is no question who is ruling the sport.
When Twitter was laughing at how Saban was reacting to what David Pollack said about Georgia during the coach’s guest spot on ESPN, I was nodding my head. Pollack said Georgia was the new king of the sport while sitting next to Saban. He told no lies.
Every year we should take inventory of program rankings, and mine would unquestionably be No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama and everyone else.
But these program rankings are fickle. They can change on a dime. Alabama could win the national championship a year from now and grab it right back. And as tempting as it is to say Kirby Smart is the undisputed champion of college football, I also know you’re not going to get rich betting against Alabama. The roster Saban has put together for next year is outstanding, and I have no doubt in my mind the Crimson Tide will be back in the College Football Playoff after the 2023 season.
How many titles could Georgia win in a row before being dethroned? I want to say three — go look at Georgia’s schedule for next season — but I also know how freaking hard it is to win it all in college football. Heck, Georgia is one made field goal away from (likely) living in a world in which Ohio State is the national champion. The line between winning it all and losing is razor thin.
Georgia is set up to be the king of this sport for a long time. It is in one of the deepest states for talent and it has the unique recruiting advantage of having the pick of the litter there, which will remain true as long as Georgia Tech is what it currently is. Georgia also can go national for top-rated players, which will only get increasingly easier as the Bulldogs’ reign atop the sport continues.
Look at what Georgia is already doing in the 2024 class. We aren’t even to the February signing period for 2023 and the Bulldogs already have commitments from six top-100 players in the 2024 cycle. If you don’t like how good Georgia has been, I have bad news for you. It’s going to be like this for a while because the amount of top-tier talent walking through those doors is unbelievable.
What changes to recruiting, if any, do you expect from Ohio State with Brian Hartline as its new offensive coordinator? — Rodrigo A.
There has been no better recruiting assistant in college football than Hartline. He has signed 14 top-100 receivers since the 2019 recruiting cycle. That means Hartline has signed more top-100 players at his position than most programs have signed total during that five-year period.
Because Hartline has been so good at talent accumulation, it made it impossible for Ohio State to not promote him. He’s one of the fastest-rising coaching stars in the sport, and there is no possible way Ryan Day was going to let him walk. This promotion was well-deserved and inevitable, even if there are some who question whether the Buckeyes are promoting a coach with enough X’s and O’s acumen for a job that big.
It’s hard to say how much will change with recruiting because Ohio State has been so good at accumulating offensive talent for so long. Say what you want about Day, but the man knows how to attract talent at the quarterback position. And Hartline has brought in a wealth of talent at receiver. The areas of concern — if you had to nitpick a few — that Ohio State would like to address: Do a better job landing elite offensive tackle prospects and shore up the running back position. You may be quick to point out that Ohio State signed a top-50 national offensive lineman in last year’s cycle, but Luke Montgomery is an in-state prospect.
Presuming Hartline will be one of the main offensive recruiters, I’d like to see him close on big-time offensive line prospects like Kadyn Proctor. If Alabama can do it, why can’t Ohio State? I’d like to see if Hartline can assist running backs coach Tony Alford in closing on a prospect like Rueben Owens, who chose Texas A&M after decommitting from Louisville.
Ohio State has been a recruiting bully for much of the past 10 years, but save for a few classes, it hasn’t quite risen up to the results we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Alabama and Georgia. Traditionally speaking, Ohio State’s classes are loaded but still have been a few steps behind the types of classes those SEC foes routinely bring in. And, as a result, you’ve seen prolonged eras of success from both Alabama and Georgia.
Yes, Ohio State played toe-to-toe with Georgia. And yes, Smart said he wasn’t sure his team deserved to win the game after Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles missed that field goal. But a loss is a loss, and over the years I’ve found myself questioning whether the reason Ohio State hasn’t won a national title since 2014 was a result of being a step behind those SEC powers.
Hartline isn’t going to change that by himself. But if he has a little more sway on Ohio State’s entire offensive recruiting operation and can work the same magic that has led to such success at the wide receiver position? That could be a sight to behold.
Since TCU won a game and played for the national title (blowout and all), does it have the best chance to up its average recruiting profile of all the one-off Playoff participants? — Thomas F.
When Michigan State made the College Football Playoff in 2015, its recruiting classes from the previous three cycles finished with an average rank of No. 22. The three years after it? The average was No. 33.
When Washington made the Playoff in 2016, its average class in the previous three cycles was No. 25.7. The three years after improved to No. 16.
Michigan made the College Football Playoff in 2021 for the first time with classes that finished, on average, No. 10.7 the previous three cycles. Michigan’s 2023 class finished No. 17 with no top-100 players in it.
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Though I’ve gone on record and said that I don’t think a CFP appearance changes your recruiting profile drastically, there is at least some proof that it can be improved. Washington showed that, even if the program regressed up until this past year.
With TCU, I think it’s different because times have changed. I’m not convinced that TCU is all of a sudden going to finish with top-10 classes after reaching the Playoff this past year having signed no top-20 classes in the previous four cycles. But I do think TCU can improve its status as a program because Sonny Dykes legitimized the Horned Frogs as a national contender.
TCU will be taken more seriously when it goes into the hallways of a Texas high school. And even if TCU still loses out on recruits to Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M or anyone else who extensively recruits the Lone Star State, the school is located in a place where it can absolutely clean up in the transfer portal.
Texas prospects may leave the state, but TCU is the perfect landing spot when they decide to come home. TCU recently landed two former top-100 players from the state of Texas out of the portal in Tommy Brockermeyer and JoJo Earle. The Horned Frogs also signed former five-star running back Trey Sanders, who, like Brockermeyer and Earle, originally signed with Alabama.
(Photo of Kirby Smart: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
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