The Recruiting WAR

What a star looks like. Recruits actually don't have tangible stars, but MAYBE THEY SHOULD. - Bradley Kanaris

What does it mean to say that someone has the "best recruiting class," and how much importance can be placed on "stars?"

As has been stated before, we don't cover recruiting much. But others do. Whole websites make a fun living out of taking recruits, assigning them values, then figuring out which teams did the best at recruiting.

No matter which website you prefer, Toledo seemed to have done the best. And they've been this way for a while. Scout had them better by, I guess, 342 points? Rivals had them beat by 180. And 247Sports graded Toledo better by about five points.

The best I can understand the methodology, the points system is simple: each recruit is assigned a number value, and the top class is the one with the total number of points. The average value of a recruit is another way they measure this.

Here's my problem with all this. It's not even the intense scrutiny or definitive value placed on 17- and 18-year-olds — that's a whole another topic. We're truly placing the value of every player, be it quarterback or punter, into one number.

We're seeing this same clash of understanding in baseball. If you don't follow it, one of the big debates last year was regarding the American League Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout was a young exciting player who provided offense, defense and baserunning. Miguel Cabrera was a veteran power hitter whose offensive numbers were off the charts, won the Triple Crown for the first time in almost 50 years, but his defense and baserunning were rather below average. According to the metric Wins Above Replacement, Trout was worth more than Cabrera, so some clamored that Trout was the better/more valuable player because he had a higher WAR. Since then, the debate has been surrounding this metric, what it means, and should we/shouldn't we be using it?

Statistics without context are just numbers. As Dave Cameron at FanGraphs noted, WAR is a good way to begin arguments, not end them. And this is the case for all numbers. As this relates to recruiting classes: did Toledo really have the best recruiting class by virtue of them bringing in players with the most stars? Because two-star recruits, as we've witnessed this year, are. Pretty. Damn. Good. Other times, a committed four-star recruit may never play a down for the team.

I'd say more pressing recruiting questions are as follows:

1. Did the team address needs according to players they expect to depart after the 2013 season?
2. Will any recruits make an impact next year?
3. How will the recruits fit into the current school's system based on the style of football they played in high school?

This is where the analysis becomes mentally heavy and incredibly difficult to project. We have enough trouble figuring out who's going to be successful this coming year, but for recruits it's two-plus years out. This is why, in the end, recruiting season serves mostly as a cursory game of bragging and chest thumping, but the work to get the player ready for NCAA competition is what counts more than anything else. Lookin' at you, Rob Ianello.

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