Three. On February 3rd, 2016, “three” represented a new level of excitement for Beaver Nation. Gary Andersen did something remarkable, in his first full recruiting cycle, he brought in the best class of high school recruits Oregon State has had in over a decade. Led by what some call a “Big Three” of highly touted recruits, there was promise this was just the beginning, this class was going to turn the tides, and Andersen showed he was immediately able to bring high level talent to Corvallis.
Two. On April 26th, 2016, “two” signified a number that, in hindsight, was the beginning to the end of the Andersen Era. This was the first domino to fall in Gary Andersen’s recruiting class. Rumored to be driven by academic eligibility issues, a reason several programs withdrew scholarships, one of Andersen’s prized recruits announced he would not be enrolling at Oregon State, but would attend a JUCO instead.
One. July 28th, 2017, “one” symbolized the known-unknown. We all knew in the back of our minds the pass-rusher Oregon State desperately needed would never see the field, we just didn’t know when. The second headliner from Andersen’s 2016 class was no longer listed on the team’s roster. Like the player before him, his only contribution to the program was holding a scholarship away from a player who could help the team.
Zero. On November 9th, 2017, “zero” was two years of frustration for Beaver Nation. Just a month after Andersen left the program, in the midst of a down season, the last of the “Big Three” was granted his release from the program. He was the only one to make the active roster, playing a total of zero minutes at defensive back on the team that allowed 43.0 points per game. It was a poetic ending to Andersen’s tenure at Oregon State, showing an inability to evaluate prospects and doing his best to leave the cupboard bare.
Now we turn to Jonathan Smith to right the ship on, what could be, the most exciting time for Beaver Nation in a long time, early signing period. When you see your team go 1-11, with your best showing being a quality loss, recruiting brings excitement, recruiting brings hope, and most of all, especially with the addition of Smith, recruiting brings a brand new attitude.
But how can we as Beaver fans jump to an early determination of Smith’s trajectory? How can we decide if Smith, someone with no past head coaching experience, is the right move?
The answer most fans will immediately jump to is “stars”.
We as fans see a recruit’s star-rating as a validation for their scholarship offer, with one number separating greatness from another player, “four”. Fans have attached giant stigma to every 17-year-old kid that falls under the Four-Star-Mendoza-Line, we view them as just another roster spot, a player that will be lucky to see the field as a fifth-year senior. We have created this perception about student athletes with a common misconception, the rating methodology is fundamentally flawed.
Each year, roughly 300 - 350 student athletes come out of high school with a star-rating of four or five, which means the NCAA is looking at roughly 1200 - 1400 four-star and five-star student athletes at any given time. That number seems significant, until you view at the entire landscape of the NCAA. There are nearly 11,000 scholarship athletes playing D-I football in the FBS, Power-Five schools making up half, and another 8,000 in the FCS. Those 19,000 student athletes are driving a major flaw with the star-rating system, volume.
How can a single person evaluate 11,000 FBS scholarship athletes?
The answer is simple, they can’t. Each outlet has a team of “scouts”, all with varying opinions on how to evaluate the same skill set. A four-star prospect to one person may fall into a completely different category to another. Because each scout has a different, subjective rating system, these outlets use a metric to standardize everyone’s evaluations, scholarships.
The quantity and quality of a student athlete’s scholarship offers will ultimately drive their recruiting rating up or down. I have to admit, at a high level, it makes sense. If one student athlete receives offers from PAC12 programs while another is being recruited completely by the Big Sky, it is fair to say one is more talented than the other. But with the variables involved in receiving more, better offers, student athletes are continually undervalued and see their stock drop based on so much outside their control.
We as fans treat every “star” equal, when that couldn’t be any further than the truth. Most scouting services use a formula to establish a student athlete’s star-rating, driven by the talent of the recruiting class around him. Hypothetically, in 2017, a program could land the 5th ranked player in the nation, but the next year a player with the same talent level barely cracks the top 50. By this metric, the 2018 class is already perceived as worse than 2017.
Gauging a team’s year-to-year progression in the recruiting cycle becomes nearly impossible for fans with increasing depth and talent. We very well could see Smith’s first recruiting class as one that will provide the most significant boost in talent that Oregon State has seen in years, but our star-colored glasses could ultimately show it as a failure.
So should stars be completely dismissed?
Probably not, these scouts get paid for a reason. However, these outlets are not a perfect science, they should be treated more as a form of fan entertainment and involvement than scripture itself. Coaches are not playing a video game, not every high-level recruit fits every coaching scheme, has the ability to pass every class, or will enjoy the college experience as a whole. These coaches are on the road recruiting people that play football first and foremost, not names on a paper being told their athletic.
So before we, Beaver Nation, jump to conclusions about how much Smith’s class “sucks”, just remember, on the internet there is a picture of Brandin Cooks receiving his Biletnikoff Award. A player that was the top three-star receiver in the nation. A player that received only a handful of Power-Five scholarship offers. A player that was part of a once in a generation class of receivers in 2011, that included, among others, Watkins, Beckham Jr., Evans, and Landry. And a player that Riley, yes that Riley, saw as a person and a talent, not a subjective number of stars.