When do recruiting ratings become relevant?

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When do recruiting ratings become relevant?

It's the first week of June and a consensus of the leading recruiting services in the country indicates that Michigan, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Georgia, Auburn and Notre Dame have accumulated the top 10 classes in the nation for 2013.

Rivals and Scout both rate Michigan No. 1 while ESPN favors Alabama, but Rivals rated Alabama No. 1 and Michigan No. 7 before its most recent update. Georgia has made a huge leap to No. 2 by Rivals, No. 4 by Scout and No. 5 by ESPN. Texas remains No. 2 with Scout, No. 3 with Rivals and ESPN.

"Michigan has the top overall class in the nation as June begins," reported recruiting analyst Chris Nee of Rivals.com. "The Wolverines lead the country in total commitments. Among their 20 commitments, 14 are rated four-star prospects. Seven of those prospects are members of the Rivals 100, led by the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback, Shane Morris."

But is any of this relevant? High school football players can make as many oral commitments as they want--until they sign binding letters-of-intent on national signing day in February. So does it make sense to take any surveys that are published in June seriously?

"No," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who has been evaluating high school talent for 33 years. "They are put together for people who go online, to attract people. The lists will be completely different on signing day because there are a lot more players still to commit.

"Why are they doing it now? Internet websites have to differentiate themselves from one another. It's something to do in the off-season. Recruiting is a 12-month-a-year occupation, so college fans are always wondering who is committing or who is recruiting whom or who is thinking of committing.

"But you an always expect certain schools to be on the list. And you can predict now that most of them will be on the list on signing day. It isn't brain surgery. You can always count on Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida, Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame. And now Florida State is back. And LSU will be there at the end."

In fact, Rivals, ESPN and Scout rate only a few wild cards on their lists. Stanford, Auburn, Clemson, Texas A&M and Missouri aren't usually included among the top 10, but they have fielded winning teams in recent years and have been threatening to break into the elite group.

There isn't a secret to all of this. The best players want to play for the best programs in football or basketball. They want to play for coaches and programs that have reputations for grooming players for the next level, the NFL or NBA, and for playing for national championships.

Critics complain about recruiting analysts who evaluate athletes according to 2-star, 3-star, 4-star or 5-star ratings, but history reveals they are right more often than they are wrong. And how many 5-star athletes enroll at Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue or Minnesota?

The SEC is the most dominant football conference in the country and there are reasons why. Conference schools pay their head coaches and assistant coaches more than anyone else. And SEC schools annually recruit the best players and the best classes in the country.

Ratings are based on scholarship offers. It doesn't take a nuclear scientist to figure out the formula that is used by most recruiting services. You don't see a 5-star player without a lot of offers from top 20 programs, do you? The offers come first, then the ratings.

"If the top 10 schools offer a kid, he is a 4-star or 5-star," Lemming said. "It comes down to offers, not ability. Look at the NFL draft. How many 5-star players are selected in the first round? Not many. Recruiting ratings are arbitrary, just one way to rate players."

Of Rivals.com's top 100 players in the class of 2013, Michigan and Texas have seven, USC and Ohio State have five, Alabama and Florida have four.

The nation's No. 1 player by most accounts, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Georgia, is considering Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Alabama has commitments from three of the top 35 players--linebacker Reuben Foster (2) of Auburn, Alabama, running back Alter Tenpenny (20) of North Little Rock, Arkansas, and tight end O.J. Howard (35) of Antauga, Alabama.

Foster is the nation's top-rated linebacker and Howard is the nation's top-rated tight end. Texas has the nation's top-rated quarterback, Max Browne of Sammamish, Washington, and USC has the nation's top-ranked running back, Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic.

Georgia has 19 commitments, including the nation's top-rated athlete, Derrick Henry, safety Tray Matthews and Brandon Kublanow of Marietta, Georgia, the nation's No. 2 center.

According to Rivals, Illinois' class of 2013 ranks No. 20 in the nation based on new coach Tim Beckman's ability to land quarterback Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook, the only four-star prospect in the fold.

Fitzgerald's diagnosis for 1-3 Northwestern: 'Those are the things that losers do'

Fitzgerald's diagnosis for 1-3 Northwestern: 'Those are the things that losers do'

Four games. Three losses. And Pat Fitzgerald is not happy.

Nor should he be after the way his team played in a 24-13 loss to 20th-ranked Nebraska on Saturday night in Evanston. The Wildcats have issues that perhaps shouldn't be expected to be overcome against a team has loaded with offensive firepower as the Huskers, but when Nebraska gifted Northwestern a pair of goal-line fumbles, taking 14 points off the board, it seemed like a game the Cats could have — and maybe even should have — won. It's because the offense not doing anything with those fumbles wasn't the lone mistake in the game, not by a long shot. Fitzgerald laid them all out in succession, his team's Saturday-night screw-ups: holding penalties that negated key third-down conversions, a Clayton Thorson interception in the end zone that snuffed out momentum, a missed extra point and a missed field goal by increasingly inaccurate kicker Jack Mitchell and a defense that was shredded for 556 yards of Nebraska offense.

So yeah, Fitz was not happy.

"You cannot do that and expect to win. Those are the things that losers do," the head coach said after the defeat. "And when you’re 1-3, that’s why you’re at where you’re at. When you self-inflict, when you get penalties in crunch-time situations, you throw interceptions in the red zone, you miss extra points, you miss field goals — want me to keep going? You keep adding all those things up, it ends up equaling a loss. And we’ve had three of those games.

"The young men in that locker room have got to figure out the discipline that it takes to be a winner consistently. We’ve typically been that way during my time, and for whatever reason right now we are choosing not to do that. And I’ve got to get that fixed, that’s the bottom line. We know how to win, but we can’t do the things that losers do. That’s what we’re doing right now. You are what your record says it is, and it’s not very good. We’ve got to get it fixed, and we’ve got to get it fixed in a hurry."

Saturday, the list of mistakes was long, but this style of play hasn't been limited to one week or one night. Season-opening losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State came in gut-wrenching fashion, first thanks to a Thorson fumble at the goal line and second on a walk-off field goal to an FCS opponent. All three losses have come in the friendly confines of Ryan Field, but that home-field comfort hasn't prevented Thorson from turning the ball over, play from both the offensive and defensive lines that earned press-confrerence call-outs from Fitzgerald, a banged-up secondary getting a similar tongue-lashing Saturday and a defense as a whole not playing in a fashion that mirrors the at-times dominating performances that unit turned in a year ago.

So excuse Fitzgerald if he can't pinpoint one thing that's disappointed him the most.

"I think the biggest disappointment is three losses," Fitzgerald said. "Three games that if we play the way we’re capable of, we have an opportunity to win all three. That starts and ends with me. I’m going to look hard at why we’re not playing and executing consistently. Are we asking guys to do too much? Are we thinking out there? You can make an excuse for the young guys, but if you go out with the 1s, you’re expected to perform. And if you don’t perform, you don’t deserve the right to go back out there as the 1.

"We’re four games in. There’s enough evidence on tape of who we are, and now we’re a very inconsistent football team. And that fits squarely on my shoulders. I’m not going to pout, I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. The only way I know how to fix it is to go out and do it, go out and practice it, go out and fix it."

The head coach is putting the blame on himself, but the players aren't shrinking from their responsibilities, either.

On offense, in particular, things have not gone well. Finishing drives was a particular talking point Saturday after the Cats had seven drives end in Nebraska territory, with another stopping at midfield, but coming away with just scores on just two of those drives. Northwestern reached the red zone just once but had three other drives end inside the 30-yard line — with two interceptions and a turnover on downs.

Getting close to the end zone but coming away with nothing is a fine little microcosm for the season as a whole. The three losses have been by a combined 14 points. But you don't get a win for getting close.

"We’re close, and I think as a team, looking at our three losses, we’re tired of being close," wide receiver Austin Carr said. "Offensively, we need to finish. Defensively, we need to put a whole game together. I’m telling the guys that we have to come together stronger, we can’t let this break us, we can’t let these losses ruin our whole season, we can’t throw in the towel. We’re going to focus on going 1-0, we’re going to learn from our mistakes, we’re going to look forward, we have to keep pushing.

"It’s just mental toughness. Getting deep into a drive, we have to lock it in. ... I think we had a lot of great preparation this week. Winning a Big Ten game is hard. I think we can just get tougher in the head game."

Winning in the Big Ten is hard. Unfortunately, the Cats found winning outside the Big Ten to be hard, too. Things will get tougher before they get easier. Next up is a game at Iowa, and that's followed by Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin in three of the four games after the visit to the Hawkeye State. Northwestern is still getting its feet under it, something that proved difficult against teams from the MAC and from the FCS. Doing it against Big Ten title contenders is a whole different challenge, as the Cats found out the hard way on Saturday night.

"We go out to Iowa City, we’ve got to perform. That’s going to be tough. That’s going to be an awesome environment, they’ve got unbelievable fans. It’s going to be an incredibly huge challenge for us, and if we don’t go out there with the right attitude and the right preparation, we’ll get our fannies whipped, we’ll get crushed," Fitzgerald said. "So these guys better figure it out pretty quick. They better walk out of the locker room, they better hug whoever they love, they better go to bed, then they better wake up and get ready to get their rear ends coached off this week. Because that’s what’s going to happen.

"I’m not going to sit here and I’m not going to take it and I’m not going to accept it. They better buckle it up. They better start hydrating right now. Because it’s not acceptable the way we’re playing right now. Starts and ends with me, so I’ll fix it."

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin was hoping to get a good enough look to earn a contract with the Blackhawks. On Sunday, he got it.

The Blackhawks agreed with Fortin on a three-year contract. The 19-year-old, who garnered attention at the team’s prospect camp in July, recorded 43 points in 54 games with Rouyn-Noranda (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).

Fortin was passed over in two NHL drafts but his prospect camp was impressive enough to earn him an invitation to this training camp.