Recruiting is referred to as an inexact science.
It’s a statement that does injustice to inexact sciences, like meteorology or coming up with a flu vaccine that actually works (excuse me while I reach for another tissue).
Yet every year, fans and us media types sift through the college football classes on National Signing Day — itself a misnomer since Wednesday was merely the start of the national signing period for football — as though they were quarterly corporate earnings reports. From that, we try to determine how hot, how strong a program is going to be this year and in the seasons to come.
There’s no way to know. When it comes to LSU, you can see once again that the Tigers pulled in a consensus top-10 recruiting class, which pretty much has become the acceptable benchmark for the program. This though we know with almost 100 percent certainty that some of Wednesday’s biggest prospects will be busts (longtime LSU fans now recall the name of once-time “can’t miss” bust Chris Pettaway) and some nondescript signees (I’m thinking of you, Jacob Hester) will be stars.
Recruiting is a test. This whole year will be a series of tests for Les Miles and LSU football, whose relevance as a national power has been drawn increasingly into question (the Tigers have gone a pedestrian 28-12 dating to the 2011 BCS national championship game).
The first test was replacing defensive coordinator John Chavis after he made the lateral shift to Texas A&M. Miles doubled down. He hired Kevin Steele to replace him, and he hired überrecruiter Ed Orgeron to take over as defensive line coach, bumping Brick Haley into an administrative role.
There are legitimate questions about Steele’s strength as a defensive coordinator, but his reputation is that of a better recruiter than Chavis. There may not be a better recruiter anywhere than Orgeron, who on very short notice landed four-star Arden Key, a consensus top-100 national prospect from near Atlanta once committed to South Carolina.
One overriding fact to remember about recruiting: No one ever loses. Everyone declares a win the first Wednesday in February. The losses are for the real season this fall.
Miles, like all of his college coaching peers, claimed victory. If he didn’t, I’m sure he’d be violating the pirates’, er, coaches’ code somewhere.
“We got a balance of speed and size and character — quality people throughout,” Miles said of LSU’s 25 signees. “This is a class that in my view will help us compete for championships, and certainly the College Football Playoffs.”
Miles’ propaganda isn’t an idle boast. Most if not all the players the Tigers signed are players many other schools covet lustily. College coaches better hope the Ten Commandments don’t count for anything in recruiting, because they could all be in trouble.
There is just one commandment in coaching: Win. And the best way to do that in college is to get the most talent.
LSU went far and wide to do that. Literally. There’s the heavy Louisiana accent, of course — 15 of the 25 are from in-state — but this may be the first LSU football class to draw from three continents, with Australian punter Josh Growden and Nigerian-born offensive lineman Chidi Valentine-Okeke.
Aside from geography, this class is long on lineage. There are two younger siblings of current Tigers — Sione Teuhema’s “little” brother Maea, who’s every bit of 6-foot-5, 340 pounds, and Reid Ferguson’s brother Blake, back-to-back the No. 1 deep snappers in the nation. Deep snapping is the Ferguson family business. One more Ferguson and they could franchise.
There’s Growden, LSU’s third straight Aussie punter. And there are running backs Derrius Guice, of Catholic, and Nick Brossette, of University High, perhaps the best pair of hometown backs the Tigers have ever signed in the same class.
Most of these players will get their chance to prove their ability this season. LSU played 17 freshmen in 2014, 15 the year before that and 15 the year before that. It’s a drawing card for the program, but also a dangerous card to play in this pivotal season for the Tigers’ football fortunes.
There’s often a “but, yet” to LSU football, and this class is no exception. The Tigers failed to sign a linebacker when Leo Lewis, of Brookhaven, Mississippi — another top-100 prospect — picked Mississippi State instead of LSU. It was an 11th-hour spurning of the Tigers, who looked like they were in good shape with Lewis on Tuesday, though it must be said LSU flipped Pine wide receiver Derrick Dillon from his longtime commitment to Florida and turned nationally ranked offensive tackle Toby Weathersby away from Arkansas at the finish line.
“Certainly, we missed on a linebacker we thought we had at the end,” said Miles, who doth not speak your name if thou declines to be a Tiger.
“When you change staff (Chavis), there’s a point in time where guys have made relationships with our old coaches, and when they left, so did their interest in our school. We made our case as best we could. Next year’s class will have to be a very heavy linebacker class.”
LSU has signed just one linebacker the last two years (Clifton Garrett, a 2014 redshirt) and really has only seven front-line linebackers this season. The position is priority No. 1 for LSU in recruiting next season, for sure.
But teams never get all the players on their wish list. For LSU, this recruiting class looks like a passed test, though that’s a bit like reading the first essay on the exam and calling it good.
The real tests are to come this fall. And the next. For the Tigers to pass them, some of Wednesday’s recruits had better be as good as their credentials say.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.