Five-stars? Two-stars? NFL pays it no mind

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Every February there’s a frenzy of hype as a fresh new recruiting class for every college football program is announced, with hope springing eternal From Fan Base X that this group of incoming freshman will push Team X over the top.  Or keep them there.

Nearly three months later, the drill is repeated at the NFL, with the draft signaling a new day has dawned for woebegone franchises as fans cling to any sliver of hope that this is the draft that will turn things around.  (In Cleveland, this is commonly referred to as “our Super Bowl”.)

Does one in any way, shape or form relate to the other, though?  Not particularly, but the numbers are nonetheless (mildly) intriguing.

Counting last night’s opening segment, there have been 128 players selected during the first round of the NFL draft the past four years.  Interestingly, there have been nearly as many two-star-or-lower players* selected in the first round between 2009 and 2012 (20) as there have been five-star prospects (23).  The latter’s numbers are somewhat skewed, however, as there were just 120 recruits given four-star ratings between 2006-09.  For comparison, there were more than 900 recruits — may be more than 1,000; I didn’t go beyond the Rivals250 — who received a four-star rating during the same time frame.

Continuing down that same path, where the NFL really finds the bulk of its players, however, is in the other two ratings slots.

In those four years, nearly 40 percent of the first-round selections (51) came into the collegiate ranks as four-star recruits.  Three-star recruits have a significant impact as well, with 33 of those players over the four years taken in the first round.  All told, nearly 66 percent of the players taken in the first round since 2009 have been three- or four-star recruits.

If you’re looking to become the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, however, the brighter the hue of the blue-chip player coming into college, the better the odds are that recruit will hear his name called first by the commissioner.  Of the eight No. 1 overall picks since 2005, six have either been four-star — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, 2012; Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, 2008; LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, 2007; North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, 2006 — or five-star — Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, 2011; Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, 2009 — prospects in their respective recruiting classes.

The only No. 1 overall pick who fell outside that rarefied star air?  Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who parlayed a two-star entry into college football into being the first pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL draft.

(Writer’s note: Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was a three-star prospect and the top pick of the 2010 draft)

Below is a year-by-year breakdown of  the first round of the NFL draft:

2012
5-star — 4
4-star — 13
3-star — 10
2-star — 4

2011
5-star — 7
4-star — 11
3-star — 11
2-star — 3

2010
5-star — 6
4-star — 15
3-star — 6
2-star — 5

2009
5-star — 6
4-star — 12
3-star — 6
2-star — 7

(*Brandon Weeden, selected by the Cleveland Browns at No. 22 overall, was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2002 and played professional baseball through 2006.  He enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2007 as a “no-star recruit”.)

Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: ‘Little bit messy’

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.