In case you hadn't heard, my daughter was born early last Monday morning. She's healthy, my wife is doing well and I am thankful for all of that. One problem. The kid came about 5 days early. She was slated to be born this past Friday. So, instead of 10 days off, I only got 7. That's not that big a deal. What's a bigger deal is that if my daughter had been born when she was supposed to be (her first act in a lifetime of defiance, I'm sure) then I would be off today, which is also known as National Signing Day.
National Signing Day is a huge event for college football fans. If you're a marginal college football fan (or less) it's common (and easy) to call a day comprised of overdone college announcements by 17 & 18 year old kids "creepy", "stupid" and even "meaningless". I'm with you on the first adjective, maybe even the second, but I can't go with you on meaningless. Far from it. The future of many college football teams will rest on this day. Look at the top classes over the last 5 years and you'll see the names of many of college football's elite programs over and over again. As Ron Zook was so fond of saying about college football, "It's not about the X's & O's but the Jesse's & Joe's". Zook's right kinda. This is only partially true. You must have elite talent to win in college football. You also must develop and coach this talent at a high level (Zook has always been able to recruit, though somewhat unevenly...it's the whole "coaching" thing that's been a thorn in his waterskiing side).
Another thing that many people who I'd describe as "anti-NSD" like to point out are the number of busts. 5 star recruits who never pan out. And there are plenty of these. To these people, the 5-star bust is proof that these recruiting rankings are way off base and don't really matter. That just isn't true. For proof, look at the classes Florida and Alabama brought onto campus in 2006 and 2008. Those classes were loaded with future pros and played enormous roles in leading their respective programs to conference and BCS Championships. What's interesting about these classes (to me at least) isn't just the 4 & 5 star recruits who panned out, but also some of the under the radar guys who became major contributors.
In my opinion, that's where an elite coaching staff really separates itself. They definitely need to be able to pull in top tier talent, but they also need to be able to even out the class (Randy Shannon recruited wonderfully at Miami on paper. However, deeper inspection reveals classes with 7 LBS and 6 WRS and embarrassingly thin along the lines.) with talent at all positions as well as players who can develop and become big time players later in their time on campus. Because that's the thing about some of the elite recruits in high school, many of them have peaked physically or looked better than they were due to port competition, or maybe they're just satisfied and lazy. While this often happens, some 2 & 3 star recruits end rated lower due to a number of factors outside of their control. Whether they're late bloomers, came from a below average high school program or were playing out of their natural position due to the needs of their high school team. A perfect example of this is Ahmad Black. He came to Florida as the 7th recruit of 7 to sign with the Gators out of Lakeland High. In a group that included the Pouncey twins, Chris Rainey and 5 star DT John Brown, few people even noticed Ahmad Black. Why would they? He was a 5'9" 180 lb Safety who ran a 4.55 forty. He was going to have to convert to corner (which he'd never played before) and most thought he was too slow to do that. Most were right. Black wasn't a corner. What he was was an instinctual safety with a nose for the ball and a complete lack of fear or back down. And as sure a taclker as you'll ever see at the collegiate level. Black would start for 3 years at Florida and become an All-American. Did he only receive a Florida offer because Urban Meyer wanted to make sure all his high profile high school buddies signed with the Gators? Maybe. Was it one of the great recruiting success stories in recent memory. You bet.
So, anyway, NSD matters. In fact, for my alma mater this particular NSD matter a lot. If you even casually follow football, you know Florida was bad this year. Really, really bad. The program is in transition and Urban Meyer's multiple "retirements" left a cupboard somewhat bare. Not of talent in general but talent at key positions (OL, WR, DBs) and depth across the board. Currently, Florida stands in the top 5 (depending on if you follow Rivals, Scout or ESPN) nationally amongst recruiting classes this year. However, much is at stake today. As many as 8 different 4 & 5 star recruits with Florida amongst their leaders will announce their intentions today (one of them, WR Stefon Diggs, is waiting until 2/10) and Florida's class will be heavily affected by how things turn out today.
The last time I can remember Florida's fortunes depending so heavily on NSD was in 2003. Ron Zook was the coach of Florida at the time and his success, or failure, was thought to hinge largely on the strength of the 2003 class. At the time Zook had already received a commitment from the nation's #1 QB, Chris Leak. However, going into NSD Florida was still waiting to hear from a number of 4 & 5 star recruits. Names like Joe Cohen, Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell, Antonio Cromartie, Reggie Nelson & Craphonso Thorpe (Quick Craphonso Thorpe story: My brother-in law was born & raised in Tallahassee, as was Mr. Thorpe. Many years ago, one of his buddies was coaching a youth football team in town. For whatever reason, the coaches got together and drafted their teams. This friend didn't know many of the players but he drew the draft's #1 pick. So he scanned the list of available names and saw...Craphonso Thorpe. He figured a kid with a name like that had as good a shot as any of being good. And he was right. His team, lead by Craphonso went undefeated & won the city title). Nelson, Jackson, Cohen & Caldwell would commit to Florida that day and, after mixed results and a coaching change just two years later, would eventually help form the core of Florida's 2006 National Championship team.
The Gators are in a similar position this year. They have a new, still unproven coach and plenty of holes to fill. Many of these holes, Gator fans hope, can be filled today. Grantland ran a brief NSD piece late last week where they identified the top 10 still undecided prospects in America. Of that ten, five currently have Florida in their top 2. Today could be HUGE for the Gator Football program. Or it could be a day that permanently injures the career of Will Muschamp at Florida. Or, it might be neither of these. See that's the thing about NSD. It is a big deal. Its just a big deal that we won't be able to truly understand until 3-4 years from now.
And even if you don't care about any college football team in particular, NSD is worth paying attention to because of scenes like this:
As well as the stories behind these scenes.