‘Cats 2014 Football Class Reax

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.

What policy?

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.”

Personnel Intrigue

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.

 

  • Purple Flag on Saturday

    It’s entertaining, that’s as excited as I can get about the rankings of the commitments.

    A challenge in evaluating these kids in terms of how they will eventually fare on Saturdays entails so many nearly unpredictable factors: coachability, commitment, work ethic, maturity, etc., . Players who grade out well among their 12th grade peers are faced with a big hurdle adjusting to the next level where everyone around them has elite level tools. That brings up the part of the equation that I find daunting : evaluating the prospects while taking into account the level of skill at which they’ve competed.

    The highlight videos show-at first glance-great performances by each of the subjects. Look a little closer and try to factor in opponents’ skill level, skill level of the rest of their team vs the opponents skill level, how good has their coaching been, etc–the recruiting selection process seems to be as much art as science.

  • SteveR

    Like many of us, I was very pleased when Garrett Dickerson committed to NU last fall, particularly when it looked for so long like Stanford and Michigan were the two who would fight it out for his services. I’m somewhat puzzled, however, that an impact four-star defensive end in high school will apparently be switched to super back at NU. Dan Vitale has two years remaining, the first of which could be a redshirt year for Dickerson…but it seems unlikely that Vitale would be unseated the following season either, his last but Dickerson’s first of four. Injuries can change things, but barring that, it seems odd that we would sit a player of Dickerson’s reputation for the next two years.

    • JM

      It is surprising, but given our glut of RBs, I wonder if NU is trending toward more or a power-oriented offense, with two-TE/SB sets as a more prominent feature. If that’s the case, the prospect of having dynamic athletes like Vitale and Dickerson (and/or Malin Jones) on the field at the same time is enticing and could create a lot of matchup issues for teams tempted to load up the box to stop what should be a potent running game.

      Also possible, of course, that he switches back to defense after a redshirt year.

      • Catatonic Joe

        It sure would be nice to have some strength and size to put some oomph in the running game in the red zone.

    • Richard

      Yeah, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says that you can only have 1 SB/TE on the field at one time. I’d like to see some 7/8-man fronts every so often.
      Running power plays is also more attractive to O-Line recruits.

    • gocatsgo2003

      Because star ratings and projected positions by “experts” don’t mean jack?

  • Johnathan Wood

    On the one hand, I understand the rankings based on quantity over quality, because it’s impossible to project guys with absolute certainty so quantity helps make it more likely you will have some sort of quality emerge down the road.

    On the other hand, I wish the recruiting services would ALSO provide rankings that ignore class size, as schools like Northwestern routinely have smaller classes (and almost all schools need smaller classes every once in a while).

    • plazaguy 1962

      I think the ESPN rankings do this best. As of yesterday, ESPN had us 39th and Rivals had us 69th.

      • Richard

        Everyone does it better than Rivals (ESPN, Scout, 247).
        Rivals definitely makes class size much more important than other services.

      • LTP

        The Espn stats were as of 6 an this morning.

  • Old Fat Bald Guy

    I don’t care very much about the class rankings because I don’t think there’s a method for doing those that makes much sense. Quantity matters. Quality matters. And coming up with a system that integrated both would be a waste of time that could be better spent taking a nap or watching a sport that’s in season. I just look at the star ratings (which I take with a large salt mine) and, mostly, at the list of other offers received by NU recruits.

    • Ron

      I don’t especially see where quantity in an individual year matters, as long as at the end of the day the school is maxed out at 85.

  • GTom

    I was worried about the ticket pricing policy at first, but if you go on NUSports.com, you can see that pricing is in four tiers… Sideline $274, Goal Sideline $249, Corner Sideline $199, and Endzone at $159. They don’t clarify which sections qualify for which tickets. Last year, prices were Sideline $262, Corner $196, and End Zone $152. I guess the big question is what exactly does Goal Sideline entail, but with the exception of any seats that may replace corner seats, it seems like prices only went up by a little bit.
    Looking at the schedule again, we really do have a monster home slate that is going to be quite entertaining this year (definitely worth the ticket). Cal, Northern Illinois, Wiscy, Nebby, Michigan, and rival Illinois (the only “bad” game being Western Illinois). Considering how well those teams travel / the number of interested alums in Chicago, if fans expect to be able to buy single game tickets, I think they’re going to be out-of-luck. Better get your season tickets if you want to go to the games.

    • Johnathan Wood

      the other thing is that last year they had 7 home games and this year they only have 6, since season tickets don’t include the Wrigley game.

      • Ron

        Wrigley game? did I miss something?

        • GTom

          Yeah… @Johnathan Wood, I was expecting them to indicate a Wrigley game as well, but given the delays in the Wrigley Field renovation, it seems pretty clear that it isn’t going to happen this year. When the info pops up for season tickets, it shows seven games on the home schedule – nothing is excluded for Wrigley.

          • GTom

            Just to further the info, in the press release, Northwestern says…”Fans can save up to 40 percent off select single-game prices for the Wildcats’ SEVEN home dates AT RYAN FIELD (emphasis mine).”
            What I found really funny is that they go on to say “Northwestern’s exceptional home slate of games this upcoming season includes visits to Evanston by Big Ten rivals Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan, as well as a non-conference tilt against Pac-12 foe California.”
            Note that Illinois is not included on the list of “Big Ten rivals”.

          • Johnathan Wood

            I thought I had heard from one of the NW media accounts on Twitter there would be a Wrigley game in 2014 and that season tickets would not cover that. I’m perfectly happy to have all games covered in season tickets at home though.

    • GTom

      Just got the e-mail (as I’m sure many of you did). They’re moving the student section (and band) to the Southeast corner, visitor tickets are now in the Northwest corner, and there’s a higher pricing tranche at $299 between the ’30’s on either side. Interesting – I’m going to like hearing the band better going forward, but I’m curious how students will react. East side dynamics are going to be interesting.

      • cece

        what email?

        • Catatonic Joe
          • LTP

            I just published a post on this. Hit refresh on the home page and you’ll have all of the info.

        • GTom

          It was a renewal e-mail for season ticket holders from the ticket office talking about the changes in advance of electronic notices going out tomorrow. Text is too lengthy to post, but what used to be considered all “sideline” will be priced differently by how good the seats are (see Catatonic Joe’s link above) with some sections going up and some coming down in price. Then there are the points above. There’s also the indication that the team will switch sides for certain games – at their discretion. Again, I’m really curious what this means for the east side – if they’re serious about making it something other than the “visitor” side, it seems like they really need to address facilities / concessions.

          • cece

            thanks. hmm. maybe the letter went to spam.

  • Roy Lamberton

    a couple of things on recruiting:
    1. if we’ve learned anything about NU since 1995- some players move around and star at other positions. Essex, Brewer, and others, started out being recruited in one slot, and found starter minutes at another. How many former QBs do we have on the team now?

    2. Fitz hit the nail on the head about the transition from HS to College – it is hard enough for we academic only guys, I can’t imagine playing a Fall sport as well.

    3. Some guys never work out. They get serious injuries, or decide they really don’t like football, or peaked in HS. Sorry, but it happens.

    So my answer to anyone who asks about a given class is “Ask me after 3 season.”

    Go B1GCats

  • cece

    “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.” ”

    as a person who defends Northwestern and keeping to academic standards, I do not appreciate this comment from the coach. it’s not nice, and it opens the door to perhaps misinterpretation. neither are helpful.

  • Ron

    Hard to be that excited with the end result of this recruiting season. Presumably as the result of the bad year on the field, recruiting ended on a sharp downslope, with many of the athletes who committed early getting cold feet and leaving. There is every reason to believe next year will not see a rush by marquee players to commit early to NU. The next chance at a banner recruiting year is ’16, and that presupposes a 9- or 10-win season this fall.

    • WildcatSteve

      While it was a bummer to lose a few kids, I would hardly call it a sharp downslope in recruiting. Based on the Rivals ratings, we landed 4 4-star players – which equals the total # of Rivals 4-star players over the entire time Fitz has been the coach. Of the 3 kids who switched, only the kid who ended up at Oklahoma was highly rated. At one point we had 9 recruits with Rivals ratings of 5.6 (solid 3-star) or higher. We ended up signing 8, and kept all 4 of the most highly rated.

  • DarkSide

    ‘Just win, baby!’ -Al Davis
    Rankings are for people who need to get a life in the off season. The more we win, the more respect we get from the football watching public. None of the talking head pundits that I heard were discussing the absolute absurdity of Tennessee signing 36 recruits. Limits be damned. Considering their graduation rate for the cohort from 2003-04 through 2006-07 is 64%, I guess that means they really only have a 24 man class that slides under any limits that have been installed to protect recruits. What a joke!!! Many of the class rankings take quantity of recruits into account. Absurd.

    • LTP

      That Tennessee bar graph stood out like a sore thumb. Thabks for pointing it out. To your point no one pointed it out since they’ve been nationally irrelevant for some time.

  • catfan

    It’s fun to think about a team with better players, but we still have the same coaches who will no doubt make the same boneheaded calls as last year.

    • gocatsgo2003

      Really? What was so incredibly boneheaded last year?

      Let me guess… not having Prater on the field at the end of the Nebraska game, the three times that Siemian and Trumpy ran the option, and the other rote, easily-explained calls that keep getting trudged up around NU fan boards?

  • NUARANINETYFIVE

    LTP– Can you devote a post on the apparent moving of the student section to the east side south corner. I see this a revenue issue beyond wanting the camera angles to look more purple. Also, Players are going to have a choice of what sideline to play on now? When you can. Thanks.

    • cebpd

      Players got a say after Union efforts #NUnion

      • JimB

        not much of a point. They are already on the better side.

    • Lake The Posts

      Yup. Was already on it.

  • fidel305

    how about adding a new OC to our recruiting wish list?
    We couldnt keep Wison or McGee, two talented offensive coaches, but McCall’s never going to leave because noone wants him. He’s part of the bowling green coaching tree. not the good urban meyer part… the bad greg brandon part. greg who? brandon replace meyer and never did anything much. he is now toiling in the boonies somewhere in an assistant position. McCall and he should be reunited there, wherever that is.

    Ultimately, I’d like to see if we could get away from the spread and go to a power running / play action passing offense. hate to generalize, but o linemen tend to be among the brighter athletes and should be easier to get quality recruits admitted at that position. tight ends too. ask stanford,

    I’m tired of not being able to hold a lead or score tds because we can’t run in the red zone