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It's no secret that success on a national scale in the college football world depends on a program's ability to recruit at an elite level. Since the turn of the century, the vast majority of National Champions have boasted rosters with at least 50 percent of the players earning a designation as a four or five-star recruit.
While not all five-star recruits become superstars, not all five-star restaurants satisfy everyone. The point is, the more four and five-star recruits a program has at its disposal, the more likely that program is to compete at a high level.
But what about the programs that haven't consistently competed with the national blue bloods? What about Arizona State?
How essential is recruiting blue-chip talent to the Sun Devils' overall success? SunDevilSource ran the numbers.
Comparing the output of ASU signees
Last week, SunDevilSource published, 'Arizona State steadily increasing blue-chip ratio under Todd Graham,' a piece detailing how Graham has ratcheted up the number of former blue-chip prospects lining ASU's roster.
For the first time in the Internet era, the Sun Devils anticipate having 25 former blue-chip recruits on their roster, which is four more than the previous high of 21, set in 2016.
The talent currently on ASU's roster is a sharp contrast to when Graham first arrived, as the Sun Devils were stuck with just six former blue-chip players, all four-star recruits, in each of Graham's first two seasons.
However, since that time, the Sun Devils have loaded up on blue-chip talent, with more than 40 percent of the four and five-star prospects ASU has signed in the last 16 years coming to the Sun Devils as members of the program's four most recent recruiting classes.
While Dirk Koetter and Dennis Erickson each signed 19 blue-chip prospects, Graham has signed 33 such recruits, 29 of whom have signed within the last four cycles.
Though the Sun Devils aren't on par with the number of former blue-chip players on Pac-12 South Division counterparts USC and UCLA's rosters, ASU is closer than it ever has been in the Internet era to assembling a comparable roster.
That matters to ASU, because the difference in production between two, three, four and five-star recruits is statistically significant, and has been since the dawn of the Internet era.
Since 2002, ASU has signed 73 two-star recruits, 207 three-star recruits, 71 four-star recruits, six five-star recruits and 19 players who were not ranked by Scout. With 357-rated signees over the past 16 years, the average star-rating of an ASU signee from 2002-2017 is 3.03, a solid, but unspectacular mark.
Over the past four seasons, though, ASU has signed 92 players with an average star-rating of 3.28, thanks to the influx of blue-chip talent Graham has managed to land.
Although the Sun Devils did take three two-star prospects in their 2017 recruiting class, for the most part, Graham has managed to cut down on the number of two-star recruits ASU is reliant on to fill out its roster.
Pursuing and landing four-star prospects is pivotal to ASU's success as a program because it's an indicative mark of success throughout college football. Much like at other programs, the two-star recruits ASU has signed are much less likely to become multi-year starters than four-star prospects.
Over the past 16 years, only 19 percent of the two-star prospects ASU signed developed into multi-year starters, while 33 percent of the two-star prospects the Sun Devils wound up signing never ended up playing for the program.
In comparison, 30 percent of the four-star prospects ASU signed became multi-year starters, while only 24 percent of the four-star prospects didn't end up playing for the Sun Devils. Additionally, while only five percent of the two-star prospects ASU has signed have incomplete resumes, because of the young blue-chip talent Graham has acquired in recent seasons, 20 percent of the four-star prospects the Sun Devils have signed have incomplete resumes.
That means that the 30 percent of signees who became multi-year starters is likely to grow in the coming years, which should reveal an even greater discrepancy between the percentage of two-star and four-star recruits who became multi-year starters for the Sun Devils.
As for the three-star signees, which make up the majority of the players the Sun Devils have signed in the last 16 recruiting cycles, 26 percent went on to become multi-year starters while 28 percent didn't end up playing.
In the past 16 years, the Sun Devils have signed just six five-star recruits, but even though that provides an extraordinarily small sample size compared to the number of two, three, and four-star signees ASU has landed, the results of their careers back up the recruiting rankings.
Of the six five-star signees, three of those players, Justin Burks, Zach Miller and Vontaze Burfict became multi-year starters, while Corey Adams became a one-year starter. Junior college tight end Aaron Austin, a five-star signee and member of the 2002 signing class, became a reserve, while 2015 five-star signee Davon Durant didn't play for the Sun Devils.
All three of the ASU coaches during the Internet era, Koetter, Erickson and Graham, have enjoyed different experiences with the blue-chip recruits they each managed to sign.
To date, Erickson landed the most successful blue-chip recruits, with more than 50 percent of his four and five-star signees eventually starting at some point during their careers. However, Graham has a strong chance to produce better overall numbers than Erickson, given the fact 44 percent of his blue-chip recruits have incomplete resumes while his roster also consists of more blue-chip recruits in general, which makes it more likely for those players to earn starting roles.
Interestingly, Graham has taken a different approach to acquiring talent blue-chip talent than both of his predecessors, mining the high school ranks for higher-caliber players while Koetter and Erickson each pursued more highly-rated junior college talent.
Of the 38 blue-chip prospects Koetter and Erickson combined to sign, 17 came from the junior college level, with nine of Koetter's blue-chips and eight of Erickson's four-star signees joining ASU after playing in junior college. In comparison, of the 33 four and five-star signees Graham has landed, only five were signed out of junior colleges, including 2017 signee Blake Barnett, who never actually played a snap at Palomar College after transferring out of Alabama.
Though Graham signed at least nine junior college players in three of his six recruiting classes at ASU, Graham has signed a much greater volume of his four-star prospects at the high school level, which could be an indication of why a smaller percentage of his blue-chip recruits haven't played at ASU, compared to Koetter and Erickson's recruits.
In many aspects, Graham has done a superior job compared to Koetter and Erickson in evaluating junior college talent, especially early in his tenure. On average, Graham signed two more junior college recruits annually than Koetter and Erickson did, even though both of his predecessors signed more blue-chip talent from the junior college level. Regardless, Graham ended up with three-star players like Jaelen Strong, Damarious Randall, Marcus Hardison and many others who made considerable impacts for the Sun Devils.
To date, though, Graham's pursuit of high-caliber high school talent has offered more of a sure bet than Koetter and Erickson's approaches. To put Graham's approach in perspective, if none of the players among the 44 percent of Graham's blue-chip signees become multi-year starters, Graham's share of blue-chip signees who became multi-year starters would still be greater than Koetter's.
Regardless of the approach, however, all three of ASU's coaches during the Internet era have signed four-star recruits that outperformed three-star recruits, and three-star recruits that outperformed two-star recruits, which shouldn't come as a major surprise.
Much like foodies who enjoyed a night at a five-star restaurant or homeowners who splurged for the four-star washing machine, college football coaches who use the resources at their disposal to land higher-rated prospects are more likely to wind up satisfied.
The challenge, of course, for ASU has been acquiring enough four and five-star talent to consistently compete at a high level within the Pac-12. In previous years, ASU was more likely to be reliant on two and three-star signees to become multi-year starters, because the Sun Devils didn't recruit enough blue-chip players to take over starting roles. Under Graham, however, this dynamic is changing, and it should lead to an overall shift in the capability of ASU's roster.
Still, as SunDevilSource has detailed throughout our series analyzing ASU's recruiting operation, the Sun Devils must develop a strategy that yields them an opportunity to compete for more high-caliber talent on an annual basis that allows ASU to have a large number of blue-chip players to use each year.
Though every coach loves a "diamond in the rough" type of prospect, diamonds in the rough typically don't exist at Alabama, Florida State and USC. That's not because Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Clay Helton aren't philosophically opposed to giving a two-star prospect a chance, it's because they'll probably never have to.
While recruiting rankings are far from a perfect science, they paint an important, sobering picture of reality for a program and its fanbase.
With the 2017 recruiting cycle now in the books, ASU has more blue-chip prospects in the program than it ever has in the Internet era, which indicates the Sun Devils are headed in the right direction.
Now, when Graham and his assistants take the field this spring, their chances of booking a table at that four star restaurant --and booking a four-star player into ASU's starting lineup-- are greater than they were before.