Comparing Classes: A Very Slippery Slope

It might not be ‘impossible' to come out and say that a recruiting class is this or that as far as its rank against recent years, but it is surely folly to try and do so. With the Recruiting Class of 2004 nearly in the books, fans want to sit back and speculate as to how Iowa did compared to previous years. Jon Miller takes on this topic and illustrates some basic premises that might be wise to follow when attempting to compare recruiting classes from year to year.

That is part of the fun of following recruiting.

This class will wind up being ranked somewhere in the 30-ish range before all is said and done.

Iowa addressed some of its needs and they were also able to add several great athletes whose positions might not be defined for several years to come.

When looking at the ‘rankings' that several services publish, one might say that if one year's class is ranked higher than another year, that was a better class.

The 1999 and 2000 Iowa recruiting classes were ranked 11th and 10th in the Big Ten Conference, yet several players from those classes made real and significant contributions to the 2002 and 2003 Iowa football teams that both finished ranked #8 in the nation.

Really, you cannot fully evaluate how good a class is until those players have been on campus for at least two if not three years.

For example, Bill Hodge rated Iowa's 2001 recruiting class as #30 in the nation. That class included highly touted Blake Larsen and Matt Roth.

While Roth has lived up to his billing, Larsen is still fighting to make his mark at Iowa. He has been on campus for three and a half years now and this is a very important off-season for he and his fellow ‘class mates'.

That class probably had the highest recruiting ranking of any class under Kirk Ferentz to date. Antwan Allen, Brad Banks, CJ Jones, Brian Ferentz, Chad Greenway, Ed Hinkel, Abdul Hodge and Matt Neubauer have all made contributions on the field. Banks was the AP Player of the Year in 2002. Hodge and Greenway could be all Americans at linebacker before they are through.

But we didn't know any of that back on signing day of 2001. It takes time.

In that vein, to say that last year's class or this year's class is the best we have seen at Iowa is sort of like relieving yourself in the wind, so I am certainly not going to go there.

We all know by now that there are few, if any, college football programs in the country that identify and then develop talent as good as Kirk Ferentz's staff at Iowa.

They take recruits and build them into football players. They maximize potential unlike anything I have seen in college football for quite some time.

Robert Gallery was not an All American coming out of high school, but Iowa made him into an all American.

There are always some that feel that you should be able to recruit up to your rankings in the polls.

That takes some time, and strong recruiting classes do not necessarily equal championship results.

Let's take a look at the 1999 & 2000 recruiting rankings from Bill Hodge, one of the veterans of the recruiting industry. A school's national rank, if applicable, is in ( )

1999 Big Ten Rankings

  1. Ohio State (2)
  2. Michigan (8)
  3. Michigan State (20)
  4. Penn State (24)
  5. Purdue (Top 40)
  6. Wisconsin (Top 40)
  7. Illinois
  8. Indiana
  9. Minnesota
  10. Northwestern
  11. Iowa

2000 Big Ten Rankings

  1. Penn State (6)
  2. Ohio State (8)
  3. Michigan State (10)
  4. Michigan (13)
  5. Wisconsin (20)
  6. Purdue (Top 40)
  7. Indiana (Top 40)
  8. Minnesota (Top 40)
  9. Illinois (Top 40)
  10. Iowa
  11. Northwestern

Now, let's take a look at the Big Ten Standings over the last two years combined:

14-2 Ohio State
13-3 IOWA
13-3 Michigan
10-6 Purdue
8-8 Minnesota
7-9 Michigan State
6-10 Penn State
6-10 Wisconsin
5-11 Northwestern
4-12 Illinois
2-14 Indiana

Based on the rankings, or at least the prevailing thought that a higher recruiting class ranking gives you a better chance to win, Michigan and Ohio State were right where you would expect them to be in the Big Ten standings based on the 1999 and 2000 recruiting class rankings.

There are, however, a few anomalies, with Iowa being the biggest.

With the core of their 2002 and 2003 teams being recruits from 1998, 1999 and 2000, Iowa clearly proved the ‘experts' wrong.

Or, they showed that they have a good eye as far as evaluation goes and they do a better job of developing their talent than any other program in the Big Ten. Purdue also did a decent job with the talent they brought in.

Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin have ‘underachieved' based on the recruiting rankings v Big Ten wins.

Most Iowa fans know that the football program that is in place right now in Iowa City does a lot of things well. But when you get a chance to look at some of these things on paper, those flippant statements really do take form.

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