National Signing Day isn't something Michigan State fans had been excited about it in a long time, but the Spartans have reason to be this year.
The Spartans landed rivals.com's No. 21 ranked class, which included the No. 1 ranked player in the states of Michigan (5-star Malik McDowell), Pennsylvania (Montae Nicholson) and Wisconsin (Craig Evans).
Michigan State’s only only other Top 25 ranked class of the Mark Dantonio era came in 2009 at No. 17 (the class produced standouts Denicos Allen, Edwin Baker and Dion Sims).
McDowell (who has still not signed with the Spartans due to this year's version of the family-related signing day fiasco) chose Michigan State over Michigan, Ohio State and Florida State — the Big Ten's two bell cow programs and college football's national champion. Nicholson also had offers from all three of those schools, and Michigan State poached Evans from Wisconsin.
Wednesday was a big step in the right direction for the Michigan State football program — especially when you consider that recruiting gains from big seasons like this past one don't usually materialize until the next cycle.
Recruiting is something that State fans have long been dismissive of, and it’s somewhat understandable.
After all, what other program has done more with less lately?
In Dantonio's tenure the Spartans have won three straight bowl games — including the Rose Bowl last month — and been in the mix for a Big Ten Championship three of the last four seasons. Michigan State has also defeated rival Michigan in five of the past six seasons.
Coach D has achieved this mostly with players that Ohio State and Michigan weren’t interested in. There’s no doubt that he is one of the, if not the, best coaches in the country at both identifying and developing talent.
Since the Spartans’ Rose Bowl victory, there has been a lot of talk about how the program has made it — how it is elite. There have even been some rumblings of Michigan State as a national title contender next season.
Slow your roll.
At the top levels of the game, recruiting is especially important, and if the Spartans are going to win a national title, they will have to improve in that area. (This is probably the case for a string of Big Ten titles as well, since Urban Meyer has been assembling in annual hauls of destroyers to Columbus.)
Yes, recruiting gets overblown, and Michigan State’s success on the field in spite of its supposed lack of success off it is a feather in the cap of that sentiment.
But think about it.
Sure there are some Top 25 and Top 10 recruiting classes every year that don’t end up panning out, but others do. It’s not like if you looked back and re-ranked any given signing class 25 new teams would replace the original ones.
High-level recruiting doesn’t guarantee you a championship, but you better have it if you want a chance to claim some hardware.
Still don't believe?
I took a look at the recruiting rankings for teams that have won the title since the 2006 college football season, looking at their five classes leading into that season (five to include fifth-year seniors. I started with the 2006 season since that was the first year where all five classes were available).
Seven of the eight champions averaged a Top 10 recruiting class. Four of the eight runner-ups also averaged Top 10 classes, while all eight averaged one in the Top 25.
It’s no coincidence that three of the four runner-ups to not have Top 10 classes were also part of fairly lopsided games.
In the 2006 season's national title game, Ohio State (average class ranking of 17.2) lost to Florida (9.8), 41-14. The Buckeyes (19.2) lost to another SEC team with more blue-chippers for the 2007 crown, falling to the LSU Tigers (7.2), 38-24. The 2012 season's national championship game was the most recent matchup between a team with a Top 10 or lower average. Alabama (1.8) blew out Notre Dame (13.4), 42-14.
The one outlier was Auburn's (12) 22-19 victory over Oregon (24.2) for the 2010 crystal. That happens when you have Cam Newton and Chip Kelly in the mix.
Michigan State has won in spite of not having elite level recruits because it has had to, not because it chose to. The momentum from this season's Rose Bowl victory should lead to an even better class next season, and the prospect of the Spartans continuing to collect more talented prospects should scare the bejeezus out of the rest of the Big Ten. If Dantonio has accomplished this much identifying and coaching up 3-stars and a small amount of 4's, what's he going to do when he has access to a high amount of 4's and one or two 5's?
Continuing to upgrade recruiting is the step Michigan State must take if it wants to truly become a national player, because the 32.6 average class ranking it's going to take into next season isn't yet at that level.