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Following Recruiting When You Don’t Follow Recruiting

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It’s all about the marco

LSU v Arkansas
He was once just a recruit
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

We are less than a week away from the most important day of the offseason football calendar: National Signing Day.

You can pretend that recruiting is one big racket and that it’s all just a scam to sell subscriptions. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, the Recruiting News Industrial Complex is a giant beast designed to turn rumors into facts, but not before it reaches into your wallet.

However, this does not mean that recruiting is not the lifeblood of any program. The polls won’t line up precisely with the recruiting rankings, but you need talent to get into the game. The most talented teams, the ones with the most blue chip prospects, are the ones that will win the most games. It’s a simple fact: talent matters.

But that doesn’t mean you have to throw in your lot and obsessively track every high school athlete in the tri-state area. I mean, if you want to, you absolutely can, but the rest of us will benefit from some other poor schmuck’s legwork, swoop in on the final days, and learn pretty much all we need to know about the year’s recruiting.

Because here’s the thing, recruiting is a numbers game. Individual players, short a Leonard Fournette level talent, don’t matter all that much. What matters to you, the LSU fan, is the larger trends, not the individual talents. It’s not like you’ve evaluated the quarterbacks yourself and have a real well-informed on the matter.*

*Unless you’re like Paul. Then you do. But for 99% of us, we don’t know a damn thing about these guys, and pretending that watching their self-selected highlight reel on Hudl somehow qualifies as “watching their tape” is delusional.

So here’s your quick guide on how to follow recruiting without getting bogged down in the details. Look at the big picture.

Class rank matters… sort of

Being in the top 5 is better than being in the top 10 which is better than the top 20 and so on. By and large, national recruiting services know what they are doing. They are going to miss on individual prospects, but they will miss roughly the same rate on everybody’s recruits. It’s all about having more shots at getting a great player.

That said, don’t obsesses over being #4 or #5. There’s not much difference in each ordinal rank. Usually, we’re talking about one prospect that made the difference between those classes. Recruiting services are good, but they aren’t perfect. They are also evaluating high school kids who have not fully developed across the entire country. Thinking you can get a precise ranking of the incoming talent is insane.

Defend the borders

Louisiana is one of the most talent-rich states in the nation. It also is home to precisely one Power 5 program. LSU’s success largely depends on keeping Louisiana talent home. Now, that does not mean getting every single player in the top 10. There’s some pretty good programs on our borders, and they are going to win some battles. That’s just life.

I think a general rule of thumb is that you would like to see LSU get at least 7 of the top 10 Louisiana players. Six isn’t a disaster if LSU stays strong in the top three and grabs to the top in-state prospect. Here’s how LSU has done according to the 247 composite the last four years:

2016: 9/10 (#5 to Bama)
2015: 7/10 (#4 to Bama, #5 to ND, #7 to Oregon)
2014: 5/10 (#2 to Bama, #3 to A&M, #5 to Florida, #6 and #9 to Bama)
2013: 8/10 (#3 to Bama, #10 to Miami)

Miles largely defended the borders, and he continually pulled in the top recruit. Orgeron needs to be held to this same standard.

Filling needs

A highly ranked class is worthless if you recruited 20 backs and receivers, ignoring the rest of the team. Freshmen are asked to make an impact more and more each season, but it still takes linemen the longest time to develop into contributors. That means not just filling roster holes from this year’s graduating class, but looking ahead to future depth chart issues.

LSU’s quarterback issues have achieved legend. We also, after this upcoming season, will only have two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, neither of whom has taken a meaningful snap yet. McMillan got to run out the clock a few times, but he will enter his sophomore year essentially trying to keep the freshman from taking his job.

Furthermore, Derrius Guice is near certain to leave early for the NFL after next season. That will leave Nick Brosette as the only running back on the roster who has taken a meaningful snap. LSU has some depth at receiver, but the two starting wideouts plus the tight end have all left the program. These are holes that need to be addressed right now.

Linebacker depth is near non-existent, as three starters leave the program, and Arden Key will certainly leave for the NFL after his junior year. The defensive line isn’t quite as critical, but depth there has been gutted by graduation and attrition. LSU needs to fill these holes in the roster.

A strong finish

Usually, this doesn’t matter to LSU. Miles liked to have everyone in the barn by this point, and Signing Day was more an exercise in holding on to what we already had. Orgeron plays a more dangerous game, going after the biggest of big fish. This is great if you can haul in those big names, but it is a bit nerve wracking. The bluest of blue chip recruits will wait until Signing Day to make their announcement, and it will make or break this class.

Right now, LSU has 21 players committed. That means LSU is still in on at least four big name recruits to reach a full class of 25. Some creative accounting could probably open up another slot or two. The point is, while it will be fun to be in on the high profile announcements, it’s sure to be more stressful for those of us at home.

But at the end of the day, do not panic over any one player. It does not matter all that much. What matters is the sheer amount of talent you bring in. Think big picture and stay sane. I’ll use this exact criteria to rate Signing Day in its aftermath, so we’ll be seeing this rubric again.