This is the time of year that is most entertaining for college football fans. Longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports refers to it as "Football's Second Season," a reference to the days leading up to and including the national signing day. In case you just returned from Mars, that is Feb. 3.
Who is the No. 1 player in the nation? Which college will sign the No. 1 recruiting class? How did my favorite team do? How could one recruiting service rate my favorite player in the top 100 while another service didn't even rate him among the top 250? Who is overrated? Who is underrated? Does any of this really matter at the moment?
It is fascinating to see how the major recruiting analysts--Tom Lemming, Rivals, Scout and ESPN--rate each class. Sometimes you wonder if they are evaluating the same player. They usually agree on the No. 1 class but often come to their conclusions in different ways.
The first thing you need to understand about the recruiting business is everybody has a different approach. Which isn't to say that one service is right and the others are wrong. You didn't expect everybody to come up with identical top 100 lists, did you?
But we might have a better idea in three or four years which service did the best job of evaluating the class of 2010. Today, they are projecting which players will stand out in college, who will be difference-makers, who could be playing on Sunday afternoon.
It isn't a crap shoot. These guys do their homework. They watch miles of film. They attend games and combines and camps. They are dedicated to their profession. Tom Lemming has been doing it for 30 years, like Bob Gibbons and Van Coleman in basketball. When they began, there was no blueprint to follow. They were pioneers.
All of them have game plans. Each thinks his method is better than the others. It works for him. Lemming is a one-man show. He annually travels 60,000 miles to nearly every state to personally interview and evaluate more than 2,000 prospects.
Rivals, Scout and ESPN employ a staff of scouts who cover the entire country. Each is designated a certain area. In some cases, a certain college. They evaluate prospects in each region, then recommend the cream of the crop to a national panel that narrows the list to a top 100 or 250.
Here's the rub. How a prospect is evaluated--does he rank No. 50 or No. 150 or No. 250?--depends on what you see on film and what you see in person and when you see him. Did he run 4.4 at one camp but only 4.7 at another camp? Did he play well on film but not so well in an all-star game?
For example, how did the Chicago area's three leading prospects--USC-bound wide receiver Kyle Prater of Proviso West, Iowa-bound tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz of Johnsburg and Notre Dame-bound offensive lineman Christian Lombard of Fremd--fare in the analysts' evaluations?
Lemming rated Fiedorowicz No. 16, Prater No. 19 and Lombard No. 30.
Rivals rated Prater No. 3, Fiedorowicz No. 129 and Lombard No. 221.
Scout rated Prater No. 4, Lombard No. 62 and Fiedorowicz No. 66.
ESPN rated Prater No. 45, Fiedorowicz No. 82 and didn't even rank Lombard among its top 150.
Lemming, Rivals and Scout agree that BYU-bound Jake Heaps of Smmamish, Wash., is the leading quarterback in the country. But ESPN doesn't even list Heaps among its top 130 prospects.
This is one I'm going to be watching closely: Lemming rates Michigan-bound Devin Gardner as the No. 11 player in the nation, the best quarterback after Heaps and Alabama-bound Phillip Sims. But Rivals ranks Gardner No. 132.