Greg Cote

Greg Cote: ‘Experts’ not enamored with UM recruiting class, but time is ultimate judge

“We’re happy with this class and the needs that we met,” UM coach Al Golden said of he 2015 recruiting class.
“We’re happy with this class and the needs that we met,” UM coach Al Golden said of he 2015 recruiting class. FOR THE HERALD

This won’t quiet the baying wolves. Miami Hurricanes football fans steadfastly predisposed to complaint will see Wednesday’s National Signing Day results as another reason to doubt coach Al Golden, while stalwart fans determined to keep the faith are presented their latest challenge.

First let us say, and underline for emphasis, that nobody knows anything for sure when it comes to your or any college football team’s dice roll that a bunch of 17-year-olds might duplicate their high-school stardom at the next level.

That’s a gamble that can take a couple or even three years to fairly and accurately judge, which is why even other inexact sciences look down on the bizarre phenomenon of any school’s recruiting class spawning instant grades and rankings.

(“It’s just guesswork that isn’t to be trusted,” said Astrology).

This is part of why the annual media orgy of excess that National Signing Day has become is so silly, along with the absurdity of ESPNU nationally televising some kid signing a letter of intent. And we wonder why top athletes assume entitlement? We wonder why the order of “student-athlete” gets turned around?

In any case the dadgum class rankings are all we have and we are forced to trust them, because we are talking about a bunch of far-flung players who you likely have never heard of and almost certainly have never watched play.

So these rankings, like the Bible, are held as gospel by many, and they offer a somber counterpoint to the rote optimism espoused by Golden on Wednesday about his 20-player class of 2015.

“An exciting day for us,” said Golden in a 23-minute media session on campus. “We’re happy with this class and the needs that we met.”

Less happily, big daddy ESPN ranked UM’s class No. 24 in the nation, and both have it 26th, and has it 33rd. Those are the big four of NSD guesswork, and they seem to agree Miami’s bounty is underwhelming.

Only one other time in the past 10 years has a Canes class been ranked lower than 17th by ESPN; that was in 2011 when it did not crack the Top 25.

Have the rankings earned your trust, though? Nah.

ESPN ranked UM’s recruiting class No. 1 in the entire nation in 2008, with the group fronted by Jacory Harris and Sean Spence. Yet that group ultimately couldn’t even save coach Randy Shannon’s job. In the 2010-11 seasons, when that top-rated class should have been blossoming and leading the way to greatness, the Canes were a combined 13-12.

The lesson is that ballyhooed five-star recruits can fizzle and under-radar two-star recruits might surprise you and what happens once they step on campus – the coaching they get – is usually more important than whether they arrived as a blue chip or a lump of coal.

What’s most telling about the latest incoming class to me isn’t that the three-star guys outnumber the four-star guys. It is the location of where the guys are coming from.

Howard Schnellenberger used to say three-quarters of UM’s recruiting class ideally should be kids from Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties. Jimmy Johnson once told me he’d be perfectly fine if you told him he could only recruit South Florida – nowhere else in the country – but could have every local player he coveted.

The Hurricanes owned the backyard, once.

That is what has changed, and Wednesday continued the trend of many top local players making a U-turn away from The U.

UM is in a fight now to keep the backyard kids it wants, like a presidential candidate struggling to carry his own home state, and not always winning.

The latest indications:

Fewer than half of Miami’s 2015 recruits (seven of 20) are South Florida players. And UM landed only two of the Top 25-rated Dade/Broward prospects: Booker T. Washington running back Mark Walton (No. 4) and Killian safety Jaquan Johnson (No. 11).

The ones that got away – including American Heritage cornerback Tarvarus McFadden (to FSU), Booker T. receiver Antonio Caldwell (to the Gators) and Heritage quarterback Torrance Gibson (to Ohio State) – are some of the main reasons UM is ranked so low.

Golden mentioned making inroads upstate, especially in Jacksonville, but the program must redouble efforts to shore its Dade/Broward base.

Guys once committed to UM who changed their mind before signing day also were a huge problem for Golden this year, one he called “a little bit challenging, a little bit frustrating.” There were 14 de-commitments in all, an astounding number Golden owed to “a variety of reasons,” and a defection that left Miami scrambling at times.

Plainly, even though the NCAA investigation-cloud is past, a funk of mediocrity including a 6-7 season just past has robbed the program of much of the swagger that once was a major selling point, especially locally. The latest recruits were toddlers about 3 years old when UM won the most recent of its five national championships. A head coach under fire with many fans doesn’t help in the recruiting process, either.

I actually like what the Canes got a lot more than the self-appointed national experts who have made a lucrative cottage industry of analyzing high-school kids the way Mel Kiper Jr. does NFL-bound collegians.

I see two behemoth, highly regarded offensive linemen in California’s Bar Milo, a 6-6, 285-pounder who was Brad Kaaya’s teammate, and Bradenton’s Tyree St. Louis, who is 6-5 and 315. Keeping St. Louis was big, literally and figuratively, and UM beefed up an area of need with six OL signings in all.

I see other consensus four-star recruits including Killian’s Johnson, Booker T.’s Walton and New Jersey tight end Jerome Washington.

(Miami also added a transfer from Florida, Gerald Willis, a former five-star recruit who’ll be eligible in 2016. The Gators soured on Willis due to what Golden called “a lot of immaturity,” but what a talent if Miami can screw his head on right).

The class is a bit out of balance, with no quarterback signee and only one running back and wide receiver, but those were weak positions in South Florida this year, and UM is stocked OK at each.

It is all of those de-commitments, though, the ones that got away, that dragged Miami’s ranking down in general estimation. The program got a lot of players it wanted, but settled for a lot of others.

It leaves Al Golden without a highly-ranked recruiting class and – as usual – without much benefit of doubt.

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