Ratings, Potential High For NU's Class

During Northwestern's Signing Day news conference, head coach Pat Fitzgerald had some poignant remarks to recruiting services such as Scout.com. Many of the 21 incoming Wildcats were rated highly, and the group as a whole was tabbed as one of Fitzgerald's best classes ever. Star ratings aside, this group has high potential.

Northwestern's Signing Day press conference was a chance for head coach Pat Fitzgerald express his excitement for 21 incoming Wildcat recruits, and also give some love for the Scout.com player ratings.

Okay, only half of that is true.

Fitzgerald has clearly stated his distaste for recruiting services such as Scout.com. The former two-time All-American linebacker, who once rated himself as a "negative-seven-star" prospect, gave a less-than-flattering mention to the Northwestern recruiting reporters in attendance—myself being one of them.

"We've got two great guys down here covering our program from competing expert recruiting websites," said Fitzgerald in a sarcastic tone. "They know everything inside-and-out about recruiting."

I've been called much worse than an "expert," so I hold no resentment toward Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald and his coaching staff opened up their bottles of champagne shortly after 5 a.m., when they arrived at the Nicolet Center. After all, they have plenty to celebrate.

Northwestern's 2012 recruiting class is ranked fifth in the Big Ten on the Scout.com rankings, and by far the highest-rated class in Fitzgerald's coaching career. So what was his response to the high claim?

"Wow," he said, again, in a cutting tenor. "It's awesome, it's great. We went to the Rose Bowl with the worst recruiting class in the Big Ten."

The Wildcats' incoming group of 21 signees includes two four-star prospects, and three recruits ranked in the top ten of their respective positions. Not included in that group is incoming transfer Kyle Prater, a former five-star prospect and high school All-American.

During the press conference, many questions directed toward the NU head coach were about Prater and four-star linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo. He opted to deflect those specific questions, instead, referring to the entire class.

But, being rated a two-star isn't necessarily a death sentence for that prospect's career. Scout's rating are devised from detailed studying of a prospect's specific attributes in high school.

Fitzgerald and his coaching staff are some of the best in the country at maximizing talent from their players. A prime example of that is Dan Persa, once rated a two-star by Scout.com and its experts that Fitzgerald is so fond of.

When Fitzgerald says he doesn't use the Scout.com star ratings, he isn't lying. Northwestern uses its evaluation to see where a prospect can fit into its system.

Take for example Wheaton Warrenville South product Dan Vitale—a running back, receiver, and safety in high school. He was recruited to Northwestern as a superback.

Vitale was rated a two-star by Scout.com, largely due to his unknown strengths and weaknesses as a superback. Scout's Midwest expert (used, this time, without sarcasm) Allen Trieu sees Vitale as one of the biggest sleepers in Northwestern's class.

"He's a multi-talented guy who, I think, got lost in the shuffle a little bit because he was seen as not having a true position," Trieu said. "He's a pure football player though with solid size, strength and smarts."

Vitale is one of many members in the 2012 class who has high potential. Running back Malin Jones may not be a four- or five-star prospect, but he could potentially make an immediate impact as a freshman. The same goes for Ian Park and Eric Olson, who could fight for a starting job next season.

Fitzgerald and his staff don't use the rich information available on Scout.com, but they still do a tremendous job evaluating talent.

Northwestern's incoming group has received high praise from Fitzgerald's "expert" friends, but that class has unlimited potential. Any—and possibly every—prospect could become a two-time All-American like Fitzgerald was, and this group could make an appearance in the Rose Bowl.

But what do I know, I'm just an expert.

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