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Hot Reads: Talent Matters Until it Doesn't
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Talent Matters Until it Doesn’t

July 13, 2017

“Yep, looks about right.”

That was my response to Rivals’ recent tally of the top 50 recruiting teams over the past five years. I mean, obviously the numbers are right. They’re Rivals’ rankings and it’s a simple matter of tallying the average of five years. But the list looks like you would think it should look based on results.

Three of the past four national champions — Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State — rank one, two and three. Clemson, last year’s champion, ranked 11th over the past five seasons, which was enough for Rivals’ recruiting director Mike Farrell, who assessed each school’s performance against how much talent was on hand, to say the Tigers “overachieved.”

That might be true, but I think it’s fair to ask which sort of ranking is more valuable: A top-10 national ranking or being in the top two or three within a team’s conference? Texas A&M ranks in the top 10 here, but is fifth in the SEC and fourth in its own division. Clemson is 11th, but only Florida State is better in the ACC. Anyone think the Aggies are better off than the Tigers? I certainly don’t, so you could make the case that Clemson and Texas A&M both just “achieved.”

Nebraska landed at No. 22 on the list, which put the Huskers fourth in the Big Ten. That means Nebraska “achieved” in Farrell’s estimation. “Finishing 22nd on this list sounds about on par for Nebraska’s three nine-win seasons despite no divisional success,” he wrote.

But again, when you look at this in a conference context you might argue for a different tag. As the best recruiter in the West Division by some margin — Wisconsin ranks 40th and Iowa 49th — does the division-title drought look a little like underachievement? Probably, but that’s a discussion that comes up often enough on its own in Nebraska. No need to dredge the whole thing back up in July. We can probably wait until the Huskers start conference play.

Overall, this quick glance at five-year rankings doesn’t do anything to dispute the “talent matters” theory, but it should probably also underscore the idea that “talent isn’t everything.” It’s an insurance policy, essentially.

If you were to set up a game between two teams that were equally talented down to the man, which one would win? In that scenario you probably have to use the classic coach-ism and say the team that “executed” the best would win. And if that’s an accurate baseline, talent becomes a trump card. A vastly more talented team can afford to get away with worse execution more often.

But it still can’t always get away with it. It wouldn’t be a very fun sport to watch if that were the case.

Speaking of Talent . . .

We also know that recruiting rankings aren’t everything either as a measurement of actual talent on hand. Matt Brown of Sports on Earth released his list of the top 130 college football players in 2017. Nebraska didn’t land anyone on the list.

But Iowa had three players — OL Sean Welsh, RB Akrum Wadley and LB Josey Jewell — on the list. Northwestern and Indiana each had two. Just one Wisconsin player, TE Troy Fumagalli, ranked in the top 130, which feels a little low for a team that is far and away the division favorite at this point.

To put that in context, Arkansas State, Nebraska’s opponent in the opener, also had one player on the list. Middle Tennessee had two.

And, finally, Nebraska native Harrison Phillips also made it, landing at No. 91 for Stanford.

The Grab Bag

  • According to the AP, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has pleaded not guilty to the marijuana possession charge stemming from his citation last month by campus police.
  • In April of 2016, high school quarterback Justin Fields was unranked by ESPN. Now he’s the top player in the country. Here’s how he got there.
  • Houston Nutt has filed a lawsuit against Ole Miss alleging that university officials engaged in a smear campaign against him.
  • ICYMI: 4-star defensive tackle Calvin Avery is no longer considering Nebraska.

Today’s Song of Today

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