I’d love to say I don’t get competitive about Northwestern’s football recruiting class rankings. That would be a lie. Northwestern formally inked its 15-member class yesterday and once again it was heralded as Pat Fitzgerald’s “best ever”, yet the ‘Cats didn’t crack the Top 25 in any services’ rankings. Unless Northwestern changes their approach of spreading scholarships over five years (giving them 15 to 18 per year) or recruiting services change their ranking system (highly skewed towards quantity over quality) they won’t crack the Top 25 anytime soon.
If you average the per player star rating, I have NU coming in at 4th in the B1G. However, this type of stat angling doesn’t really make the narrative of the mainstream media. The bottom-line is this class comes in with some very, very hyped players. The ‘Cats nabbed more four-star rated players in this class (four) than Pat Fitzgerald’s entire career combined. Guys like DE Garrett Dickerson, CB Parrker Westphal, QB Clayton Thorson could’ve signed anywhere in the country and then there is the Tyrell Sutton/Venric Mark-type, RB Justin Jackson, the Illinois High School Player of the Year.
ESPN ranked NU’s 2014 class 41, with all 40 classes ahead of them having more than the ‘Cats 15 players (FYI, Penn State came in at 25). 247Sports has NU at 44, Rivals buried NU at 69, while Scout placed NU 56. These aren’t the rankings that garner headlines. Again, there is a strong argument here that NU’s quality per player would have them closer to Top 25 status. So, after reading these, I do what most Wildcat fans do – bash the rankings and put my arms around OUR Wildcat players. From what I’ve read of these guys, I’m thrilled.
Let’s visit a few themes from this recruiting season now that it is officially in the books.
New Level Equals New Challenges
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Northwestern, which is atypical, to say the least. Sure, we may scramble for one last guy in a class, but we’ve never had so many last minute changes due to players getting poached by other schools as we did this year. We had Dareian Watkins lose his scholarship and go to Wisconsin, our first commit flipped to Oklahoma, Noah Westerfield decommit and go to Cal and in the 11th hour Hamilton Anoa’i do the same thing adding fuel to an already feisty budding rival in Cal. The ‘Cats nearly greyshirted a player and also saw the first early enrollment of the Fitz era with four star CB sensation, Parrker Westphal already in class in Evanston.
Such is the world of getting in the same pool with some of the nation’s most pursued recruits. The days of competing with the MAC, Indiana and Illinois have given way to recruiting guys who have committed while swatting away the likes of Stanford, Oklahoma, UCLA, Nebraska and others.
Fitz Still Feisty On Signing Day
This comes with a major caveat. I was not at Ditka’s yesterday in person for Pat Fitzgerald’s press conference announcing the ‘Cats 2014 class. However, after reading his quotes and even this commentary from Kevin Trahan from InsideNU, it is clear that Fitz has continued his verbal disdain for the world of online recruiting coverage. As you can read in Kevin’s first person account, Fitz mentioned that early enrollment and greyshirting were possible due to “systemic” change at Northwestern that gave him more flexibility. When Kevin followed-up with a question to Fitz, to address whether this included academic flexibility, Fitz asked if Kevin was confused. Kevin admitted he was and Fitz said “Good, that’s code for none of your business.” I cringe when I read that.
In the past, Fitz has blasted recruiting services and been borderline personal in addressing the Northwestern beat writers for said sites. I get it. A bunch of adults stressing over 17-year-old commitments to a school seems absurd, but it’s these very individuals who are passionate brand ambassadors for NU. I just hope this chippy approach translates somehow in to results on the field.
Fitz was very direct in addressing the fact there was no written policy he or NU has when it comes to players who have committed looking at other schools. Fitz blamed the “policy” stance on sites like this that cover NU regularly. In his press conference he stated that he will do what’s best for the school and will continue to use “honesty and integrity” to protect the program. It seems clear the door is open for continued early enrollment, greyshirting and perhaps the fact NU may keep a player who decides to look elsewhere after committing.
Personally, I love Fitz’s approach on yanking scholarships of players who look elsewhere after committing. It puts a ton of weight on the offer and you know Fitz is very open about inviting players to check out other schools before pledging to NU.
What QB controversy?
Fitz said if the season started Saturday, Trevor Siemian is the starting quarterback. That is code, in my mind, for “it’s February. There is a long way to go between now and the Cal game.”
Like many fans, I’m prone to getting most excited about skill players. I’m also a sucker for the four stars, and as mentioned above, I can’t wait to see Dickerson, Westphal, Thorson and Jackson play. Perhaps it is because I’m a local and read his astounding weekly accomplishments in real time, but I’m fascinated to see what RB Justin Jackson will do. Assuming our guys like Stephen Buckley heal well, we’ve got good depth at RB. I’ll be curious to see if Justin redshirts or earns his way to play. One of the guys I’m most intrigued about is RB Auston Anderson. The speed demon from Texas was pursued heavily by several big time programs after he committed to NU.
Season Tickets On Sale
Northwestern opened season ticket sales yesterday (shoutout to Steve L. for picking up two new ones) and the Sun-Times reported that NU will be raising prices on good seats. Also, less ideal seats will actually be reduced in price. According to Seth Gruen:
Tickets between the two 40-yard lines will see the biggest increase and seats between the 20- and 40-yard lines will also see a jump.
Most of the stadium will retain lower-priced seating areas to encourage family and group sales, with some seats even being reduced, the source says.