For Oregon State fans, recruiting usually mean a finish in the bottom half of the conference, as viewed through the prism of the scout.com aggregate rankings. Does this mean that Beaver fans should be disappointed every year? You have to dig deeper for the answer.
FOR MOST EVERYONE these days, it's all about how many stars a player gets. Some Oregon State fans like to repeatedly point out how many of their unranked players ended up being selected in the NFL draft, or won the Biletnikoff Award, etc. and assert that stars don't matter. Beaver fans on the other side of the fence like to point to the performance of, say, an underachieving offensive line the last two years, which is dominated by starters who began their career as walk-ons. The truth of the matter lies somewhere in between.
Oregon State has consistently over-achieved compared to recruiting rankings, year in and year out, under head coaches Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson. But by and large, there is a direct correlation between the recruiting rankings and season records. Simply put, when you get your first pick, you have a better shot at success than when your first, second, third and fourth picks go elsewhere.
A 5-star player isn't guaranteed to be an NFL – or even a college starter or star. But 100 5-star players produce more All-Americans and NFL draft picks than do 100 3-star players. That isn't perception, it's verifiable fact. The system, overall, works.
But does assembling the 25 highest-rated players in your conference guarantee success on the field? Of course not. Because there is so much more to what makes a successful recruiting class than how many stars you piled up in your recruiting class.
An age ago, when the internet was not available from the palm of your hand and cell phones were the size (and weight) of stonemasonry, Colin Cowherd had a local radio show, Dennis Erickson was still the coach of the Beavers, Rick Neuheisel was still running betting pools undetected up in Montlake, and Jonathan Smith was a regular guest on "The Herd". One day, Cowherd was discussing recruiting classes and why he liked Oregon State's class much better than Washington's.
What he said stuck with me -- that Neuheisel had a highly rated class, but the reality was that it was a collection of guys that were flashy, had a bunch of stars, jumped high and ran fast. Workout warriors and high school heroes. Oregon State on the other hand, had a bunch of "Oregon State football guys." What impressed him about this OSU class was that they were guys that Oregon State needed, and who fit their system. Washington's class, on the other hand, had a lot of bling but not the pieces that fit together.
BOTTOM LINE, it's impossible to judge a class based on the average star ranking. A class, that on the offensive side of the ball, signs 3 quarterbacks and 3 running backs who are all 4- and 5-star recruits looks great on paper... but there's only one football to go around. A class that has 3 offensive linemen, a stud running back, a promising quarterback and a big tight end has less star power, can and often does have a much greater impact on the field.
Skill players are easy to identify for scouts - they develop earlier and they practically jump off the screen at you when watching them on film. They fairly dominate most of the top 100 players in the country. But the football world is full of 5-foot-7 to 6-foot-3 athletes who are 200 pounds. Look around, how many guys do you know who fit that description and are athletic? Now take another look around -- How many of them are 6-4 and 300 pounds... and athletic? What about 6-6 or 6-7 guys who can run, how many are there of those types?
It's cliché but still true -- "Games are won and lost in the trenches." Offensive and defensive tackles are as rare as hen's teeth, they're superhuman in terms of a combination of size and athleticism and when you have good ones, life is a heck of a lot easier. It's virtually always a position of need, so a class that either has bona fide tackles or a class that can manufacture them from the pieces that they got, is a good start. The same can be said of game-changing tight ends who can block as well as run downfield and catch the ball in the red-zone. They're scoring machines, especially in Mike Riley's offense.
Making sense of the overall ranking is tough - it doesn't always show on paper when a class really is a good one. It takes a deeper look to figure out who recruited well for needs, and where the weight of the classes resides.
Oregon State's class ranked 44th in the country but they had a top 10 offensive line class, which was the position of need for the Beavers. They signed a pair of very promising tight ends, one of whom, Caleb Smith, is Pac 12 ready now and looks like a game-changer. They only signed one running back…who fielded offers from virtually the entire rest of the Pac 12. Would, or should, BeaverNation wish they could trade OSU's class for Cal's class, ranked 11 spots higher at No. 33? Not on your life.
In terms of recruiting for need, and fielding those rare pieces, the Beavers hit an absolute home run. While Cal's quartet of Treggs, Lawler, Powe and Harper are dazzling on film, and provide a nice boost in the star power department - but there's only one football to go around.