The post-signing day panic of the moment involves the Big 12. There’s always one big loser among the Power 5 conferences and this year the Big 12 is it. The conference only had one school finish in the top 25 in most rankings (Oklahoma, which had its best class in years). Texas was raided, particularly at the top of the rankings. The Longhorns signed a middling class by Texas’s standards. Baylor, a top 25 fixture in recent years, was hanging out closer to 40th.
What is wrong with the Big 12 when it comes to recruiting? In my opinion, probably nothing long-term, but that doesn’t make for very good copy. Michael Bird of SB Nation explored that issue in depth and cited a reason I didn’t expect to see at the very top:
1. Nebraska’s departure
While the state of Nebraska has minimal talent, the Huskers’ prestige as a program is such that the right coach can recruit there. Sure enough, the Huskers’ 2017 class ranked 23rd nationally. Based on total points or average recruit ranking, Nebraska’s class would have been second in the Big 12 in 2017.
Second in the Big 12 would’ve been better than any of Nebraska’s classes ranked within the conference between 2006 and 2010, the last five years the Huskers were actually a member of the Big 12. That’s probably the most locally relevant way to portray the Big 12’s struggles in recruiting in 2017. Nebraska’s class wasn’t drastically better than most of its past classes, so the difference is the scale.
It’s rare to see any acknowledgment that Nebraska’s departure affected the Big 12, but it makes sense here. In fact, all of the Big 12 departures since 2011 had to have had some impact. Texas A&M is traditionally a top-20 recruiter. Nebraska is in the top 30 annually. Missouri and Colorado were both capable of jumping into the top 25 on occasion. Replace those four schools with West Virginia and TCU and, yeah, it’s going to sting a little.
But I still doubt 2017’s woes are a long-term trend. The Big 12 had the lowest blue-chip percentage among Power 5 conferences in 2017, but that was a steep drop from what had been a three-year upward trend. Just a year ago, the Big 12 signed more blue-chip talent than the Big Ten did. Texas will be back with Tom Herman at the helm once he has time to take his own class from start to finish. Baylor could be too, no matter how much seemingly everyone outside of Waco wants the Bears to just go away for awhile.
The demographic reality here is that the Big 12 is probably going to struggle to consistently be one of the three most talented conferences in the country based on recruiting rankings. I’m just not ready to assume it’s going to annually be last among the Power 5 conferences either.
The Right 3-Stars
In 2017, 44.1 percent of all the players signed by FBS teams were 3-star players. Part of the reason 4- and 5-star players are so prized — aside from the talent, of course — is because they’re so rare, making up just 14.2 percent of all the signees in the most recent recruiting cycle (that’s a pretty standard percentage). That leaves 41.7 percent for 2-stars or lower, so it’s safe to say that most FBS signees are 3-star players. It’s a broad group of players, which means there’s a lot of variation among players with the same ranking on paper.
So what do the best 3-star prospects look like? Ian Boyd of Football Study Hall took a close look at that specific chase:
The schools that regularly overachieve to their rankings are the ones that are either unlocking undervalued skills with scheme or coaching or programs that are recruiting from regions like Wisconsin where there’s a demographic of overlooked or undeveloped talents (big, rural kids that haven’t been developed yet).
The easiest way to ensure that your team has some elite athletes to build around is to go recruit high schoolers that everyone plainly recognizes as elite athletes. Finding those kids consistently from the 3-star rankings is immensely difficult, but here’s what they might look like if you can find them.
Boyd identifies a handful of categories of players. Head over to the story for all of them, but there were a couple that seemed most pertinent to Nebraska. One, “the sturdy DL who isn’t a pass rusher.” Nebraska may have had a couple of those guys in the 2017 class at defensive tackle.
Two, “short players.” Tyjon Lindsey (5-9) is a 4-star player, so maybe he isn’t the best example, but this is one to simply keep in mind going forward. Based on Boyd’s analysis, height doesn’t matter as much at the college level, even at quarterback.
The Grab Bag
- Notre Dame special assistant Bob Elliott is expected to join Nebraska’s staff.
- Wisconsin is reportedly budgeting for a $41.5 million payout from the Big Ten next year.
- Emails obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal indicate that a Louisville assistant may have reached out to Wake Forest broadcaster Tommy Elrod, the “WakeyLeaks” perpetrator, which contradicts what was initially reported by Louisville.
- One last bit on recruiting: How playoff teams are built.
- Lincoln Southwest junior Cameron Pieper is drawing plenty of interest but is still looking for his first offer.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.