National Signing Day is just a week away, and with its approach is an increasingly boisterous buzz from recruiting followers. The increased attention paid to the recruiting trail borders on frivolous. After all, there’s no guarantee a recruit is going to pan out.
But there’s more of a science to evaluating recruits than detractors might assume. Recruiting services managed to gain traction in the past decade because there’s a level of soothsaying to be gleaned from their reports.
Take the Heisman Trophy. Want to know who the next winner will be? Look to the stars, where the future is written. A recipient of the most prestigious individual honor in the sport will sign his letter of intent on Feb. 6, and precedent suggests it will be one of the highly rated prospects.
Of the Heisman winners since the online recruiting news became big business, most are four and five star prep prospects. Front runners for the 2013 award like Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney and Tajh Boyd were cut from the same cloth.
2005: Reggie Bush, USC
5 star, San Diego Helix
Reggie Bush shined for San Diego Helix, adding to the running back legacy in America’s Finest City Marcus Allen, Terrell Davis and Ricky Williams had established before him.
Bush won his now fictitious Heisman over Texas quarterback Vince Young, a fellow five star prospect and USC teammate Matt Leinart. Leinart was the 2004 Heisman recipient, and a recruit from before the current standards of evaluation used today were commonplace. It’s safe to assume Leinart would have scored as a five star though, winning California Gatorade Player of the Year honors his senior season at powerhouse Mater Dei.
2006: Troy Smith, Ohio State
4 star, Cleveland Glenville Academic Campus
It’s interesting to consider how Troy Smith’s college career would have played out had he selected one of his other suitors out of high school. Rivals.com scored Smith a four star, dual threat quarterback. A head coach named Rich Rodriguez, fresh at West Virginia and implementing a unique offensive scheme predicated on a running quarterback, jockeyed for Smith’s talents.
OSU Big Ten rival Iowa also sought Smith as the heir apparent to 2002 Heisman finalist Brad Banks. Certainly Smith would have been a deviation from Drew Tate.
Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes won out, and the head coach let Smith spread his legs as a rusher. Interestingly though, Smith’s Heisman campaign came after cutting back on his ball carrying workload.
2007: Tim Tebow, Florida
5 star, Ponte Vedra Beach Nease (Fla.)
Say what you will of Tim Tebow’s NFL qualifications — heaven knows certain media outlets have and will — there was no doubting his collegiate potential. Tebow arrived at Florida with much fanfare, the Chosen One meant to restore balance to new Gator head coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense.
Tebow integrated into the Gator offense immediately, working in special packages as a true freshman. He set an NCAA record his sophomore year as the first player to score at least 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns in the same season.
2008: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
3 star, Oklahoma City Putnam City North
Sam Bradford is a rare deviation from the norm, the first sub-four star recruit to win the Heisman since such ratings processes became the recruiting standard. Bradford emerged from a three-man race to replace Paul Thompson before the 2007 season, beating out four star recruit Keith Nichol and JUCO transfer Joey Halzle.