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February 14, 2012
Signing day has been a time for great celebration in Tallahassee, South Bend and Westwood.
Game day has not.
Based on recruiting classes from 2006-10 and on-field production the last five seasons, Florida State, Notre Dame and UCLA carry the dubious distinction of being the most underachieving college football programs in that span.
The programs have had at least one coaching change in that time period, which offers some optimism for the future. But for now, those programs have the stigma of underachievers.
Florida State is trying to regain its glory from the 1990s, when it won two national championships under longtime coach Bobby Bowden.
Bowden, however, slowed down with age, the program lost some of its best assistants and transfers and dismissals depleted some heralded recruiting classes. Eventually, Bowden was ousted and replaced by Jimbo Fisher.
Recruiting success has been maintained. Results, however, have not been.
From '06-10, Florida State had four recruiting classes that were ranked among the country's top 10. However, over the past five seasons, Florida State has not finished a season ranked higher than 17th and twice finished unranked.
"When you talk about those recruiting classes, you have to separate '06, '07, '08 and even '09," said Gene Williams, the publisher of Warchant.com. "They're recruiting a little different now than they were. You look back at how many of those guys didn't stay on the team. Either they initially didn't qualify or they got kicked off the team, transferred or flunked out. That played a huge role.
"A lot of those classes looked good on paper because guys had a lot of stars next to their names. But a lot of those four-star guys had red flags, too. This (current) staff does a better job of doing their homework. The attrition rates were through the roof in those other years."
Expectations were through the roof, too.
Florida State finished ranked in the top five of the national polls for 14 consecutive years from 1987 to 2000. It didn't sit well in Tallahassee when the Seminoles struggled to mediocre seasons despite heralded recruiting classes.
"When you have highly regarded recruiting classes, fans get excited," Williams said. "Obviously, here they're used to top-five programs. When you're getting those type recruiting classes, you expect to get back up there. Then they had several years in a row of 7-6 finishes. That won't cut it and ultimately led to the coaching changes."
"The guys who put their hand in first change the game," Fisher said on signing day.
As bad as it's been for Florida State, it's been worse for Notre Dame.
Four of the Irish's five recruiting classes from 2006-10 were ranked in the top 15 of the country, including the 2008 class, which was ranked second.
But Notre Dame managed only 16 victories from '07 to '09 under Charlie Weis. The Irish have showed improvement after Brian Kelly took over the program with back-to-back eight-win seasons, but they have still failed to finish a season in the national rankings. Notre Dame is just 32-31 over the past five seasons.
"In the Weis years. it was a systems problem," IrishIllustrated.com editor Pete Sampson said. "You had a coach that didn't know what defense he wanted to run, so basically half the football team was a mess. You want us to run a 3-4 or a 4-3? They had three defensive coordinators in Weis' five years here. This last year's senior class had three offensive line coaches in four years and three defensive line coaches in five years. The consistency of the message was very poor."
The defense has gotten better under Kelly, but there have been quarterback issues.
"Kelly's problem is he hasn't figured out the quarterback position yet," Sampson said. "Notre Dame needs a more talented quarterback. (Tommy) Rees doesn't have great arm strength and isn't mobile at all, which is a big part of Brian Kelly's offense. Now, they know what they want to do, they just have to get the guys to do it."
As modest as Notre Dame's showing has been, it is much better than UCLA, which has gone 27-37 over the past five seasons and just replaced coach Rick Neuheisel with Jim Mora.
From '06 to '10, UCLA had four recruiting classes that were ranked among the top 17. The Bruins' 2010 class was ranked eighth.
Still, UCLA has never taken advantage of being located in one of the most talent-rich cities in the country. The Bruins have managed just one winning season in the past five years (7-6 in '09).
"Rick Neuheisel could not translate success on the recruiting trail to the field, and he paid for it with his job," Rivals.com West Coast recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said. "One of the main problems was UCLA was incredibly limited at quarterback and really could not get its offense jump-started the last few years.
"Neuheisel flip-flopped quarterbacks a little bit, and the offense never could really gain traction. They recruited well on defense and the Bruins have had some guys pan out, but I think the offense has really been the problem. Plus, they didn't do a good enough job recruiting Los Angeles players. The area is so abundant with talent, but those players were going to USC or somewhere else in the Pac-12."
Michigan is coming off the list of underachievers.
Each of the Wolverines' past five recruiting classes were ranked in the top 20 and the '09 class was ranked eighth.
Yet, Michigan managed just 15 victories and was unranked in three seasons under Rich Rodriguez.
Suddenly, everything seems to be getting back to normal in Ann Arbor.
Florida State, Notre Dame and UCLA fans are hoping similar results are coming there way, too.