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Signing day thoughts

Obviously Wilcox had a tough task in front of him:  Just a few weeks to prevent mass exodus of the signing class Dykes was putting together AND to get some additional recruits to bolster the class.  But even if that task was exceedingly hard, it’s difficult to look at the end result with anything but consternation:

  • 14 total recruits (not the 20+ Cal needed)
  • Only 2 4-star players
  • Only 4 dedicated defensive players (we’ll see how much luck he has in getting the 3 “athletes” (which means they play multiple positions, often on both sides of the ball) to play defense.)
  • Only 1 DB

Rivals ranks it as the 78th best class in the country and worst in the conference.  There’s just no other way to say it than it is a bad class.  Now, good coaches find ways to overcome a weak class.  They have lots of knobs to work with to get around one bad class (mid-year recruits, JC transfers, work extra hard on next year’s, etc.).  But there’s no doubt that Wilcox’s job, which was already hard, just got a little bit harder.

And now, the REAL season begins

Let me let you in on a little secret that was force fed to me. They say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Well apparently that’s not so true for a jacka… er… donkey, because after 4 years of working for Rivals, I finally drank the cool-aid I had resisted for so long.

The real battle in college football is won off the field.

It’s won in two places: The coach’s office while he’s evaluating high school talent and in the living rooms of those talented high school players when the coach is trying to convince him to come to his college.

The reality is that 9 times out of 10, if you look at the recruiting classes of the 3 years prior years, not counting the kids who came in that spring (so for 2011, you look at the kids who were signed in Feb. 2010, 2009 and 2008, and exclude (since so many redshirt) the kids who were signed in Feb. 2011), you’ll know a lot about how that team is going to perform that fall. I did some “star counting” using the last 3 years model and here’s what I got:

2011: 7-5 (185 stars in prev. 3 years)
2010: 5-7 (200)
2009: 8-5 (208)
2008: 9-4 (225)
2007: 7-6 (203)
2006: 10-3 (218)
2005: 8-4 (181)

Now stars aren’t perfect. When compiling the list I saw some real duds (the worst: Kevin Bemoll was a 4-star in 2005, but only played in 3 games) and some significant over-achievers (Tim Nixon, Erik Robertson, Thomas Decoud, Alex Mack, Robert Jordan, Justin Forsett, Mike Mohammed, Josh Hill and Kendrick Payne were all 2-stars), but as far as getting an average how how much talent is on a team, it’s as good a metric as any.

And looking at the record for those years, there’s an obvious correlation. Outliers aside, when the Bears have around 200 stars we’re looking at 7-5 kinda seasons. When they’ve got 215 and higher, that’s when we’ll have special teams. Of course there are some under-performing years like 2010 when the Bears had 200 stars and did worse than both 2005 and 2011 where the star count was in the 180’s.

Some of that over and under-achieving has to do with how many under ranked players there were in the past recruiting classes (or those duds too), but of course on the field does still count for something. Having no meaningful backup QB when your starter goes down will hurt a lot more than the stars could show by themselves (since it’s only one player).

Next year the star count will be 197, so the Bears are getting back on track after the drop-off in the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes that has hurt us in recent years. Perhaps the Bears will over-perform and we’ll rise from 7-5 to a higher level, but these stats suggest we may be looking at another year of middling bowl eligibility next year.

However, and getting back to the original point of the post, if Tedford can match his star counts from last year in February, we’ll be at 215 in 2013. If he can do it again in February of 2013, we’ll be at 228 in 2014. That’ll be the most the team has ever had under Tedford.

But he’s got to get out on the road and get those “stars” (in real life we call them players). The coaching staff is out there as I type this, in living rooms across America, trying to convince fickle 17 year olds that Cal is the school for them. They’ll be doing this on and off for the next 3 weeks before the bowl game, and then hit the road HARD after the bowl game.

Luckily this year Tedford and Co. have a much better story. The new stadium opens next year. The SAHPC is brand new and awesome. The team is getting back on track and finished on a hot-streak. It will really help to have a big win over a big name team (Texas, anyone?) in the bowl game.

So far he’s got four 4-stars and fpir 3-stars. A recruiting class is made up of 20 or so kids and Cal will need at least six more 4-star kids and of the rest, almost all of them must be 3-stars. A 5-star or two would really help. But that’s not it, as I’ve written in the past, part of what makes a good class is the balance. So he can’t just go out and grab stars. He’s got to get the right kids who both play the positions he needs to fill and who are closer to gems than duds (this is where star counting breaks down).

From what I’ve read, there are a lot of 4-stars out there who still have interest in Cal (28 with medium interest or higher, according to Rivals) and at least one 5-star is in the mix (Shaq Thompson, SydQuan’s younger brother, is considered likely) with 6 others with some interest still. So there’s still the potential for a very good class.

But the truth of the matter is RIGHT NOW is one of the most important points of the season. Tedford and Co. will need to impress a lot of kids between now and the middle of February if he’s going to have the team he needs to make a run at the Rose Bowl in 2013 and 2014.

UPDATE: Getting all sorts of uncaught comment spam on this post so disabling comments.

Cal lands #17 recruiting class

It used to be that I didn’t care a lick about recruiting. Then I got a fun little job reporting on games for an organization that was mostly focused on recruiting (Rivals/BearTerritory.net). The more I learned, the more I realized just how important recruiting was. Make no mistake, the coaching and the game planing are very important, but if you don’t have the raw talent, teams like USC are just going to bowl you over. They’ll be bigger, faster and stronger and no amount of creative game planning will overcome their sound game plan built around the fact that they’re bigger, faster and stronger.

So that’s why it’s so important that Cal continues to bring in very good recruiting classes. Last year was awesome, with the #11 class and two 5-star players (OK, we lost one later). To follow it up with a #17, means that we’re going to have a very talented team in a couple years. (Remember that recruits don’t become the heart and soul of the program until they’re upper-class men and really don’t have much of an impact for at least a year.)

To re-enforce the point, wonder why 2008-2010 were such rough years… look no further than recruiting from 2007-2009:

2007: #22 in the country, 3rd in the conference*
2008: #34 in the country, 7th in the conference
2009: #42 in the country, 6th in the conference

(*Note that 2007 was based more on the number of recruits at 26 and less on star ranking, with only 5 4-stars)

Not all that great, particularly when you compare it to 2004-2006:

2004: #22 in the country, 4th in the conference*
2005: #9 in the country, 2nd in the conference
2006: #19 in the country, 4th in the conference*

(*Note the inverse of the previous one for 2004 and 2006, these were smaller classes with a high star-ranking that was 4th in the conference only because teams with big classes loaded up on lesser talent (UW in 2004, UCLA and Arizona in 2006))

Point being, it’s really good news to see us up in the recruiting rankings where we used to be back in the heart of the Tedford era, and to be there for 2 consecutive years.

Now for some specifics on this class:

There’s two things I look for in a good recruiting class, the number of highly talented players with good physical characteristics (do they have the frame to be a good O-line guy, etc.) and how balanced the class is. It doesn’t do any good to bring in 4 tight ends and no defensive guys. That lack of balance will hurt down the road.

Going further, the team is allowed to have 85 scholarship players. That works out to just under 4 complete teams (22 players (11 offense, 11 defense) x 4 is 88). Since, minus redshirting, you get a player for 4 years, it means that in a perfect world, your class should pretty well reflect a complete team. Let’s see how this team stacks up:

QB: 1 (Kyle Boehm)
RB: 4 (C.J. Anderson, Brendon Bigelow, Darren Ervin, Daniel Lasco)
OL: 2 (Jordan Rigsbee, Matt Williams)
TE: 1 (Richard Rodgers)
WR: 1 (Maurice Harris)

DL: 5 (Todd Barr, Puka Lopa, Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil, Viliami Moala)
LB: 3 (Jalen Jefferson, Nathan Broussard, Jason Gibson)
DB: 5 (Joel Willis, Kameron Jackson, Stefan McClure, Jordan Morgan, Avery Walls)

While it’s not perfect balance (last year was better) it’s pretty darned good. The two weak spots are WR, which isn’t as bad as it seems because there are a few guys (McClure, Ervin, Lasco) who Tedford mentioned might either play some or be moved to wide receiver, and OL, which if you ask me is the glaring weak-spot. The good news is the two we got look like monster recruits. Nevertheless, if we could substitute RB recruit or two into a OL recruit, it would definitely help the balance of the class.

Don’t under estimate the value of the large set of recruits at DB and RB though… those are two spots where we’ve lost a lot of talent to graduation and they cupboard needed to be refilled, particularly at RB where injuries have really hurt. It would be awesome if Bigelow or Ervin could make the sort of instant impact that Best or Lynch made their true-freshman years.

As for individual guys that just wow, top of the list is Moala, who is a 5-star over on Scout (as a quick aside, I always use Rivals rankings… it’s a loyalty thing) even though he’s a 4-star on Rivals. He’s a monster guy and ready to play nose guard right away at 326 lbs and supposedly is going to be able to walk into the weight room in August and instantly set the bench press record for Cal at 490.

Stefan McClure is another one that jumps out, being very versatile, being one of those rare talents who can both be a smothering corner and tackle like a linebacker (while Tedford compared another recruit to Syd’Quan Thompson, this guy’s tackling skills make me think he’s more like Syd).

The other two defenders who really stand out to me are Jason Gibson and Brennan Scarlett, both because of their versatility. Tedford called Scarlett a predator like Kendricks, yet he’s a defensive end who can rush hard from the outside, despite the fact that he’s being compared to a linebacker. Gibson is just the opposite, a linebacker who played a lot of DE in high school and his film looks great. The way Pendergast likes to mix things up, these will be two guys who will allow for more complex blitz and coverage packages that will keep the opposing QB’s guessing.

Moving to offense, the odd-ball of the group of standouts is quarterback Kyle Boehm. He’s ranked as the #7 QB in the country but is only a 3-star, having lost a star over the winter. It’s really odd and perhaps because he was doing a lot of running as a QB in his senior season. But his video looks really good throwing the ball. Tedford had lots of good things to say about him.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, the two offensive line recruits look like monsters. Matt Williams is enrolling early and is a JC transfer (it’s pretty rare JC guy’s get a 4-star ranking). He’s 6-7 and 285 and just looks like someone who could add 50, heck even 75 lbs of muscle and still be limber and fast with the size of his frame. Jordan Rigsbee is no slouch himself ranked the #9 guard in the country out of high school and at 6’4″ 275 should be only a year away from being ready to play.

As you can see, there’s a lot to be excited about. Lot’s of talent that’s eye-poppingly good and pretty good balance. Where there wasn’t balance, it was because Tedford was after some new-found depth at defensive back and running back. While the O-Line shortage is probably the most disconcerting, the two guys we got look awesome. Overall it looks really, really, good.

Go Bears!

Incredible recruiting class

Well, for those who care about football recruiting, today is a GREAT day. Cal grabbed the #10 class in the nation, with a flurry of last minute recruits. Today they officially signed 2 5-star players (aka DeSean Jackson quality players) both on defense. One, Keenan Allen, is a WR/Safety who we expect to play at safety and the other, Chris Martin is a combo linebacker/defensive end. He’s hopefully our next Zack Follett (but even more talented).

This is really important because we’ve had some talent weaknesses on defense and this class is FULL of defensive talent. There are 4 4-star linebackers (in addition to Martin) and a 4-star defensive end. Just think about that. Of the 9 4-star and 5-star players, 7 of them are defensive players. In the past, generally, the balance has fallen towards more offensive talent than defensive at Cal.

The other two 4-stars are a wide receiver and an offensive lineman, two positions that we could use some additional strength.

Add in that the balance, as with all Tedford classes, is pretty good (you basically want a complete team) with 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 OL (little weak), 4 WR (little heavy but needed), 2 DL (little weak), 4 LB, and 3 DB. OK, it probably would have been nice to have 3 defensive linemen and 4 offensive lineman (and if we’re being nit-picky, a 4th defensive back), but when you compare that to some other schools, it’s near perfect balance (as an example of how bad it can be, last year Stanford had 4 tight ends).

Truly, this is a great, balanced class, the best of the Tedford era.

Signing Day wrap-up

I’m not a big recruiting guy, but I recognize its importance. All year long when I get questions about recruiting I repeat the same answer: Nothing matters until signing day. Well, seeing how yesterday was signing day, I guess I’d better live up to my word and talk about the one day that matters.

First some fundamentals on recruiting:

Remember that a school gets 85 scholarships. Assuming everyone redshirts and nobody leaves the school, that means you only get 17 scholarships a year. In practice between the handful who don’t redshirt and who leave the University, that means you get around 20 each year on average. Recruiting junior college kids increases that number as well and at times the number can be as high as 25.

In any case, that means you get around 20 scholarship for about 22 positions on offense and defense plus a few special positions (punter, kicker and long-snaper) that you don’t have to recruit every year. What this means is that, special needs aside, you only get one recruit for each position each year and even then, you’ve got to exclude a couple positions. So, the “ideal” 20 looks something like for a 3-4 defense and a pro-set offense:

1 QB, 1-2 RB/FBs, 1 TE, 2-3 WRs, 4-5 OLs, 2-3 DLs, 3-4 LBs, 3-4 DBs

Sure, you can move the numbers by one or even two for the groups and still be OK, but if you get massively out of whack, particularly over multiple years, it’s a near certainty that at some point sports commentators are going to be wondering why the team is so weak in one area or another. Even if over the long haul the numbers are balanced, not being balanced year to year means there will be years down the road after a big group graduates that there may be a big experience/talent dirth behind them, even if there’s a lot of young guys waiting in the wings.

So let’s look at the Bears distribution:

QB: 1 (1 ideal)
RB/FB: 2 (1-2)
TE: 0 (1)
WR: 1 (2-3)
OL: 4 (4-5)
DL: 3 (2-3)
LB: 3 (3-4)
DB: 3 (3-4)

That’s a reasonably good distribution, particularly when one takes into account the current set of players on the roster. The Bears had 8 TE’s on the roster, most of who were young so they really didn’t need any. The one weak spot would be at WR’s where the Bears have 12 overall and 6 underclassmen, I think they could have used the full compliment of 2-3. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty balanced set. Compare this to a school like Stanford, who has been praised for their class with lots of talented/high star players but also has 4 TE’s, only 2 OL’s, 5 DE’s (6 DL’s overall) and only 3 other defenders. I’ve never seen such an out of whack roster, with my limited experience.

The next big factor is immediate needs. While the above balance is very important, and a good mature program will make sure they’ve got balanced classes every year (these are the programs that seem to “reload” not “rebuild”), there are times when things get out of whack for whatever reason and recruiting someone who can come in and play next year is part of the equation. While ocassionally, particularly at some positions, teams can find a polished high school recruit who can come in and play right away, that’s not the norm. Usually what you’re looking for in a high school recruit is talent and potential, even if it is a bit raw.

So generally speaking, it’s hard to find high school recruits who can come in and contribute right away. The alternative is junior college recruits, some of whom are both physically and technically developed enough to contribute right away. At the same time, there is a downside as they’ve only got a couple years to contribute, so it’s pretty important they be ready to contribute now. Cal has had both success and failure with this. Everyone from Ayoob to Bishop.

This year the Bears have 4 junior college recruits:

Ryan Davis, DE
Marksih Jones, WR
Jerome Meadows, LB
Jarred Price, LB

If you think about where the Bears are going to need help in 2009, this is the right group. There is no doubt that LB is where Cal needs the most replacements right away having lost the “big 3″ of Follett, Williams and Felder. It’s going to be just as important, if not more important as replacing the “big 3″ WR’s from 2007, a position that despite the best efforts of Tedford and Co., was a siginificant weakness in 2008. So 2 LB’s from junior college has the potential to help fill a difficult shortage. Add in that the Bears could use another good WR and that a developed DE wouldn’t hurt either, and it’s hard to argue with these 4 junior college recruits, even if the number is a bit high (I’d put the target at 2 a year).

All of that is said while recognizing the fact that it is a stop-gap mechanism and not the “ideal” way to recruit. But as we all know, football is one by teams that recognize the balance between the theoretical ideals and actual implementation.

While all of this is good, it’s not all great. The Bears lost a recruit at the last minute, that hurt the class (4-star OL Stanley Hasiak from Hawaii who went to UCLA). More importantly (because the Bears also picked up a last minute recruit) the Bears were unable to secure a handful of recruits that would have made the class stellar. Of particular note was Randal Carroll, a 4-star wide receiver who was lost to UCLA, and Devon Kennard, a 5-star DE (would be used as OLB at Cal) who was lost to USC. There were others too, but these were the biggies that were considering Cal late in the game that Cal couldn’t secure.

Of course it is always going to be the case that recruits will chose other schools. Even USC doesn’t get everyone they want. At the same time, it is clear that there are a couple of reasons, facilities being the most glaring and inability to get to BCS bowl games probably being 2nd, that are preventing Cal from getting as many of the recruits as they would like. In the end, this is what is most troubling about this class to me. There’s seems to be a limitation to who Cal can get, at least until the Performance Center is built and the Bears finally get that Rose Bowl.

Overall what this means is that the Cal staff is doing a pretty good job of ensuring that it gets the best, most balanced, solid classes year after year, within the limitations of what the program can get. It’s also worth noting that Cal’s recruits are generally considered under appreciated as opposed to over appreciated, again unlike Stanford who seems to be more in the “star grabbing” mode. There’s no doubt that of 18 recruits there is every reason to believe that all 18 of them have the potential to contribute to the program.

And so “solid” is the word of the day. It’s a solid class, not a great one. It’s more solid that 2007, which was more solid than 2006 or 2005. But it also lacks the “star power” of those earlier classes that gave us a 5-star player in DeSean Jackson in 2005 and 9 4-stars in 2006.

But it is still solid.

Where will Ken be on signing day?

Well, I’ll be in my cubicle watching things develop on BearTerritory.net while pretending to do my normal work, designing computer servers.

So, if you want the moment by moment breakdown on what’s happening with the recruits and who’s signed their letter of intent, you should be over at BearTerritory.net too. It’s really the best site for recruiting news for the Bears, bar none.

Recruiting

I’ve gotten a few comments asking for info on what’s going on in recruiting. I figured I should clear that up…

I know nothing about recruiting.

In fact, I’m not allowed to know anything about recruiting beyond what you can get on subscriptions sites like Rivals/BearTerritory.net. See, as a season ticket holder, I’m not allowed to talk to recruits or to the coaching staff or to anyone else about recruiting. It’s off limits. As a person who’s just public enough to potentially fall under scrutiny for my activities, I make sure to be squeeky clean about not getting involved in anything recruiting oriented.

So you won’t get any particular wisdom about why we only have 4… make that 5… recruits right now. But I will give some general thoughts on recruiting:

There is only 1 day a year to worry about recruiting, and it’s in February. Signing day is when all of this speculation becomes reality. So, just because there are only 5 names next to Cal doesn’t mean that there’s not 15 guys who are planning on coming to Cal. It just means they haven’t publically stated that they’re coming. Signing day is when everyone states where they’re actually going. Until then it’s all speculation.

Also, don’t worry much about stars, particularly 1-star differences. The amount of time the recruiting sites spend looking at each guy is pretty darned small. You’re also looking at players who are vastly superior to the rest of the competition, from a high school perspective. So who is awesome, super-awesome and super-duper-awesome is a bit of a question mark and a guessing game, particularly when they’re spread all over the country and there isn’t that much cross-polination.

I guess what I’m saying is that recruiting is something to worry about in the off-season and even then only as evaluating the coaching staff. In the end, what matters is whether the Bears are fielding a team full of talented players, not whether those players were considered great when they were recruited or whether they were willing to publically state they were coming to Cal long before signing day.

If you look at the number of unheralded 2-star recruits who were added at the last minute who became college and NFL super-stars as well as the number of 4 and 5 stars who changed their verbal commitment 3 times and then never played to their potential when they got to college, it makes it pretty clear that this is any over emphasis on recruiting at this point is just a way to raise your blood pressure.