Do Stars Matter? Ask the 2013 Quarterback Recruits

With the first ever Early Signing Day behind us, Michigan’s 2018 class is nearly complete, to the chagrin of many fans. Michigan had a relatively uneventful day after flipping German import Julius Welschof, signing 16 of the 19 verbal commits with only Kevin Doyle, new commit Ronnie Bell, and teetering commit Otis Reese still unsigned (for what it’s worth – Georgia signed an even higher ranked OLB yesterday, so perhaps that means he’s staying with Michigan). The class sits at #12 nationally according to the 247 composite, which is actually quite good considering Harbaugh stocked the cupboards with marquee talent the past two seasons – this class has more “high upside” prospects because they can afford to miss thanks to the talented depth at many positions.

That said, the early signing period by no means signals the end of the cycle for Michigan. Still on the board and very possible are 5-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere (very good chances on most recent BGRC), 4-star defensive tackle Tyler Friday (excellent), 4-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson (very good), and 4-star wide receiver Jamarr Chase (very good). Space in the class is a concern; with the transfer of Shea Patterson, Michigan is over the allotted 85 scholarships with many 5th-year players still to announce their plans for the future. After the bowl game and the quiet period lifts, we will know a lot more.

Do Stars Matter?

This class has sparked that conversation more than ever. Regardless of your feelings towards this class, everyone has a different opinion when it comes to this question. Personally, I don’t take them as gospel but rather a rough guideline and expectation but it’s ultimately up to the coaching staff to get the most out of a recruit. Alabama and Ohio State fans would tell you they absolutely matter; Bama has netted the top class six consecutive years and the national prominence to prove that it matters. Ohio State has had a top five class in five of the past six seasons and has a national title and another playoff appearance. On the flip side, Oklahoma and Clemson rarely appear in the top ten and you know the story on them. Michigan State and Wisconsin would also tell you to kick rocks because of their success despite lower recruiting rankings. It’s a weird industry.

The recruiting gurus over at SB Nation have been paying attention to this question for years. It matters for national championships. It matters for draft spots and All American selection. The always forward-thinking and personal college football hero of mine Bill Connelly hopes that the future of recruiting will offer two rankings to differentiate high school success within the context of its competition and a recruit’s future potential especially within the context of their future school of choice.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule and within the massive context of college football that fields 130 teams times 85 scholarship players at its highest level, there are bound to be many. Some top guys don’t pan out, whether it may be injury, fit, coaching change, or personal matters. Other guys prove every single recruiting site incorrect and leave the world of college football in their dust en route to the NFL.

For example: in Harbaugh’s tenure at Stanford, one of his first recruits was 2-star Doug Baldwin, a ghost in the nature of recruiting that wasn’t even a top 2,000 player in 2007. Baldwin led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2015 and has back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. On the flip side of the coin is Andrew Luck, who was the 3rd ranked pro-style quarterback in in the 2008 class and was a Pro Bowl quarterback in the NFL his first three seasons before being mishandled by the Colts front office. You can argue that Harbaugh was the common denominator through all of it, but they are a good example of why rankings both do and do not matter.

Let’s drive a little more into the future and look at this year’s Heisman race. The three finalists were a mixed bag of recruits. Lamar Jackson snuck into the composite top 250 as a dual-threat quarterback and won the award in 2016 (he had a statistically better 2017, but Baker Mayfield lowered the difficulty of the sport and just went nuts). Bryce Love was a composite top 250 as well but individual sites weren’t thrilled: 247’s own service had him ranked into the 600s and the 11th-ranked all purpose back. And the winner, Baker Mayfield was the 42nd-ranked pro-style quarterback and walked on to start as a freshman at Texas Tech before transferring to become the Baker Mayfield we all know now.

Stars only matter to a certain extent, but they certainly help. I took a deep dive into Mayfield’s 2013 quarterback class to see where everyone ended up. And the results were fascinating.

The 2013 Quarterback Class

  1. Max Browne, USC commit. Browne was a Lane Kiffin commit that redshirted for Sarkisian and Orgeron and then played in garbage time in 2014 and 2015. He was named the starter in 2016 but lost that job to Sam Darnold after some underwhelming performances. He grad transferred to Pitt for this season and lost that starting job too after starting the season 2-4.
  2. Christian Hackenberg, PSU. He gutted out a tumultuous culture at Penn State during his tenure and was okay. He threw oodles of interceptions (31 in three starting seasons) and completed only 56% of his passes, but I put much of that on the absolutely terrible offensive line that gave him little to no time to let plays develop. He became one of the most volatile draft prospects in recent memory (there are two links there), and was drafted 2nd round in 2016 to the Jets and is now the back-up to Bryce Petty (he was third string until McCown broke his hand).
  3. Shane Morris, Michigan. Left handed cannon that got shuffled around between offensive coordinators and head coaches. He played sparingly his underclassmen seasons and was the center of ConcussionGate that likely was the final straw that got Hoke fired. He never threw a touchdown pass in limited time and did fine as a grad transfer for Central Michigan this season, throwing 26 TDs and 2900 yards.
  4. Cooper Bateman, Alabama. Bateman was passed up on the depth chart and was the garbage time quarterback for the 2015 title team. He transferred to hometown Utah this season, walked on, and hasn’t played.
  5. Kevin Olsen, Miami. Without a doubt, the saddest case of almost any recruiting story that I know of. Greg Olsen’s younger brother was a Miami legacy and after redshirting a season, he failed a drug test and was later convicted of driving under the influence. He was kicked off the team and transferred to FCS Towson, where he was also kicked off the roster for undisclosed reasons before ever suiting up. He started for Charlotte in 2016 but lost his job and was most recently arrested for 2nd-degree forcible rape in February. Olsen sounds like a lost soul regardless of recruiting.
  6. Troy Williams, Washington. Played one season for Sarkisian in Seattle and then transferred to Utah after Chris Petersen was hired. He started for the Utes in 2016 and went 9-4 (though much of that was the return of RB Joe Williams who now plays for the 49ers). He now is the primary back up.
  7. Brice Ramsey, Georgia. Mark Richt recruit that was passed up on the roster for Greyson Lambert and then Jacob Eason and then Jake Fromm. He will suit up for potentially his final game on New Year’s Day in the Playoff. He’s attempted 78 passes in four seasons.
  8. Cody Thomas, Oklahoma. As talented of a baseball player as a quarterback. After Mayfield transferred in, Thomas quit football to focus on baseball and was drafted by the Dodgers in the 13th round of the 2016 draft.
  9. Hayden Rettig, LSU. Signed with LSU and Les Miles. After redshirting, he transferred to Rutgers and appeared sparingly in 4 games in 2015 and transferred again to Tennessee Tech. He left the team in February for personal reasons.
  10. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee. Succeeded despite having to play for Butch Jones. Started for two seasons in Knoxville and threw for nearly 3000 yards as a senior. He was drafted by the Steelers this year and is their 3rd quarterback behind Roethlisberger and Landry Jones.
  11. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn. Played on and off for Gus Malzahn and never really lived up to the shadow of Cam Newton. He’s now trying to make it playing basketball overseas.
  12. Kohl Stewart, Texas A&M. He signed for A&M but was a first round pick by the Twins in the 2013 MLB draft. He hit AAA this year and could potentially see the show next season.
  13. Ryan Burns, Stanford. Waited his turn and lost the starting job to Keller Chryst after throwing three picks in a loss to Colorado in 2016. He has thrown seven passes this season.
  14. Anthony Jennings, LSU. Two iffy years in Baton Rouge and was arrested in 2015 for breaking and entering. He then transferred to Louisiana Lafayette where he was equally iffy. The Jets worked him out in April.
  15. Jared Goff, Cal. He turned out alright. Drafted #1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft after throwing nearly 12,000 yards and 96 touchdowns in three seasons for mostly bad Cal teams. Now is the starting quarterback for the (likely) NFC West champion LA Rams.
  16. Ryan Buchanan, Ole Miss. He backed up for two years and retired from football after Shea Patterson committed. I wonder if he regrets that now.
  17. Danny Etling, Purdue. Two bad years for very bad Purdue teams, sat out 2015 when he transferred to LSU, and has had two pretty good years for pretty good LSU teams.
  18. Tyler Bruggman, Washington State. Redshirted as a freshman and then lost the starting job to walk on Luke Falk. He then transferred to Montana State and then transferred to a community college closer to home in Arizona and then transferred to Texas A&M where he is now a graduate student but has not seen the field this year.
  19. Kyle Bolin, Louisville. He committed to Charlie Strong and lost out to Lamar Jackson after redshirting. He grad transferred to Rutgers for this season, where he threw twice as many picks as touchdowns.
  20. Austin Allen, Arkansas. 9-12 as a starter his junior and senior seasons. Just a guy.

Other notables in the class:

  • Riley Ferguson, #23. Signed with Tennessee, transferred to Memphis where he has thrown for back to back 3600 yard and 30 touchdown seasons with a 3:1 TD:INT ratio. Not bad.
  • Davis Webb, #25. Signed with Texas Tech where he was passed on for Pat Mahomes after a shoulder injury in 2015. Transferred to Cal where he threw for 4,295 yards and 37 touchdowns. Currently on the Giants roster and is the heir apparent to Eli Manning (even though McAdoo benched Manning for Geno Smith and got himself fired).
  • John O’Korn, #32. …yup.
  • Luke Del Rio, #33. Walked on to Alabama, transferred to Oregon State, transferred again to Florida. Had double shoulder surgery after the 2016 season and broke his collarbone in his first start of 2017. Brutal.
  • Baker Mayfield, #42. Walked on to TTU and won the starting spot as a freshman. Transferred to Oklahoma and set the world on fire. 2x conference Player of the Year, Heisman winner and runner-up, broken NCAA records for completion percentage and passer rating, and then broke his own records again this year. Will likely end his tenure as one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.

If you were to cite the 2013 quarterback class, then no, stars and rankings absolutely do not matter. But quarterbacks are weird and this year is an anomaly within the larger context of recruiting classes. Only Bateman, Dobbs, Buchanan, and Allen played for the same coach to whom they committed. Jared Goff and Jeremy Johnson had first year coaches as freshmen. And even the best in the class, Mayfield, is playing for a new coach this season. There is hardly any pattern to this specific year.

Do stars matter? Sure they do. Are they all that matter? Absolutely not. You can’t give a 5-star a guaranteed rookie contract simply because he is a 5-star and you can’t write off a 3-star simply because he is a 3-star. Guys mature (both physically and emotionally) at different times and things might ‘click’ for them sooner rather than later. Like the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, one coach’s treasure quarterback might be another coach’s trash. After the signature on the dotted line, I think the coach matters more.

It’s a weird industry.

Header photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

Bill Getschman