The first group (Rivals.com) claims that NU struggles to compete with traditional powerhouses. They say that despite recent success, the Wildcats fall one step behind, as the reputation does not mirror the results.
The second group avoids melodrama and looks at this rationally. Of course, NU's 2014 class met with adversity. You know who else's did in light of these decisions? Ohio State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and others. Both prospects had 30 offers, and when they rejected NU on the same day, it made several things apparent.
Bunting and Weishar seriously considered Northwestern. Four or five years ago, NU fans would nearly faint when highly rated recruits chose Evanston before Ann Arbor. Now it's considered a distinct possibility. Just last week, Solomon Vault received a Nebraska offer, and then jumped to his NU commit a day later. Our expectations are quickly escalating, but let's not lose perspective.
This was no free-for-all, and certainly no situation in which every school felt like it had a chance. Neither superback even bothered to consider Illinois or Iowa. We can joke about last season, but this marks one serious shift in reputation. The sort of growth in recruiting doesn't happen overnight; it takes several years and NU is well on its way.
And regardless of consistent evidence indicating the star-system shortcomings, it's easy to become overly preoccupied with them. Today, Scout's Jamie Newberg released his top 300 NFL Draft prospects—without a single mention of Northwestern. It is conceivable that not one member of last year's 10-win team will earn consideration from professional teams this week. Simply put, they find the right guys and they win.
When tens of schools compete for the same prospects, you win some (Godwin Igwebuike) and lose some (Bunting, Weishar). And how much do we really know about players?
NU did not offer Dan Vitale until June 2011—well past this stage in the recruiting process. Our analysts, though excellent, had difficulty figuring out how college coaches would maximize his ability. Fitzgerald signed him and moved him to superback. Vitale responded with an outstanding freshman season marked by consistent improvement. He was a two-star player. Oh, how Fitz laughs at the star ratings.
Jayme Taylor, an intriguing superback addition to the 2013 class, did not receive his offer until later in May. There's no reason to rush through the player evaluation process. Being a "five-year program" that constantly makes use of redshirts, NU cannot afford to sign the wrong players. This likely contributes to them consistently finding under-recruited players. It's not about the third or fourth star, but about the correct fit. It sounds cliché, yet the results tend to speak for themselves.
No doubt, the Wildcats would have been thrilled to get Bunting or Weishar. They could end up with a superback, but it's not necessary. Vitale looks like the perfect fit, and has three years of eligibility remaining. Taylor will redshirt, and will figure into future plans.
It's not a matter of making statements. It's about getting the right group of players who expect to win championships.
Sometimes–as has happened already in 2014–that involves taking recruits from Nebraska, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Iowa.
Tuesday was a rough day. But, with more 10-win seasons and another class greater than the one before, we'll forget about it pretty damn quickly.