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College Football Recruiting: Making Sense of the Rankings

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On Wednesday, Notre Dame did what they've done hundreds of times in their illustrious history: They signed a superstar player from a distant state looking for a great football, academic and spiritual experience. In fact, Mante Te'o, whom ESPN calls the best defensive high school player in the country, was taken with Notre Dame because Charlie Weis has been "so supportive of my faith."

"I think that we would be hypocritical, being a faith-based school, to not to respect and honor somebody's religion," Weis told reporters about Te'o, a devout Mormon who plans to take a two-year mission.

Weis is right. On signing day, for all coaches, matters of faith = matters of football.

So which coaches best kept the faith and insured their own future? We decided to come up with our own rankings. That's because there are so many people projecting, and so much of it is based on raw athleticism. College players are far easier to project than the pros, but there's always some mystery. So we spliced together three top ratings services: our own plus the venerable Scout.com's and Rivals.com's.

We averaged the composite ranking of each service and came up with a final score. Here are the results.

• The next four were UCLA, Miami, Florida and South Carolina.

• Did Scout.com have something against the state of Florida? They had Florida State at No. 17, Miami at No. 20 and Florida at an amazingly low No. 21. (The Gators were fifth at ESPN, 10th at Rivals.) Urban Meyer only signed 16, but the class is loaded with blue chips in the way Pete Carroll's recent small-but-spectacular classes have been. The average quality recently at USC and Florida has been off the charts.

• LSU had almost the perfect combination of quality and numbers to get them the consistency award. But South Carolina should get honorable mention. Amazingly, all three services had them pegged at No. 12 overall.

• Scout.com's system causes a wide variance. Schools like Florida and USC, which recruited lower numbers of kids but with higher ratings, get hurt. So Ole Miss, who inked thirty-seven kids, gets bumped way up. Last year, Alabama was the winner at Scout with thirty-four kids, beating out USC, even though USC's kids were rated far higher on an individual average. The problem: you can only keep 25 of those kids on scholarship for the season. A class gets rewarded even though a bunch of kids either have to gray shirt or wait on the scholarship.

If you want an interesting case of the difference between the power names versus the rest, consider this case, with a little-known DE/TE out of British Columbia, Trey Henderson. Two years ago, Henderson was a rising two-star player out of Canada. (Most ratings systems go up to five stars, the level that perhaps 20-30 total players can reach out of hundreds.) He'd verbally committed to Washington State in the fall and planned to sign with the Cougs until a week before Signing Day. That was when USC learned that one of their own verbal commitments, a player from Tennessee, had decided to stay home. Next thing you know, Henderson is on a plane to Los Angeles. After his weekend trip, he went with the Trojans.

A few days later, Scout.com had elevated Henderson's status to three stars while his ranking at the position of TE shot up nearly thirty places. When he was merely a WSU recruit, Henderson was ranked in the 60's. Now a Trojan, he was upped to a respectable 43. The reasoning was obvious. If USC, a program that Pete Carroll likes to acknowledge only recruits blue chip caliber kids if they're out of state, thought Henderson was worth a scholarship…then he must be that good.

Essentially, it matters to the rankings services not just if a kid is good, but if Saban, Kiffin, Carroll, Stoops or some other power program agrees.

(Should be noted: if a USC rep called your ratings service and told you, "This kid is going to be special," wouldn't you take another look? Wouldn't you find some tape? If a program routinely sends a handful of their best into the first round of the NFL Draft each year, that makes a difference. Would you trust your own video, sometimes just a mish-mashed 10 minutes of highlights often spliced together by a high school coach … or do you trust the word of a program who so rarely misses? Bottom line: who recruits a kid matters in terms of where he's ranked. A lot.)

And if a kid is so good that Charlie Weis is willing to accompany him to church and stand in a press room on the campus of Notre Dame to speak openly of providing a great spiritual experience …

… and that player is planning on taking a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season?

Well, maybe we should convert that five-star to an even six.