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May 27, 2011

Mailbag: Who lives up to the hype?

For years, high school football recruits have been listed according to their potential.

First, the premier prospects were labeled as "blue chips." That evolved into a star system in which the players deemed to have the most potential were given four- and four-star ratings.

But as long as players have been rated, there always have been those who defy the system. There have been instances when guys who weren't offered a scholarship out of high school walked-on to a program and became All-Americans. There have been other cases when players labeled as "can't miss" prospects missed terribly.

We take a closer look in this week's mailbag

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

Believe the hype

I see players entering college rated as five-, four-, three- and two-star prospects. How many of these players actually live up to their respective rating? Has any college ever been the national champion without having a five- or four-star player on their roster?
Alfredo in San Antonio, Texas

Sometimes players who were rated four- or five-star prospects don't pan out. Sometimes players who are two-star prospects become All-Americans.

That's just part of a business that's not an exact science. Look at it this way: NFL teams with large scouting staffs spend millions evaluating players. Yet sometimes, Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich and Charles Rogers are the second players selected in the NFL draft.

Let's look at some past Rivals.com rankings. The 2006 recruiting class had 28 five-star prospects. Of those, 18 were chosen in the NFL draft and 11 were taken in the first or second rounds. Some who were not drafted, like Penn State cornerback A.J. Wallace and Florida guard/tackle Carl Johnson, played key roles on good teams.

In the 2005 class, there were 28 five-star players, and 12 were NFL draft picks, including 10 who were taken in the first three rounds. Another is playing professionally in Canada. That class was filled with players who had off-field issues.

The 2004 class had 25 five-star prospects, 11 of whom were selected in the NFL draft, including eight in the first two rounds. The class also had a player that made an NFL roster as a free agent and players that pursued pro careers in track and baseball. Unfortunately, it also included players whose careers were cut short by injuries and a couple that ran afoul of the law.

As for college teams' success, using the Rivals.com database (which goes back to 2002) as a guideline, each of the past six national championship teams had at least 12 starters who were four- or five-star prospects out of high school.

BCS bound?

What are Texas A&M's chances of breaking into a BCS game or maybe the BCS national championship game?
Farrell in Houston

Las Vegas has set the odds on Texas A&M winning the national championship at 40-1, which would be worth a $20 bet if you're planning to visit Sin City.

The Aggies return eight offensive and eight defensive starters from a team that went 9-4 and tied for first in the Big 12 South (which meant tying for the conference's regular-season championship). They return quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They have a big-play receiver in Jeff Fuller and excellent complementary receivers in Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Tailbacks Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael have 1,000-yard potential. The offensive line, featuring sophomore tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, could be excellent. The defense has made significant progress under coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who is entering his second season.

There's no doubt this could be A&M's best team since the 1994 edition that went undefeated and finished No. 8 in the AP poll but was on probation and thus ineligible for the Southwest Conference championship. That's the last time the Aggies finished in the top 10.

Still, there are several reasons to be apprehensive about the Aggies, too. They face potential top-10 opponents Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Arkansas. They play the Sooners in Norman, where they've had some of the most miserable Saturdays in school history. They play at Texas Tech, where they've had some horrific days, too. And Texas figures to be better than a year ago.

They're now without star linebacker Von Miller, whose presence made everyone on the defense better.

But what's really worrisome is A&M's run defense, which LSU exploited for 288 rushing yards in a 41-24 Cotton Bowl victory over the Aggies.

If a reliable linebacker emerges in the middle, the Aggies will be tough to beat and a legitimate contender to win the Big 12. Considering Oklahoma likely will open the season ranked No. 1, a Big 12 championship likely would be sufficient to ensure the Aggies would play for a national title.

I wouldn't bet on it, though. Unless, of course, I had 40-1 odds.

Good question

If Matt Barkley got hurt, who would run USC's offense?
Dale in Stockton, Calif.

That may be a tough call. After Barkley, the Trojans post-spring depth chart has a lot of "ors," as in Jesse Scroggins OR Max Wittek OR Cody Kessler.

All of the above are freshmen (Scroggins is a redshirt) who were four-star prospects out of high school.

The guess here is that Scroggins would get the first call, if only because he has one more year working in coach Lane Kiffin's system.

Nothing for granted

Do you remember Texas' issue at quarterback after Vince Young led the Longhorns to a championship? They were looking for a quarterback somewhere, then this kid named Colt McCoy showed up. The rest is Texas history.
Joseph in Austin, Texas

Last season, the Longhorns went 5-7 and finished last in the Big 12 South, and quarterback problems were among their many issues.

True, few folks could have predicted the impact that Colt McCoy would have as Texas quarterback. But if one believes McCoy was a special player, then one must also realize that special players don't come along all that often.

Texas' quarterback problems may be solved sooner or later, perhaps sooner. Garrett Gilbert may make major progress this year and become a great player. Perhaps Connor Wood quickly will develop into an effective college quarterback. Maybe Case McCoy or David Ash will. And if not, well, the Longhorns already have a commitment from four-star prospect Connor Brewer of Scottsdale, Ariz.

They also have new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, formerly of Boise State, to develop those players. One of those players may emerge as Texas' next great quarterback. But it cannot be taken for granted. And that's why Texas could be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big 12 this season.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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