CRIMSON COMMENTARY: The state of recruiting

THERE'S NO ESCAPING the cyberspace kvetch: Washington State is one of just a handful of Division I-A schools yet to secure its first known verbal commitment of the 2008 football recruiting season. So the question, in this era of earlier and earlier commitments, is this: Have the Cougs missed the boat? Or are they consciously taking a different approach that will nab late-blooming gems?


If you believe the message boards, Washington State is in trouble this recruiting cycle.

There's another side to that coin: Not so fast.

A look at WSU's last class of recruits offers credence to the "get 'em later" approach. The 2007 class was dubbed by Bill Doba as his best ever. Recruiting coordinator Greg Peterson has said when people go back in a couple years and look at the freshmen, they'll find it to have been a tremendous haul.

The class consisted of 27 signees. And 26 of them verballed after Oct. 1. Perhaps more telling, 14 verballed after Jan. 1.

The results are particularly striking on offense. From this chair, there's enough early evidence to indicate that freshmen Steven Ayers, Kevin Freitag, Andrew Roxas, Marshall Lobbestael, Jeshua Anderson, Daniel Blackledge, Logwone Mitz will be mainstays.

And I'll go you one further. They're the types of kids you can win Pac-10 championships with.

Because while history will prove there are indeed 2-star prospects accurately forecast by the recruiting services, it will also show the difference between a number of 2-star and 5-star kids is more accurately measured by a microscope.

IT IS TRUE that many of the recruiting services' top-rated prospects are off the market. The plain truth is also that, using the past as prologue, WSU wasn't after many of them. WSU probably also wasn't going to get the majority of them even if they were.

No one ever gets everyone they want, USC included, despite what how some pundits have gushed to the contrary. The reason the Trojans grabbed Vincent Joseph and Trey Henderson away from WSU late the past two years was because they missed on guys they had higher on their board.

Yo, mailman. Star THIS!
Death and taxes aren't the only things in life that are certain. So is this annual rite of February: Pundits rating Washington State's football recruiting class at or near the bottom of the Pac-10.

With three straight 10-win seasons between 2001 and 2003 -- making WSU the first Pac-10 school to accomplish such a feat since the 1930s -- the Cougs put a big ol' finger in the eye of those evaluating the talent crusades.

Those years were built in no small part on players who attracted little recruiting attention -- people such as Will Derting, Erik Coleman, Marcus Trufant, D.D. Acholonu, Calvin Armstrong and Rien Long.

Coleman and Armstrong, by the way, were the Cougars' first verbals in the 2000 class -- and those pledges didn't arrive until Halloween weekend.

One reason pundits traditionally rank WSU at the bottom of the Pac-10 recruiting sweepstakes is that large numbers of prep prospects -- prospects that WSU relishes going after -- never get "evaluated" by national analysts. It's just not possible to cover that many kids. As such, if a kid isn't looked at by an analyst and he signs a D-IA letter of intent, he's simply awarded 2 stars. Period.

Moreover, many of the players who are evaluated are done so with thin data -- a 10-minute highlight tape here, a combine workout where players don't where pads there, or a single game where little is revealed other than how he did against that week's competition who mostly won't be playing football beyond high school.

There's also what a Pac-10 assistant told CF.C back in 2004: "I don't believe any of the evaluators have ever coached a down of college football in their lives. And second, here on the West Coast, it's all driven by proximity to Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, the Bay Area and Seattle."

All this doesn't make recruiting services bad. The evaluators I know are thoughtful and hard working. And they often offer a wealth of information and insight. One comes to mind who is simply a juggernaut, he would be a talent in any line of work he chose.

But the fact remains for every 4- or 5-star talent coming out of high school who didn't fulfill lofty expectations, there's a 2-star kid -- like Jason Hill, Eric Frampton and Mkristo Bruce -- who rises to prominence.

Even a 3-star WSU signee can get the short shrift. If you compare the 5-star OL recruits from 2005, a strong case exists for a Cougar who was worthy of a 5-star designation -- Kenny Alfred. George Yarno says the sophomore center, already on the Rimington Award watch list, has All-American written all over his future. -Barry Bolton

Importantly for Wazzu, what remains on the market this class -- even with the talent that has verballed elsewhere -- is a crop of kids both deep and wide.

Frankly, with the likes of UCLA (24 verbals) and USC (14) filling up, the proverbial decks will be less cluttered for WSU to navigate this fall and winter. If a stud from California blossoms his senior year, how is UCLA going to a) find room and b) convince him to come with four guys already at his spot?

And is the supposed lack of talent still available, according to the recruiting services, overstated to begin with? When WSU's Steve Broussard hits his Los Angeles recruiting area and the inner city schools he's recruiting, his pool of 50 guys is now down to, say, 30. Pac-10 talent still lives behind those doors, ones that Broussard will be knocking on when the rules allow for it later this fall.

FROM A PHILOSOPHICAL approach, Washington State has never doled out a ton of early offers. Mike Price, like Doba, preferred to see a kid's senior season.

The risk in that is missing out on the fine talent who wants to commit early. The benefit is you get a better read on the kids and a better chance of avoiding some of the "misses." For Washington State, a program that regularly has depth concerns at a position or two each year, what approach makes the most sense? Take some chances and grab as many early verbals as you can, or see if you can capitalize on some gems others pass over while trying to make as few mistakes as possible?

To be blunt, the father of the early verbal, Joe Paterno, darned near destroyed his legendary program by making so many mistakes based only on prospects' junior seasons. Since 2000, Penn State has had four losing seasons. Four. And there are others who seem to be on that same path.

No matter how adept a staff at evaluating talent, the probability for misses rises dramatically the more commits they take before a senior year for one very simple reason: the data a coach bases those decisions on, simply, and sometimes dramatically, changes.

There's often a significant amount of change between a junior and senior season -- on both sides of the talent coin. A world beater prospect as a junior sometimes sees the rest of the world catch up. While his star rating sees very little movement regardless, there can be a huge swing in the rankings that matter most -- where he's slotted on a school's recruiting board.

SOME WOULD ARGUE an inherent contradiction here. Because if you asked every coach in the country if they'd rather try and win with USC's recruiting class or Washington State's, it's an easy call. So let's address that, too.

Because there is also a way WSU can compete for more of those types of "headliner" prospects the USCs of the world do land, thereby increasing their chances of signing successful recruiting classes.

And here's the main point on this -- Because while part of the reason for Washington State's against-the-grain approach is in part philosophical, there's another aspect to it: money.

Specifically, the lack of it to go head-to-head with USC and others for the biggest prep stars on their recruiting boards.

Washington State can go toe-to-toe when comparing academic support systems, weight rooms, practice fields, training table and other aspects.

But the centerpiece of the program -- Martin Stadium -- is less than compelling.

You want to see bigger recruiting "names" each year come to Washington State? Support Phase III, and then Phase IV, of the four-phase stadium project.

Washington State is a very special place. Pullman actually has a family atmosphere, it's more than just the perfunctory marketing it is at other places. But that also takes you only so far with the materialistic gap that exists between Martin Stadium and the rest of the stadiums in the Pac-10.

One of the more consistent themes running through the hundreds upon hundreds of phone conversations I've had with prospects the past three recruiting seasons is this: facilities matter.

Oklahoma State offers perspective. The Cowboys -- comparable to WSU's record the last three years at 18-18 -- have recently gone wild with facilities development. And the recruiting windfall is being realized. They're going toe-to-toe for recruits with Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M.

And they're winning. On a bunch of them.

I'm not saying WSU fans need to reach the same level of giving as has Okie State in order to compete. They don't, actually. And Washington State fans are giving more than they ever have before.

But as much as it has improved, it's still not close to the level of the Cougs' competition. If you want to see more of the bigger names on the Wazzu Signing Day ledgers, help bring the stadium up to par with the competition Washington State recruits against. It's as simple as that.

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