Schwartz Sunday Notebook: Recruiting Rankings, Wrestling, & Gustafson

February 18, 2018

Written by David Schwartz

One my favorite off-season college football features, Athlon’s composite conference rosters rankings, came out Friday.

It’s not entirely scientific, but it’s fun, and it’s a great conversation starter in which an Athlon writer – Kevin McGuire, in this instance – aggregates recruiting-class rankings over the last five seasons for all the Big Ten teams.

The Hawkeyes rank 10th out of the Big Ten’s 14 schools. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State go 1, 2, 3 (naturally). Minnesota and Purdue come in at 13th and 14th.

The rankings are fun for three reasons. First, they highlight the fine line of recruiting rankings drawn between being a useful indicator and a subjective metric. Second, they remind us that recruiting and coaching are separate skillsets. Third, they suggest trends – upticks and downturns in a program’s fortunes.

So let’s consider that fine line between usefulness and subjectivity. The constant narrative around the Iowa football team is that it’s a repository for three-star talent that gets “coached up” once they get here. Is that true? Nearly two decades of evidence under Kirk Ferentz suggests yes. Iowa won’t finish in the Top 10 in recruiting, but once in a while it flirts with a Top 10 national ranking, which means the Hawkeyes coach better than they recruit.

So does recruiting not matter? Of course it matters. Ohio State consistently recruits in the Top 5. As a result, on those years when they get bit by the injury bug, or their coaches aren’t at the top of their games, that talent pool acts like an insurance policy. Ohio State will almost always be in the national-title picture.

McGuire’s rankings also help us locate trends. Yes, Minnesota and Purdue are at the bottom of the Big Ten’s five-year aggregate. However, Minnesota is sixth in the Big Ten just for 2018. Purdue climbed from 14th to 11th. Both the Gophers and Boilermakers are coming off semi-successful seasons under first-year head coaches. Minnesota, especially, is a team worth watching in 2019 and beyond if it can continue to improve its talent pool.

Then there are the outliers. Nebraska, for example, ranks fourth in the Big Ten’s five-year aggregate. With all that alleged talent, is it any wonder the Huskers fired Mike Riley for underperformance?

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Maryland has scored two straight strong recruiting classes. If those classes don’t translate soon to a 10-win season, what does that say about the Terrapins’ coaching? And then there’s Illinois, which hasn’t shown any signs of hope even after coaching changes.

It’s an interesting ranking, one worth bookmarking and returning to periodically.

The best piece written about Iowa sports last week was Cody Goodwin’s extended feature on what drives Hawkeye wrestler Spencer Lee.

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Lee, a true freshman ranked third in the country at 125, has given Hawkeye fans a reason to cheer in the midst of yet another season that will invariably end with a finish behind Penn State, and likely Ohio State as well.

The value in Goodwin’s story is that it’s accessible even to non-wrestling fans (like me). It’s a unique story of motivation, goals, and turning failure into something useful.

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Here’s your semi-regular Megan Gustafson update. Last week she earned her eighth Big Ten Conference Player of the Week Award this season, a Big Ten record.

The question now is whether she can earn a spot on the All-American team. She deserves first-team consideration. The question is whether she’s well known enough to earn the votes of those who might not have seen Iowa play a lot of basketball.

Gustafson is averaging nearly 25 points, 13 rebounds and 2+ blocks a game, but injuries have left the Hawkeyes in a tie for fifth in the Big Ten.

Barring something random happening, they’ll make the NCAA Tournament, but one wonders whether a seventh-ish seed will be enough for Gustafson to vault to the top of college basketball’s national consciousness.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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