It’s been two weeks since National Letter of Intent Signing Day, and college football fans around the country have spent the last several days either celebrating or lamenting their lists of incoming football recruits depending on what Rivals and Scout tell them to do. Navy fans aren’t all that different; we want to know what the future holds as much as anyone else. Signing day itself, though, doesn’t quite hold the same significance. Signing day is the first day that recruits are allowed to sign binding letters of intent under the NLI program. Once coaches receive a recruit’s signed letter committing them to the school, they’re allowed to talk about them. One exception to this is at the service academies, who don’t participate in the letter of intent program. Recruits are given certificates to sign at their high school’s signing day ceremonies, but unlike LOIs, they aren’t binding contracts. That’s why Navy won’t officially release its recruit list until I-Day. Not only that, but recruiting doesn’t end on signing day, either. The weekend or two after signing day are usually big recruiting weekends in Annapolis. And if another school didn’t fill all of its needs with its recruiting class, they can still go after service academy recruits. Signing day is more of a symbolic end to the recruiting season than a real one.

Continue reading “SIGNING DAY, IF YOU CARE”


Since we’re talking about Air Force, now would probably be a good time to talk about the recent hullabaloo over the Mountain West’s attempts to gain BCS membership, or to create a playoff. With all the talk we do around here about recruiting advantages, can you imagine if Air Force coaches could go into a recruit’s living room and tell him that he could play for a BCS conference? Especially when that recruit’s options are probably something like Air Force, Navy, Bucknell, Dartmouth, and Rhode Island. Those three little letters would certainly enhance the Mountain West’s image, Air Force included. Perception is reality, as the cliché goes. It would also add a lot of money to Air Force’s coffers. So… Is it time?

In a word, no.

The Mountain West can talk about how good Utah, TCU, and BYU are all they want, but it won’t matter. The BCS isn’t about quality of competition. The BCS is about putting together a television package that generates the maximum amount of revenue while being split between the fewest possible number of teams. To that end, it doesn’t matter how good the teams are. All that matters is how many people will watch. This is where the Mountain West’s case falls flat.

The BCS isn’t made up of the best teams in college football; any number of non-BCS teams routinely knock off BCS-conference foes every year. The BCS is made up of the most popular teams in college football. Take a look at the average home attendance of each BCS conference last year:

SEC 76,844
Big Ten 70,125
Big 12 62,956
Pac-10 57,350
ACC 52,737
Big East 43,145

Now, compare that to the Mountain West’s average attendance: 35,125. Only two MWC teams, BYU and Utah, have a higher home attendance than the Big East’s average. Those two teams skew the league’s average a bit. The average home attendance for the rest of the conference is a paltry 25,802. In short, nobody cares about the Mountain West.

That isn’t meant to be a slight to the MWC. It’s just reality. If the MWC or anyone else is serious about joining the BCS, they don’t need to show how their teams are good enough to compete; Utah, BYU, and TCU have done that. What they need to do is show how their inclusion would make current BCS members more money. But as the attendance numbers show, the Mountain West doesn’t add enough value in terms of a dedicated following for the BCS to be able to charge a significant premium for its television package. Adding nine more teams would just reduce the per-school share of the BCS money pie. That’s also why there’s resistance to a playoff; the money generated from the tournament would have to be split between too many teams. There is no incentive for the BCS schools to be more inclusive.

The people running the Mountain West aren’t stupid. I’m sure they know that they have no chance at seeing their proposals come to fruition. But by making a public to-do out of it, they generate free publicity for their best teams, highlight the true nature of the current BCS system for the public, and help to establish themselves as a leader among the non-BCS conferences.

Those are all good things as far as Mountain West schools are concerned, but nothing any Navy fan should really worry about.

Recruiting Quickie

Kyle Widhalm is a lineman from Carrollton, Texas that we have listed on our big recruit board, but without any background info/links. Until now, anyway, thanks to an e-mail I received over the weekend. This is a press release that was sent to the Dallas Morning News, but didn’t make it in (presumably because it was already after signing day):

From:  Coach Bob Giesey, Athletic Director & Head Football Coach

Re:  Kyle Widhalm, Center/Defensive Tackle going to the Naval Academy

Kyle Widhalm from American Heritage Academy has signed a letter of intent to attend the US Naval Academy.  Kyle is the son of Chuck & Carol Widhalm of Fairview, Texas.  While at Carrollton’s American Heritage Academy, Kyle has distinguished himself as a top academic student athlete. Along with football he is an outstanding shot putter and discus thrower in Track. Kyle made All District, All State and was a member of the North “Blue” DFW All Private School All Star Football Team. “Kyle Widhalm is one of the best offensive and defensive lineman we have had in 10 years of AHA football which includes many outstanding players”, says Bob Giesey.  “There has been no football player at AHA every work harder and been more of a team player than Kyle Widhalm”.  Kyle is a superior student and top citizen and I predict someday he will captain the Navy team. He was the “rock” of our championship team this past season and he will be hard to replace”. Robert McAllister and Charles Carter were his coaches this past season and as they have said on more than one occasion, “it’s a pleasure to be with Kyle every day”. Kyle is a tremendous leader and role model for our young players and it is our hope his legacy will continue with other players both on and off the field.

So there you go. One less mystery. Congrats to Kyle and his family, who are seen here along with his coaches:

Recruiting Update

Bill Wagner talks about Navy’s prep school-bound recruits, including Kevin Eckel, here:

It’s a great write-up on some of our future Mids, and Wags’ list includes several players that we didn’t have on our big board.

Billy Coates     LS      6-5, 220     Pebble Beach, CA
Jake Delvento     K/P     6-0, 180     Toms River, NJ
Kenson Dera     LB     5-11, 205     Naples, FL– We had mentioned Dera, but all I could find on him came from signing day last year. I’m not sure what his story is, but I’m going to take Wagner’s word for it.
John Kelly     DL     6-5, 225     Norcross, GA
Trey Reed     SB     5-10, 185     Texarkana, TX
Nick Ryan     OL     6-3, 270     Tucson, AZ
Kavon Seaton     QB     5-10, 180     Vista Murrieta, CA
Jordan Spriggs     DB     5-11, 155     Renton, WA
Siu Tafuna     DB     6-0, 180     Kahuku, HI  (highlights)
Kyle Widhalm     OL     6-2, 250     Carrollton, TX
Will Wied     LB     5-11, 210     Lafayette, LA

Is it just me, or did Navy recruit the west coast harder than ever? I can’t remember seeing so many players from California, Arizona, Hawaii, Washington, etc. Maybe Steve Johns is a recruiting juggernaut, maybe it’s a result of Ken Niumatalolo’s influence… Or maybe that’s just the way things happened to shake out this year.

Speaking of Hawaii, there is no doubt in my mind that thanks to Coach Niumatalolo, Navy is on the radar of a lot more island recruits. There’s a real us vs. them attitude there, and the locals take tremendous pride in their heritage. It was a remarkable sight at the Poinsettia Bowl luncheon, where many of Utah’s Polynesian players took the time to go to Coach Niumat, shake his hand, and have their picture taken with the nation’s first and only head coach of Polynesian descent. It definitely makes a difference when a Navy coach sits down in a Hawaiian kid’s living room.

This should be it for recruiting news until I-Day.

More Recruiting News

Navy had one more big recruiting weekend after signing day, and two players who made the trip to Annapolis decided that it wouldn’t be a bad place to call home for four years. Arkansas linebacker James Bornhoft and two-way lineman David Mills from Opelousas, Louisiana, both gave their pledge to Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo to suit up for the Midshipmen. Mills will go to NAPS. No word on Bornhoft, but with a 4.1 weighted GPA and a 28 ACT, he’s probably a good candidate for direct admission (because you know what I say carries a lot of weight with the admissions board). While Mills is all-state on the offensive line, he says he’s being looked at for the defensive side of the ball. Read more about our two newest signees here and here. Bornhoft actually has his own website, complete with highlight video. Congratulations to the future Mids. 

Speaking of websites & highlight videos, here’s one for Josh Fitzpatrick.

Loose Change 2/8/08

As it would be expected the week of signing day, this is going to be a recruit-heavy list of links. There are more stories on Navy recruits out there, too, which I might not get around to posting. Seriously, there are a lot of ’em. Those of you who pitched in with links, thanks! In case you didn’t know where the name of this blog came from, scouting for Navy recruits is what “Birddogs” are all about. Anyway, on to the news:

Wagner’s Recruiting Report

Bill Wagner’s signing day article is up at the Capital:

Along with some details on a few of the players, his list has a name two names we didn’t have:

Ryan Ackerman, LS, 5-11, 180, Clearwater Central Catholic, Oldsmar, Fla.
Austin Hill, LS, 6-0, 195, Mahopac, NY

If a player isn’t on Wags’ list, he’s probably going to NAPS. I’m going to leave the recruit page up until I-Day, when the official list is published.

Signing Day

It’s signing day, the first day that high school football players across the country can sign binding National Letters of Intent and officially commit to their colleges of choice. The service academies don’t participate in the NLOI program, but they still provide their recruits with certificates to sign at their high school’s ceremony so they can participate with their teammates. The Birddog Big Board at the top of the page is up to 38 players this morning, and I will be updating it throughout the day whenever the paying job gives me a chance. If you come across a name we don’t have up there, feel free to drop a name/link in the comments of this thread (you can leave all the fields blank if you want to remain anonymous). And of course we’ll all be waiting for Bill Wagner’s annual recruiting article in the Capital.

UPDATE: Up to 39 40 42 44 45 46 48 50 54 now.

UPDATE: According to this article we’ll have recruits visiting for at least one more weekend. It isn’t over yet! If our normal class is around 60, it looks like that’s about what we’ll hit again.

Seeing Stars

Emmitt Smith isn’t big or fast and he can’t get around the corner. I know all the folks in Pensacola will be screaming and all the Florida fans will be writing me nasty letters, but Emmitt Smith is not a franchise player. He’s a lugger, not a runner. The sportswriters blew him out of proportion. When he falls flat on his face at Florida, remember where you heard it first. 

The above words of wisdom were brought to you by long-time recruiting analyst Max Emfinger back in 1987. I bring them up because it’s that time of year again. Signing day is fast approaching, and more and more college football fans are wired to their favorite recruiting service, obsessing over the ratings that “experts” like Emfinger give their school’s recruits and each team’s recruiting class. It’s modern-day alchemy; a pseudo-science that has turned into a thriving, multi-million dollar industry. With that kind of money changing hands, you’d think that people would dig a little deeper into how these recruit ratings are developed. But nobody seems to care, or at least care enough to raise their voice over the hype, anyway. But in my isolated internet kingdom/suicide hotline, I’ll try to convince you not to jump off of that bridge after some Scout 4-star linebacker commits to another school.

A lot of people put a lot of stock into recruiting rankings. Recruiting aficionados believe that recruiting rankings matter because, for the most part, the teams at the top of them are winning games. But does correllation imply causation? The San Diego Union-Tribune put together an analysis last year of teams and their recruiting rankings, and put their results into a lovely PDF for us all to admire:

Of the top ten recruiting classes in the years leading up to 2006, 6 finished outside of the top 10 in the AP poll. Two teams, Miami and Florida State, missed the top 25 altogether. You can read the paper’s conclusions here.

Even if you disagree with the U-T’s conclusions, think about what you’re really saying here. The recruiting rankings correctly predicted that USC, Michigan, Florida, LSU, etc. would be talented.

Wow. Stop the presses. Is it really much of an accomplishment on Rivals’ part to correctly predict that USC, Michigan, Florida, and LSU would be good? Who couldn’t predict that, even without these rankings? These teams are traditional powerhouses. It’s an anomaly when they aren’t the dominant powers in college football. So we’re left with a chicken & egg situation. Are teams good because their recruiting rankings are high, or are their recruiting rankings high because they are traditionally good teams? To answer that, one must look at how each individual player is rated.

The assumption amongst recruiting junkies is that each recruiting service’s team of about 20 experts analyzes each player’s ability and rates them accordingly. That’s pretty hard to believe. Most coaching staffs have a hard enough time evaluating the talent they’re targeting just for their school. The idea that this small team of “experts” can break down the relative ability of the thousands of recruits listed in their database, then rank them accordingly, is just slightly ridiculous. They obviously haven’t seen all of these players in person, and several of these players don’t have any video in their profiles. So how on earth can all these recruits be ranked according to ability? The answer is that they aren’t. Oh, they’re ranked, obviously… but it isn’t according to ability. It’s according to popularity.

It’s a subtle but important distinction. Ratings are not assigned by talent. Ratings are assigned based on which schools are recruiting a particular player. For example, a player with offers from USC, Notre Dame, and Ohio State will be rated higher than players with offers from Akron, North Texas, and Ball State. The clearest proof of this is that it’s fairly common to see a player’s rating change. For Navy fans who follow the recruiting scene, it’s almost an annual joke to see the way a player’s rating changes when he commits to the Naval Academy. A lot of the one-star players magically become two-star, and sometimes three-stars become two-stars, too. The best example of the latter is Bayard Roberts, the 3-star New Mexico LB/DE who became a 2-star after he committed to Navy instead of UTEP. Of course, most recruitniks scoff at Navy football as some insignificant outpost on the I-A recruiting scene. Fortunately, Lisa Horne provided us with a more high-profile example here. But if you follow recruiting, you don’t really need examples. You see ratings change all the time.

Great, but so what? Football coaches are the real experts, right? And if all these guys are recruiting a kid, then shouldn’t that be a good indication of how talented he is? Well, there are a few problems with that assumption.

First, it assumes that the recruiting analysts are actually getting their information from college coaches. But they can’t; NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking about a recruit until he has either enrolled or signed a Letter of Intent. So where does the information come from? In a lot of cases, it comes from the player himself. Take the (in)famous example of Travis Tolbert. A little bit of self-promotion on a few internet sites, and things start to snowball. Eventually, other sites won’t want to miss the boat, and they’ll start hyping him too. Next thing you know, he’s making Top 100 lists. It all came crashing down once people actually bothered to talk to Tolbert’s coach. But there’s another problem; some coaches will be frank about their players’ ability. Others really want to see their kids get scholarships and will actively promote them. It’s no guarantee that you’ll get a straight answer from coaches, either. Of course, Tolbert’s example is clearly an extreme case. But you don’t have to take things all the way to the extreme to work the system.

Another fundamental flaw in recruit ratings is that they don’t take into account the wide variety in scheme that you find in college football. Let’s look at Sean Renfree. Renfree, listed as a 4-star quarterback by, had committed to Georgia Tech before Chan Gailey was fired. Once Paul Johnson was hired, it was obvious to Renfree that he’d be a fish out of water in the spread option, so he de-committed. PJ then went out and got a commitment from a 3-star quarterback named Jaybo Shaw, whom he had recruited while still at Navy. According to Scout’s rating system, that’s a downgrade. But Shaw was a 1,000-yard rusher in high school. Georgia Tech will clearly be better served with him under center in their new offense. Renfree might be all-world to Scout, but to Paul Johnson he’s useless. It isn’t just quarterbacks, either. Different offensive systems place different priorities on certain skill sets, as do defenses– there is a difference between the ideal 3-4 and 4-3 player. But to recruiting services, one size fits all.

A recent column by Tim Stevens in the Raleigh News & Observer found that the average rating of the All-ACC first-team was 2.77 stars. Along those lines, Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel asks how on earth some of Florida State’s players could have been so overrated relative to other players within the ACC. After reading these, I decided to take a look at this year’s AP All-America team and the Rivals ratings of those players. Four first-team All-Americans were rated as 5-stars: Tim Tebow, Darren McFadden, Illinois guard Martin O’Donnell, and Penn State linebacker Dan Connor. There were seven who had a 2-star rating. Seven! It’s one thing to say that some fluctuation is inevitable and that maybe a 2-star guy should have been a 3-star. But to whiff on that many future first-team All-Americans? Come on. And I’m sure that the recruiting rankings of the teams that brought these players in would have received a boost if Rivals knew that the group included All-American-caliber talent.

Here’s another thought: if recruiting rankings were all that some people claimed they were, then there shouldn’t be any surprises in college football. Where was Miami’s slide in the recruiting rankings prior to this season? How about Florida State? Why did Nebraska actually regress under Bill Callahan despite the almost universal applause for his improved recruiting by Nebraska fans? Where were the steady recruiting ranking increases of Missouri and Kansas leading up to this season? Or Boston College and Wake Forest? Or Kentucky? Why haven’t North Carolina and Mississippi State ever lived up to the lofty rankings they’ve received over the years? The reason is that recruiting rankings are reactionary. If we follow the recruiting rankings, we should see things coming. Maybe not everything… But it’s disingenuous to ignore all this while hailing recruiting rankings for predicting which teams were going to be good. Every single person reading this blog could probably make correct predictions at the same rate as Rivals and Scout without having any idea of what players each team has recruited.

I’m not saying that all 5-star players are overrated and all 2-star players are underrated. I’m just saying that you need to understand what’s really being evaluated with these star ratings– it isn’t talent. But don’t take my word for it. Jamie Newberg, one of Scout’s top recruiting analysts, said this about last year’s Georgia recruiting class:

“From a rankings perspective, maybe it’s a little below the bar Mark Richt has set. But recruiting rankings don’t mean crap.”

Couldn’t have set it better myself.

Recruiting sites serve a purpose. Hell, I read them. It’s fun to get a look at the Mids of the future. These sites are a great source of information. Evaluation? Not so much.

Loose Change 2/1/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week: