By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Contrary to what some think, especially those loyal to the so-called developmental college football programs, stars do matter in recruiting.
Stars don’t guarantee success, but they matter.
Not every five-star recruit lives up to the enormous hype that goes with that title, but many of them do.
The Iowa football program has proudly defied the odds for nearly two decades under Kirk Ferentz by turning under-recruited players in high school into over-achievers in college.
From Bob Sanders to Chad Greenway to Josh Jackson and Josey Jewell, the list of overachievers under Ferentz is long and distinguished.
But that only tells part of the story because Iowa also has had its share of heralded recruits who have performed well under Ferentz, with heralded meaning anybody with at least a four-star rating, or the equivalent based on what was used as a grading scale at the time.
That list would include running back Jermelle Lewis, tight end Tony Moeaki, offensive linemen Dace Richardson, Bryan Bulaga, Austin Blythe and current center James Daniels, defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and current freshman A.J. Epenesa and linebacker Jeremiha Hunter among others.
And if stars are irrelevant and misleading, then why do schools, including Iowa, make such a big deal about them when it works to their advantage, but dismiss them with it doesn’t?
In fairness to Ferentz, he is about as low key as they come with recruiting hype. He does the signing day thing because it’s part of his job, but doesn’t go overboard with the hype or make any player sound like the second coming.
“The bottom line is the guys on our staff have really worked hard to put this group together,” Ferentz said at the signing day press conference on Wednesday. “I feel really good. Most of these players have been here a lot. They've found their way to campus often, most of them.
“We really feel comfortable about the mesh between them and us. I think they've got a good idea what we expect in our program, what we're going to expect of them as players. The buy-in has been really good. Feel good about that.”
That’s about as much hype as you’ll get from Ferentz. He prefers to focus on the importance of finding the right fits than how many stars a player has next to his name.
Ferentz’s narrative probably would change just a little bit, though, if Iowa consistently landed classes filled with four and five-star recruits. But Ferentz still would be guarded because that’s just him, while other head coaches enthusiastically embrace the hype.
Coaches like to say that the rankings don’t matter, especially when their recruiting classes have no heralded recruits, and yet those same coaches offer a lot more scholarships to four- and five-star recruits than two- and three-star recruits.
There is a perception that Ferentz doesn’t pursue the so-called mega-recruits, but that isn’t true. He might not waste a lot of time recruiting a kid with five stars who dreams of playing for a blue-blood program.
But Ferentz will make an attempt.
Iowa signed 15 players on Wednesday, including three who have a four-star ranking by at least one recruiting service. That number will grow to four when Indianapolis defensive back Julius Brents makes his signing official.
The way in which stars are awarded in what has become a saturated recruiting landscape is based mostly on film study, performances at summer camps and 7-on-7 tournaments, and from a recruit’s list of scholarship offers.
There are more so-called recruiting analysts handing out stars than ever before. And some fans just can’t get enough of it.
College football recruiting at the highest level has become almost a sport in itself, even more so with the new early signing day.
The media gets excited when the team it covers lands a heralded recruit, as do the fans, coaches and everybody else associated with the program.
Stars don’t matter until there is reason for stars to matter.
Stars don’t guarantee success, but they often increase or decrease the chances for success.
Part of what made Iowa’s 55-24 victory over Ohio State on Nov. 4 at Kinnick Stadium so incredible was that a team filled mostly with two- and three-star recruits crushed a team filled mostly with four and five-star recruits.
From a star-rating point of view, the Buckeye beat-down defied explanation.
But on the flip side, that was just Ohio State’s fifth loss to Iowa since 1963. So the team with more recruiting stars usually wins in that series, and in most series.
Marc Morehouse from the Cedar Rapids Gazette posted on Twitter shortly after Wisconsin defeated Iowa 38-14 on Nov. 11, and for the fifth time in the last six games, that the Badgers have 19 four-star recruits on their current roster, while Iowa only has five.
That was more proof that stars matter.
Recruiting still is an inexact science, but the teams with more heralded recruits usually have a better chance of having success.
That hardly is breaking news, but sometimes, it's ignored in order to fit a narrative.