"Although it seldom identifies the true quality of a given class, 13 of these student-athletes were ranked 44th or higher nationally at their positions, including five of them in the top 10."
If you've followed Kansas St. Wildcats football for any amount of time, chances are good you could list 50 or 100 people who could have spoken those words in highlighting the 2014 K-State recruiting class. If you're being honest, it wouldn't be the head coach, who doesn't — or hasn't in the past — believe in placing ranks on an incoming player or group that has yet to play a single down for the Wildcats.
But yet, this time, it indeed was Bill Snyder using those quantitative, if somewhat subjective facts (based on differing rankings) to support his staff's decisions regarding its qualitative assessment of 28 players.
Hey, if Snyder is willing to go as far as highlighting such things, then we should at least pay some attention ... and then some.
On paper, this class absolutely rocks, and if it pans out the way the team and its fans are hoping, K-State could easily scissor its way toward the top of the Big 12 next season. Yeah, the story sounds familiar, but it would again be quite the accomplishment for a team that returns only a handful of 2013's 22 starters (albeit key ones) and has a class ranked anywhere from seventh to last in several lists.
"I may rank our class dead last in the Big 12, too," Snyder said. "I do not think it is, but it will prove itself out."
It once seemed appropriate to call Snyder a magician for all the supposed magic he conjured in consistently turning no-name nothings into all-conference selections (too many to quickly count), long-time NFL players,* all-time record-holders (Darren Sproles) and near-MVP Super Bowl performances (Jordy Nelson).
*According to pro-football-reference.com, 19 players who spent all or part of their career during Snyder's K-State tenure have had NFL careers last seven or more years. Nelson is poised to raise that to an even 20 next season.
With a track record like Snyder's, though, it's harder to believe magic has happened when the easy answer is recruiting services simply often miss the mark more than they would ever admit. That is hardly a surprise considering how often a particular school's involvement in a kid's recruitment affects his ranking, sometimes adversely. Such a wobbly system should be warning enough, but it often isn't. Instead, that faulty formula -- because "X" is recruiting Joe, Joe must be good -- has grown more each year to accepted as fact as schools win "recruiting championships" each year, regardless of a player's or group's actual benefit to the program in the future.*
*That sort of logic suggests we should allow a drunk to suggest to us a good bourbon, based not on taste but on the spirit's unproven ability to improve a person's physical prowess. Forecasting most teams' future successes based on recruiting rankings more often than not delivers the same disappointed, staggering result.
"What everybody should be looking at are the recruiting classes of 2011," Snyder said. "How did they pan out? Because that tells the true story, I think, more than these guys who are untested at this level.
"That does not mean, whether it is here or anywhere else, to upgrade these guys because we made the decision to bring these guys in. So, it is our belief that they are quality young people and quality young players. But, the proof is in the pudding."
For many of the guys now entering the K-State pipeline, they will get that chance to prove themselves immediately.
One is hard-pressed to find another coach who has solved the junior college puzzle to the degree that Snyder has. Some coaches have wrongly assumed it was a numbers game, some sort of get-rich-quick approach involving talent gathering and little else. Charlie Weis found out last season it isn't that easy. Others have been even more desperate than that, hoping for their head-coaching lives that they could locate and collect enough talent to overcome larger coaching staff or program disconnect issues. Ron Prince could speak to that.
To try and make that work is to try putting a puzzle together with 100 of the same pieces.
Talent is needed, yes. But, it has to be talent that fits the need, and that's what should have K-State fans the most excited about this class. The meat and potatoes are how the Wildcats staff was able to identify needs and then fill them for the most part. For example, of the 28 players counted in this year's bunch, 12 are on defense. Of those, five are junior college players, and all of them are expected to contribute in key roles immediately.
Specifically, defensive line help? Here comes, by most accounts, the top-rated junior-college defensive tackle in the nation in Terrell Clinkscales.
Linebacker was a major concern heading into next season. Okay then, here come D'Vonta Derricott and sweet signing-day surprise Isaiah Riddle — the No. 1 and No. 9 nationally-rated juco linebackers, respectively. Some immediate help is needed in the secondary as a couple of starting corners and Ty Zimmerman are gone. Say hello to Danzel McDaniel — the listed 6-foot-2, 205-lb corner who ranked No. 9 nationally at his position on 247sports.com's composite list. Jesse Mack, also a defensive back, enters the program slated at No. 12 by ESPN.com among juco corners.
It's the same story line on offense as K-State knew it needed help at tackle and receiver. Oh, hey there, behemoths, who will participate in spring practices, and A.J. Allen, who picked KSU over Purdue. Both could be starters by Week 1.
Tremaine Thompson is gone, and there is a hole or two to fill opposite Tyler Lockett. Andre Davis, the No. 5 junior college wide receiver with 4.4 40 speed and was recruited by receivers coach Andre Coleman, appears able to play the part and then some.
"I think every community college guy that we have, we've got a firm and honest belief that they have a chance to come in and compete immediately to help this program," Snyder said. "All of them, and the incoming freshmen, certainly have that ability to do that over a certain period of time. With the community college guys, we are talking about the immediate needs that we believe each one of them has the capacity to do that.
"As far as balance is concerned, we normally do not usually take quite that many. We might end up taking one more. I think the last that we did that was way back when we had 12 in 1998 or 1997. It was because of the needs, and it panned out pretty well.
"You never know until they get here and spend some time. Like I say, it is going to take a year or two for the young guys to find out if they fit into the program appropriately.
"I believe they will, and i have that confidence in them."
Though it's quiet compared to the monster classes put together by reigning powerhouses around the country, this class' individual pieces have their own rankings to bolster Snyder's understated confidence to a point that he highlighted them.
If this class — already considered by rankings standards to easily be the best since Snyder's return to the sideline — succeeds like others did before, surely it won't just be considered another magic trick or miracle, will it?
Of course it will, but just by those who chose not to pay attention (again) to the mechanics behind the supposed slight of hand.