National Signing Day Lamentation
National Signing Day is more frosting than cake, to be honest. The hype exists because the money exists; the bigger the event, the more the likes of ESPN and others can capitalize. And that's why we have such frivolities as cakes, and sky-diving, and fake-outs with hats. But at the heart of it we have the formal introduction of the next set of players across Division I football. These are the ones expected to fill the gaps left by graduating seniors and uber-talented underclassmen headed off to the NFL.
By and large, they are mysterious quantities, their ability to impact the game is unknown and largely unknowable seven months before they can even take the field for the first time. College football, for all its excess and overexposure, still cannot capitalize on the upper 1% of freshmen recruits in the same way that their basketball counterparts can. It's not uncommon for a 5* QB to redshirt his first year, whereas any top-100 basketball recruit redshirting for non-medical reasons would raise all sorts of eyebrows.
However, there is something for everyone on National Signing Day regardless. The reasons to be excited are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Maybe your team put together another top-5 class. Or maybe you signed your first 5* in years. Or you think you grabbed some diamonds in the rough, or key players at key positions. Regardless, there is usually some sort of positive narrative around recruiting, enough for fans of even the most woebegone programs to cling to.
Even Purdue, a program that has found itself face down in the mud for the last three years, has had a thing or two to hang their hat upon in each of the last three recruiting cycles, even if it's been getting harder and harder to find it.
This year, I'll commend Purdue on addressing its lack of secondary depth, as four of Purdue's top-5 rated commits are all DBs. That's good! The secondary is very thin and very young. Hopefully the likes of Josh Hayes et al will answer some very pressing questions within the DB corps.
But even in identifying the strength of Purdue's class, the truth of the overall picture comes into focus: the football program is pitiful, and shows no signs of improving any time soon.
For the second year in a row, Purdue has failed to sign a 4* (Rivals) recruit. Prior to the 2015 class, the last class to lack a 4* was 2011, and that class had Frankie Williams, who held the highest grade possible for a 3*. Before that? Well, I'm not sure, because the Rivals archive only goes back to 2002 and Purdue inked at least one 4* in each class from 2002--2010.
More so than that, Purdue is not keeping up with their peers. Thankfully, Purdue didn't have the lowest rated class in the B1G this year, but that was only because Rutgers only had a 14 person class (Rivals team rankings are based on a point system derived from a school's best-rated 20 recruits). And despite having a class nine larger than Rutgers, Rutgers managed to pull in four more 3* recruits than Purdue. If you go by average ranking, Purdue was dead last in the league. Purdue was dead last by any measure in 2015, and last in average ranking in 2014 (when they were again saved by another team, in this case Illinois, having a small class, which kept the Boilermakers out of the aggregate score last position).
Purdue has never been a powerhouse recruiting program; the last really good class was in 2012 and since 2005 Purdue has found itself in last place in the rankings more than anyone else.
But Purdue's familiarity with the lower echelons of B1G recruiting should not excuse its current position. For one, Purdue has been successful when it's been able to bring in under-appreciated players and turn them into something greater. This staff has not demonstrated that capability at all; even with players from that top-5 in conference class of 2012, Coach Hazell has not produced anything noteworthy. In all reality, it's hard to imagine a time when it was more agonizing to be a Purdue football fan.
Secondly, Hazell was hired on the promise that the status quo wasn't good enough. Despite the big promises from the powers that be, this coaching staff has managed to find creative ways to dig to new rock bottoms. The status quo of "mediocre" that preceded Coach Hazell now appears to be an aspirational goal far too out of reach for the foreseeable future. These are the darkest days.
As I stress and strain to try and find the silver lining to this year's class, I'm confronted with the reality that a significant portion of the class is made up of players stolen from lower division programs, JUCOs, and off-the-radar recruits whose familiarity with Purdue is as fresh as the year 2016.
In the Rivals rankings Purdue's class sits at #74, sandwiched between San Diego State and Southern Methodist. UAB, a football program that was killed, revived, and doesn't play a single game in 2016, sits over 10 spots ahead of Purdue at #63. The average ranking of Purdue's recruits is the lowest of all major conference schools.
Burke will be AD until 2017 and somehow the last three seasons weren't enough to fire Hazell, so unless something unexpected happens, the darkest days have become the new status quo. Happy signing day indeed.