By Rivals' rankings, Texas ranked 2nd amongst Big 12 teams. There could any number of dissenting arguments made for why Texas should be higher and how they've been unfairly punished for not taking as many players.
The rankings seem to rely upon a formula that emphasizes total numbers in addition to the ratings quality of the selected athletes. I have only this to say in response: you never really know how kids will turn out at 16-18 or how they will respond to college ball. Recruiting rankings manage to stay more accurate in projecting futures than...picking at random, but the only sure way to get great players is to take as many as possible.
Nick Saban is nodding and returning to film study right now.
Anyways, the goal in recruiting is to get the players you need for your specific program. Different programs are looking for different traits and qualities from the players they select and have to be judged based on their strategic vision and whether they are achieving it. Not how well they captured the essence of a top 100 Rivals or ESPN prospect with their takes.
Otherwise you'll end up concluding that Kansas St is a perennial overachiever that simply relies upon the magical powers of their head coach...which is only half-true.
Here in part 1 we'll begin by unfairly summarizing different teams' approaches with catch-all descriptions of their strategy. Then we'll examine if they are achieving that goal. In part 2 we'll handle the teams we didn't broach in part 1.
Recruiting to a system:
Now everyone does this to an extent, but some schools look for specific qualities and traits in their players to develop according to their schemes and techniques. The spread teams usually fall into this category.
Let's start with emerging power Baylor.
They're looking for very large, though not unathletic, lineman with which to pummel defenses with their Veer-inspired run game. At Quarterback they need someone who can handle the quick reads of their pass and run game, be mobile enough to handle the option, throw the deep ball with touch, and fire the bubble screens with velocity since their receivers are spread out so wide.
They'd never take someone with Case's arm strength in their system, nor would they need someone with accuracy all over the field like Sam Bradford for it all to work.
At receiver they want speed. They spread their formations out more than any other scheme and create open spaces for their guys to run through. At tailback they've learned that they can run through nickel and dimeback arm tackles with big runners like Ganaway or Martin IV and of course there's plenty of opportunity for a burner like Lache Seastrunk.
On defense they've slowly been trying to upgrade the levels of athleticism. They've struggled to field players with acceptable levels of strength and skill in every part of their front seven at the same time. When they've had a good DT like Phil Taylor he's been surrounded by weaker supporting teammates. When they were strong at linebacker with Joe Pawelek the rest of the defense was weak.
Consistently finding good defensive lineman for the 4-3 (or 4-2-5) is generally the hardest thing to do in recruiting. The number of people in this world who can handle beat the main blocks that offensive lineman use today AND generate a pass rush are very few. Then there's the fact that kids are quick and large enough to do so in high school are not always motivated to maximize that potential in college. See Bible, Taylor.
For their 2013 class, Baylor landed JUCO DT Terrell Brooks, who has both the size and athleticism needed at this level, as well as Waco product Andrew Billings, whom we all wanted for Texas. Billings tape is replete with examples of him lined up in a 5-tech as a 3-4 defensive end and then flying into the backfield to deliver nasty blows to ball carriers. It reminds me of Vince Wilfork's high school tape, in which you see a monstrous form emerge from the middle of the line before flinging someone, usually the QB, to the ground like a rag doll.
They also scored another transfer with Brian Nance, who was committed to Baylor previously but needed a year at Hargrave Military Academy to become eligible. This is what a Big 12 middle linebacker looks like, and what we hope Steve Edmond will become someday. Nance fills the middle passing lanes in coverage with good positioning and long arms and comes downhill against the run with the power afforded by being 6-3, 240.
They also landed some smaller, faster players at linebacker of the sort every Big 12 team needs. On offense they refueled the engines with the state's top WR, Robbie Rhodes, and a lightning-quick QB named Chris Johnson who certainly has the touch to murder with their vertical passing game.
The only hangup for them is that they didn't land any well-regarded prospect along the OL for that machine. Generally their better players on the OL have actually been three and four star talents that flourished in their OL-friendly schemes. They did well here in 2012 and they'll need to pick it up again in 2014.
OSU is another school that tends to recruit to scheme and they loaded up with their usual payload of undeveloped big athletic OL, the most athletic defensemen they could find, and a few stud receivers that you know will end up as stars down the line in their system.
I didn't study their class as much but it seems clear that they grabbed their usual assortment of semi-heralded and over-looked talent. Keep an eye on JUCO DE's Naim Mustafaa and Sam Wren as OSU's cover-2 system thrives when they have a pass-rusher like Jamie Blatnick to speed up the QB's internal clock and encourage ill-advised throws to their ball-hawking back seven.
They've used Fire Zones under Bill Young, who is now gone, to generate pressure but they still need athletes along the front seven who can be weapons for those schemes to get home.
Then there's West Virginia, who have found a solid collection of athletes that will undoubtedly prove deadly in Holgorsen's offense. By using the 3-4 defense, they allow themselves to generate a pass-rush with smaller linebackers that needn't necessarily be able to hold up as DE's, they just need to be sure to find the DL to keep the OL from turning all those LB's into roadkill.
However, finding DL that can stand firm against Big 12 running games isn't necessarily that difficult. Especially if they don't need to be great pass-rushers. They had a big and strong haul of linebackers and pass-rush prospects in this class but none of the big DL they'll need. I expect they'll go the JUCO route in the future to find some 300 pound plugs to clog things up for them.
Last year demonstrated that a bigger question is whether Holgorsen is willing to spare some of their better athletes from offense to field a half-decent secondary. They ranked 120th in adjusted yards per attempt allowed last year and were absolutely helpless on the sidelines against any WR with a pulse.
As for their weapons on offense, they did a good job getting some tall kids on OL and there is some good speed in their incoming skill players. Holgorsen had the fantastic privelege of working with Wickline at OSU and Leach at Texas Tech where he learned a lot about building pass protectors AND road graders.
To build their OL's at WV he's taking kids that go 6-4, 6-3, 6-6, 6-5. Per the Leach stratagem, the next step is to see those kids balloon to 300+ so that they are extremely difficult to get around while employing vertical pass protections. Next, following the Wickline school, you teach them how to screen and combo players in Zone schemes to create creases without having to physically master people.
Long term they definitely know what they're doing up in Morgantown, now if they can convince their kids to take every game a little more seriously they could be in business.
I can't tell you much about Tech this year, perhaps Dedfischer can chime in for the comments. They seemed to have to fill up with the picked-over Texas HS leftovers from the rest of the league. That said, there's generally a lot left-over in Texas to pick from.
Deploy men vs boys
Much of the league likes to grab kids from the JUCO ranks in order to try and quickly fill needs and holes with players that won't require as much of an adjustment to the college game. While playing JUCO ball may not share the high stakes of playing Texas HS playoff football at Katy or Southlake Carrol, the players do have a chance to become accustomed to playing grown players rather than teenagers.
One important factor to keep in mind is why these players are in the JUCO ranks in the first place. For many of them, they are there because their grades or off-field issues kept them out of major universities. A JUCO school like Blinn may have more talent at one time than even some Big 12 schools. JUCO kids that are able to transfer into a major school are often very talented players in their 20's who have had to work hard and develop life-discipline in order to actualize their talent and potential for a big university.
So there are your advantages: you can see how the kids develop in their underclassmen years and you can get talented kids who have had to make something of themselves away from home.
Many schools do not rely on JUCO's because you only get them for a few years, are constantly having to reload with them, and because they are often not as talented as the four and five star HS stars that managed to get acceptance to a major university as a younger man.
Obviously this is Kansas State's strategy with Bill Snyder and Charlie Weiss copied it at Kansas this season when he selected 19 of his 24 signings from the JUCO ranks.
Snyder understands how to operate this machine better than most, and it remains to be seen if Weiss can emulate him. The Wildcats are looking to bring in the more athletic members of the junior college ranks and then fashion them in Snyder's fires of discipline into sturdy gears of war. For their purposes, they mostly just need hard-nosed players on offense, a QB or RB who can be a feature back in the run game, and some speed at WR for play-action.
On defense they really need speed everywhere because their defense rarely blitzes and relies on well-executed pattern matching to keep the ball in front of them. With the linebackers aggressively matching routes, they need speed to rally back to the ball. The defensive ends need to be able to generate pressure without the aid of blitzing. Of course you always need speed at DB in this league.
They lost linebacker DeVondre Campbell to Minnesota at the last moment, but they scored Dallas Skyline backer Isaiah Williams, four star JUCO backer Nick Ramirez, and several other athletes in the back seven to realize this vision. They also scored a four star JUCO DE named Tanner Wood.
Snyder's losing nine starters from last year's KSU defense, which ranked 2nd in the league in adjusted yards per play last year. It's unlikely that these pieces will immediately coalesce into an equally effective unit in 2013, but you can probably bet on them being one of the league's top units again.
It'll be interesting to see if they go with Klein's lightning quick back-up Daniel Sams or start incoming JUCO Jake Waters at QB in 2013. Waters was a particularly interesting take for Snyder, listen close and I'll tell you some secrets.
Snyder is a developer of QB's, that's his background. He uses a version of Stoops' defense, minus much of the blitzing. Legend has it that when Stoops left KSU for Florida long ago Synder required that he write down all his schemes on a blackboard and answer Snyder's questions about a million what-ifs to the dark wizard's satisfaction before he could leave. On offense, Snyder has always operated under the principle that his program is particularly effective in fashioning option offenses that feature the QB as a running threat.
His OL are great at run-blocking, but they generally aren't premier players for the position. Klein did great things in the passing game using play-action, bootlegs, and quick-read spread concepts. If you asked these KSU OL's to hold off a better pass-rush so they could throw the ball 30+ times a game with three and five step drops, the results wouldn't be pretty.
Jake Waters is a passing QB. Think David Ash, actually. His listed 40 time is a 4.6 and he can burn you on a Zone Read if unaccounted for but I can't imagine him being deployed like Klein was. Either Snyder thinks he has has some feature backs on the roster to pick up the slack or the personnel to handle a greater emphasis on the pass game. If neither are true, replacing Klein is going to be far too much for them to handle.
I can't tell you how Kansas has done with their class, I do think that Weiss may have better luck incorporating his NFL schemes with older players who can handle the complexity.
His favorite trick is to use unbalanced lines, diversity in the run game, and hard-nosed OL to constantly flank Big 12 defenses unused to handling a smashmouth approach to football. To maximize his system he'll need better QB play and a vertical pass game but at a place like Kansas he'll have to prioritize the run game first to get any kind of competitive advantage.
They took a lot of solid pieces in the trenches this year and you can probably bet on them being tough to beat in Lawrence and still unable to keep up with high scoring teams anywhere else.
We'll tackle the remaining schools in part 2. Comments for now?