With highly touted prospects like Justin Jackson, Dareian Watkins, Blake Hance, Auston Anderson and more joining an already strong recruiting class of 2014, Northwestern fans are unsurprisingly excited about the future of the program. The coaches are too.
The thought process goes like this: If Northwestern can achieve what it has with recruiting classes ranked average at best, then surely it can reach even greater heights when bringing in a crop of talent like this.
But Coach Pat Fitzgerald always says he doesn't care about how many stars a player has, and that he doesn't care about how high the team is in the recruiting rankings. He just wants great character players that can take this program to the next level. History shows there's definitely something to this thought.
That class already led the Wildcats to the Gator Bowl victory, and inspires much of the optimism surrounding this team.
That "77th," though, was even spots lower than our friends in Champaign—who the Wildcats went on to beat by more than five touchdowns last season. NU had zero four star players in the 2010 class and 16 three stars, but that class played a major role in turning the program's fortunes.
The Michigan State team Northwestern beat last season was ranked 47 spots higher on those same recruiting rankings. Auburn was ranked number 4th, but you can see where that program went.
Northwestern will never be the type of program that recruits championships. It will be the type of program that comes together and works to win them.
Statistical recruiting prowess is nice, but there's no award handed out to the team with the best recruits. There's a bunch of bowls in December and January, and the coach's only job is to win a good one. His job does not require him to have the best athletes on the field every week. He just needs to win. The team just needs to win.
As the recruiting process continues, it is very possible that the news will only get better for Northwestern. A spiral effect could mean that the attention the team has already received from its recruiting success in recent months will lead to more highly touted recruits picking the ‘Cats. Even promising defensive end Garrett Dickerson placed NU in his top five.
But don't overreact. Other teams will start catching up, and Northwestern's smaller recruiting class–about 15 or 16 deep–will probably mean that they fall lower on the rankings than the unusually high number 15 spot that they hold right now.
Again, don't overreact.
I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know here. This is just a reminder, a reality check perhaps. This coaching staff is doing a remarkable job on the trail and has fans and players more excited than ever. But they'll be the first to tell you: The real work has not even begun.