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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

By Bethany Bradsher

Recruiting punditry a slippery exercise

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Imagine a major poll ranking the serious presidential contenders for 2012, one that analyzes each candidates’ chance of becoming the next commander-in-chief. But imagine that this particular poll was conducted and released seven months before the previous election in 2008.

Or, what if I distributed a probable class rank for my daughter’s graduating class, the seniors of 2015? After all, she is in the eighth grade, so it’s never too early for conjecture.

Sounds ridiculous, but these scenarios aren’t too difficult from the ones being played out with great scientific gravity on recruiting websites that rate the classes of teenagers who will be unveiled today, college football’s National Signing Day.

If a recruit takes a redshirt, and much of the ranking is linked to his likely success as a senior, these pundits are predicting events that are some five years in the future.

Every year as a sports-loving culture, we become more enraptured with numbers, especially rankings. When I first joined a fantasy football league in the mid ‘90s, most sports publications ignored and even shunned fantasy leaguers and their hunger for specific stats. Now, even the gold standard of the industry, “Sports Illustrated,” devotes a section to fantasy prognostication.

Yes, stats geeks have emerged from the shadows into the trendy mainstream, and in no realm is their obsession so roundly celebrated as in the world of recruiting. Using complicated equations that might give Pythagoras pause, recruiting experts crunch numbers like size, speed, high school team record and academic promise to establish whether Jimmy from Central High, who spends most of his time playing Black Ops and making fast-food runs, will be part of the great difference-making class of 2015 or 2016 for his promised university.

Just to get it out there, two of the top sources for these dubious rankings – and – have Florida State’s recruiting class at the top of the heap for 2011. believes that Alabama’s class is the best. East Carolina isn’t mentioned in’s Top 50, although the site does have the Pirates’ class as sixth out of the 12 teams in Conference USA. ECU doesn’t appear in ESPN’s top 25 poll, and the next crop of Pirates is ranked 85th overall by

So East Carolina isn't even within shouting distance of the big BCS powers in this particular measure. But are these rankings that deserve a second glance?

One sportswriter, Scott Terrell of the Tucson Citizen, points out the inherent issues with the daunting prospect of measuring so many young football players from so many backgrounds objectively against one another.

“As with anything involving sports they came up with a way to keep score so fans can brag when they win and sulk when they lose,” Terrell wrote. “There are more recruiting websites than you can shake a stopwatch at and they all come up with rankings based on a star system. If you’re a five-star player you’re supposed to be the next Tim Tebow. If you’re a one-star player you’d better get used to filling water bottles. But how do you rank high school kids from around the country who attend schools of all sizes and play against varying competition? That’s the magic of recruiting rankings. Or, if you prefer, that’s the steaming pile of worthlessness of recruiting rankings.”

Recruiting publications and websites are sure to have a file cabinet of information about Isaiah Crowell from Columbus, GA, the top-rated running back in the nation with a 4.43 40. But does’s reach extend to Virginia Beach’s Jeton Beavers, a big defensive end who played less than half a season for his high school team but still earned a scholarship from East Carolina? Beavers is irrefutable evidence that for staffs like Ruffin McNeill’s, the magic of recruiting isn’t in Internet predictions or intricate formulas, but in the hours spent on the road and on the phone talking to those who know the true ins and outs of a young man’s character.

As the Pirate Nation celebrates the hope that underscores National Signing Day, what makes the day truly special for a program like ECU isn’t exulting in the acquisition of a top-ranked athlete but looking at the faces of these new Pirates and wondering which one will one day emerge as the next Dustin Lineback or Vonta Leach.

For inspiration, when the No. 85 rating threatens to discourage, ECU fans should look to Boise State, which has made a perennial sport out of doing it differently than the big boys and then knocking them off their feet.

The Broncos’ staff feels great about its incoming class, even if the perennial BCS-buster isn’t even part of the recruiting Top 50 touted by According to head coach Chris Petersen, the coaches pride themselves on finding players who haven’t received a single college offer but who stand up under Boise State’s meticulous research.

The Broncos recruiters don’t take anyone else’s word for it when it comes to choosing their players, Petersen said. Quarterback Kellen Moore only heard from one other school – Idaho – before choosing Boise State, and as a Bronco he has a 28-3 record while under center.

"It just really comes down to they're good football (players),” Peterson said in an interview published by Associated Press. “You put the tape on and you like them a lot as a player and then you do your homework and that's where most people won't do it. It's amazing out there the lack of homework that's really done and people will just end up offering guys because everyone else has. 'If they've offered him then he must be a good player.' We try to stay away from that as much as we can."

Thoughtful recruiting, homegrown heroes, coaches with plenty of heart and something to prove. Put those factors into a ranking, and chances are good East Carolina will rise to the top of the chart with schools like Boise State who want only to find the gem that the recruiting websites leave on the cutting room floor.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

02/02/2011 03:20 AM

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