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A Recruiting Class Can't Be Evaluated Until a Few Years Have Passed

TEMPE AZ - NOVEMBER 26: Randall Carroll's contributions to the UCLA football program were enigmatic at best, despite his high rankings as a high school player.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TEMPE AZ - NOVEMBER 26: Randall Carroll's contributions to the UCLA football program were enigmatic at best, despite his high rankings as a high school player. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A confession:

As time goes on, I find myself less and less interested in the vagaries of the recruiting process. I've gone from someone who spent the whole month of January and half of February neglecting work, family and friends while checking the various recruiting sites -- like Tracy Pierson's Bruin Report Online -- 200 times a day. It mattered to me, recruiting "wins" felt just as good as wins on the field.

I'm actually old enough to remember when very few people followed recruiting. In the 80s, before the advent of the Internet, full time recruiting reporters, All Star games on ESPN, scouting combines and the like, we found out who UCLA and USC got when the Los Angeles Times ran a piece the day after signing day. Those stories contained the same quote every year, when then-coach Terry Donahue would remind us that "You can't judge a recruiting class until a few years down the road."

If you're expecting me to criticize Coach Donahue for that remark (which sort of channeled his weekly pre-game poor-mouthing, when he'd assert that 1-7 Oregon State was "the best 1-7 team he'd ever seen" and that he expected the game to be a real challenge), you're only partially right. On one hand, it was typical Donahue, lowering expectations as insurance against potentially average results.

On the other hand, ol' Terry was right. You can't judge a recruiting class until a few years down the road. I mean, let me ask you this: Name your top five Aundre Dean highlights. Tell me your all-time favorite Morrell Presley moments. Do you remember all those kicks speed burner Randall Carroll ran back for touchdowns?

Neither do I.

"But, Achilles, every team is going to have their share of recruiting busts. And everyone is going to have a few unheralded players turn into stars. Generally speaking, it's still important to have a highly-rated recruiting class."

Fair enough. I get that. But I've just been around this too long to put too much stock into star rankings and the decisions of 17-year-olds.

There are a few other elements that give me pause when it comes to following recruiting. (And -- btw -- I'm not telling any of you not to enjoy or follow the whole recruiting thing, I'm just giving my side of things.) As most of you are, I'm a UCLA graduate. It's been a while since I sat in a classroom but some of those lessons still stick with me. And one of them pertains to doing the proper research. Unless you actually take the time to attend high school football games and attend enough of them to get a good look at a recruit in at least a few different games, then what exactly are you using to evaluate a class? A few highlight tapes? Anyone can look good in a highlight tape. A typed evaluation written by someone you've never met? Okay -- I sort of see that. I read movie reviews, too. But unless I've seen all the movies, I can't tell you whose going to win the Academy Award. My point is, what passes for information in recruiting circles wouldn't pass muster in a real research setting.

"But, Achilles, we're just following recruiting for fun. We don't pretend to really know what we're talking about. It's just something to talk about in the off season."

That's fine. I get that. We all need hobbies. I read bad detective fiction and love The Fast and the Furious films. Not everything has to pass the high art test.

The other thing is: The guys we are recruiting right now in all likelihood won't even play for a few years. The class really won't make an impact as a whole for like three years. By that time, we'll be excited about some other recruiting class and won't even remember how high this class was rated.

At least I won't.

All that aside, there are a few things I think we need in this and every recruiting class. One is a quarterback. I don't know as much about this stuff as some of you, but I am positive that we won't be successful as a football program unless we have a good quarterback. I don't know which high school quarterback is the one we need, but I know we need a good one.

We also need a pass rusher. I've been thinking about this a bit and I realized that we did a poor job of rushing the passer in recent seasons. That's why everyone is always screaming that we need to blitz more. But our pass rush woes could also be cured with a stud defensive end, so that's my other recruiting wish.

A quarterback and a defensive end.

Other than that, I don't know who most of these guys are. I haven't attended a high school football game in exactly 20 seasons. (I take that back, I've seen a few freshman football games because my nephew played. I also attended an Irvine game this season, but only because my niece is in the band. We only watched halftime.)

Totally changing the subject, I thought this item on Deadspin today was pretty funny:

There are few things worse than seeing a flag fly on the field and then hearing Joe Buck tell you it's "in the area of holding," because that means it's totally gonna be holding, and the interesting play you just watched will be negated like a USC championship. Holding penalties are awful. We should just make holding legal so that fans don't have to endure the dread and agony that comes with those penalties.

Programming alert: Your next "Guesses" column won't be until spring practice.