Tuesday, February 5, 2013

10 Things to Watch for on National Signing Day

It's all about which stud recruits are wearing your favorite team's hat on NSD.

By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

Just when you thought football season was over…

National Signing Day, the day the country's top high school football players (well, also athletes from many other sports, but nobody really cares about them) choose the school they will represent on the gridiron for the next 3-5 years.

If you think the NFL Draft matters, consider this:

An average NFL team will add 7 players throughout the three day NFL Draft, and two of them will either not make the team or be demoted to the practice squad. Two years later and you are thrilled if as many as three of the players you drafted are still with your team and contributing, let alone starting.

During tomorrow's National Signing Day, college programs will add as many as 25 players (not counting oversigns) and, though attrition due to academics and other issues take hold, you need to consistently get production from at least half your recruiting class to run a successful program.

The other thing to consider is that this isn't a draft. Programs like Alabama, USC and Florida load up on "first round picks," while programs like Iowa State, Minnesota and Washington State are left trying to find sleepers in the "late rounds."

Is it fair? Absolutely not, but life isn't fair, and National Signing Day represents everything wrong with college football, while still remaining as intriguing as the game itself.

Here is what to watch for tomorrow.

1. The Old Hat Fake

It happens every year. Some relatively big-time recruit will stand up at a three dollar folding table in his high school gym. In front of him will be cameras from local media and the hats of the three schools said prospect is choosing from. He will pick up the hat from school number one, then shake his head and give a casual, "nah."

But then, his eyes light up.

He picks up the hat from school number two, raises it up and begins to place it on his head, sending the fans of school number two into a frenzy…. Sike! He puts down hat number two, grabs hat number three and puts it on as his mom and teammates crack up.

Meanwhile, fans of school number two begin to rationalize his teenage excitement and joking as a red flag that he will surely end up in jail before his sophomore year.

2. The Onion Article Recruit

Every recruiting season produces one recruit who's story sounds like it was written by the folks at the Onion. Last year brought us quarterback Gunner Kiel. The Columbus, Indiana signal caller was rated as the nation's best by Rivals.com, so naturally he committed to national power… Indiana?

Okay, that's a little weird, but maybe he's one of those "big fish in a small pond" kinda kids. Kiel later came to his senses and committed to LSU, saying he wanted the chance to make his own way (his bro was a QB at IU). Then, while packing for Baton Rouge (he was set to enroll early and participate in spring practice), Kiel realized how far away it was. After cursing his mother for never allowing him to look at a map, Kiel promptly committed to Notre Dame.

This season brings us Reuben Foster, a five star linebacker from Auburn, Alabama. After committing to his hometown Tigers, Foster went out and got himself an Auburn tattoo on his right arm. Then, when Auburn fired coach Gene Chizik, Foster decommitted, but decided to keep the tattoo, because he had some friends there or something.

Anyway, Foster then narrowed his choices to Auburn, Alabama and Georgia, but recently took an all expense paid official visit to… San Diego State. So, basically, he wanted to go to the beach. Then, just last night, Foster announced that he would be taking his talents, and Auburn tattoo, to play for the Tigers' biggest rival at Alabama.

3. The Coach Crying Foul

Any fan that follows recruiting will tell you that it isn't over until a prospect signs his letter of intent. Every year, numerous recruits will break longtime commitments on National Signing Day when a bigger program comes calling. So, get ready for a coach from Texas Tech to furiously talk about the need for an early signing period when Oklahoma comes in and poaches his prized recruit at the 11th hour.

He will undoubtably talk about "gentlemen's agreements" and the sad state of recruiting today, but he's really just mad at himself. He knows he needs to get a better job. He would have told his son to do the same thing.

4. The Sure to Disappoint Class and Quarterback

As a fan of recruiting, every year you know there is a star studded recruiting class and a "can't miss" quarterback that will crash and burn. For classes, it is usually a highly regarded class going to an aging or struggling coaching staff. Examples include any of Bobby Bowden's late classes or Charlie Weis' highly regarded classes at Notre Dame.

For QBs, you can just tell. Sure, the guys at Rivals, Scout, 247 and ESPN all get paid to judge these prospects, but you know better. You can just see it in that QB's stupid little face that he isn't going to be any good.

Case in point, Jimmy Clausen (the gem of one of those disappointing Weis classes).

Not that Clausen sucked in college. He was okay. But every recruiting service hailed him as a "once in a generation prospect" and "the next Elway." It is pretty silly when you look back on it, since anybody that took one look at his stupid spikey hair knew he was gonna bust.

For this year, you have to believe that busting quarterback is going to be USC gem recruit Max Browne. I mean, just look at this guy(below). Admit it USC fans, you're a little scared that the future of your program is in the hands of Lane Kiffin and this curly kid.

And you know what, why don't we kill two birds with one stone and say it's going to be USC's class that will bust. With a ton of five star players, but a coach that has never won at any level of coaching (he has actually failed upward), this class has all the makings of a fantastic disappointment.

5. The Stud Recruit's Decision

This year it will be consensus top recruit Robert Nkemdiche garnering all the attention, but it isn't always the No. 1 guy that steals the show. No, rather it is the top uncommitted player that has the most schools chasing him that causes the biggest stir. Nkemdiche has been rumored to favor Ole Miss going into signing day, but with LSU, Alabama and Florida all chasing the Georgia native, this stud recruit's decision should make waves nationally.

6. The Program that Has No Business Recruiting this Well

This is a program with little to no football history, a coach with no real track record of winning big, average academics and really just no real "wow factor" when you hear it brought up.

In recent years, this school has ranged from Clemson to Clemson, over to Clemson, and then that other year when it was Clemson.

Okay, so maybe I'm being too hard on Dabo Swinney and the miracle recruitin' Tiger coaching staff, but you have to admit, when you hear Clemson, you don't exactly think top-tier football.

This year, Ole Miss fits that bill. While the Rebels actually have a decent history of recruiting (if you've ever read Bruce Feldman's Meat Market, or seen The Blind Side… I guess), there is no discernible reason for it. Ole Miss is a perennial SEC bottom dweller, and it's biggest rallying cry in recent years has been "Go SEC!! Man, we'd win 12 games a year if we played in any other conference!!"

Despite all that, Ole Miss has pulled together one of the 15 best recruiting classes in the country. The group is headlined by five star wide out Laquon Treadwell and four star defensive end Elijah Daniel, which is even more bizarre since those two are from Illinois and Indiana respectively.

You mean they can recruit outside of Mississippi? Something fishy is going on here...

7. The Last Minute-Switcharoo

This kid is the reason for The Coach Crying Foul. He's been committed to your program since September and has actually been using his Twitter handle to promote your school and let other recruits know how great your team's coaching staff is.

Heck, he's been committed so long, you've already added him to your NCAA 2013 roster and redshirted him.

But then, without a hint of change, he sends his papers to…. The conference power house that just offered him today! The kid and his parents then refuse interviews from all of the news outlets they were thrilled to speak with over the previous six months, while the fan base as a whole discusses whether he will only see the field in mop up duty during his career, or never at all.

8. The "He Chose Our School for the Right Reasons" Crowd

Which leads us to this group of fans. Sure, that one kid chose not to commit to your favorite program for some reason. Maybe it was an academic fit. Maybe it was a favorable depth chart. Maybe it was a relationship with a coach, or a scheme he wanted to play in. Or, heaven forbid, that school is better at football.

Of course, you're probably coming up with scenarios where he took money and your rival program bought his folks a house, but let's try to pretend this isn't Ohio State or USC for a second.

The point is, there are a lot of reasons said recruit could have chosen another program over your favorite.

But, one thing is for damn sure, he didn't do it for the right reasons.

Kid committed elsewhere for a favorable depth chart? He's afraid of competition.

Had a relationship with a coach? Come on, you commit to a school. That coach might not even be there next year.

Now, had he committed to your school for the same reasons, it would have been a wise decision. Sure, he could've gone to Texas, but he made the wise decision of heading to Oklahoma State where he will have a chance to make a bigger impact. His relationship with coach X is important, you have to know who's going to have your back when you get to campus.

9. The Butthurt Fans

While the "right reasons" crowd twists logic, butthurt fans outright ignore it. Kid commits somewhere else? He's an idiot. Or, if they're being kind, they'll just decide that there is something fundamentally wrong with him.

"Doesn't he know he'll be pumping gas if he commits to South Carolina?"

Okay, that was actually something Lane Kiffin told a recruit when he was still at Tennessee, but you get the point.

"I can't believe that kid committed to Auburn instead of the Tide, must be the lack of a father figure in his home."

The one thing all these fans have in common is that they equate the program with themselves. And dammit, if that program, with millionaires selling it, isn't good enough for some dumb 17-year-old to want to play for, what does that say about them?

10. The "This Kid Reminds Me of…"

Moving away from the negative for our final segment, this is one of my favorite parts of signing day, and recruiting in general. As American sports fans, we don't like surprises. We don't want to see a new kind of player that we haven't seen before, so we assume that every player, if he's any good, will remind us of another player that was pretty good.

On Rivals.com now, they even have a section where they say "prospect X reminds us of NFL player X." Wow, that makes it so easy, I don't have to think about this at all!

Never mind the fact that some of those recent comparisons have said Chris Martin reminds us of Julius Peppers. Who is Chris Martin? Well, he transferred from Cal, to Florida to Navarre College to City College of San Francisco.

You know, the clear path to being an NFL All Pro.

Still, it makes for great water cooler talk, and allows you to bring up all the times your program turned an unheralded two or three star player into an All American and NFL All Pro.

"This kid may not get the attention of that guy going to Notre Dame, but he's got a quick release and moxie. I swear, once he gets to Purdue, this kid is the next Drew Brees!"