June 27, 2012

Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge player survey

MORE: Rivals Five-Star Challenge coverage

How do you get the nation's toughest and most confident high school football players to feel as nervous as the overmatched kids who line up against them?

Have Alabama coach Nick Saban give them a call.

Rivals.com polled about 80 blue-chip high school football recruits about a variety of college football and recruiting issues during last weekend's Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta. The prospects were asked to name the most intimidating of all the head coaches who had spoken with them.

Saban, the head coach of the reigning national champions, was mentioned by 30 players. No other coach received more than five votes.

"He keeps it straight up," one prospect said. "[There are] not too many games and no smiles with him. It's all business."

Players who participated in the survey were granted anonymity in hopes it would allow them to be more open and honest in their responses.

When they were asked to name which head coach was the most persuasive and which was the easiest to talk to, the recruits couldn't reach nearly as much of a consensus. Auburn's Gene Chizik was named the easiest to talk to, though he received only 10 votes. Chizik, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and USC's Lane Kiffin were named the most persuasive, but they received only four votes each.

These prospects also should apparently be happy to learn they'll have a chance to participate in a playoff for the majority of their careers. Seventy-one percent of them said they favored a playoff over the BCS system. The poll was conducted before the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee met Tuesday and approved a four-team playoff that will take effect in 2014.

"My only worry is there's already an argument to see who's in the national championship game," one player said. "There's still going to be an argument about picking the top four teams. That's the only hesitation I have. But it's cool. It's great for football. College basketball does it obviously on a larger scale, but I think it will be a cool element for college football."

Here's a rundown of where the players stood on that issue and many other topics.

1. Of all the head coaches you've talked to, who was the most intimidating?
Nick Saban, Alabama: 30 votes
Lane Kiffin, USC: 5
Will Muschamp, Florida: 4
The buzz: There may not have been a more clear-cut choice in this entire survey.

Saban's name came up most often when players mentioned which coach intimidated them. His name often came up as soon as the question was asked. And the players often said the exact same thing about him.

He doesn't smile.

"He doesn't do any type of grinning, smiling or laughing - none of that," one player said. "He is what people say he is - strictly business."

Saban also apparently isn't much for small talk, according to one prospect.

"He's been in the elite for a long time and he's heard it all," that prospect said. "He just wants to get down to the chase and get to the offer and tell you what he likes and doesn't like about you. That's it."

It wasn't just Saban's attitude that made some prospects nervous. Saban's reputation as the nation's top coach and his two national titles in the last three years left some recruits star-struck.

"With the background he has, just talking to him was like, 'Wow, I'm really talking to Nick Saban,' " one player said. "It was incredible."

2. Of all the head coaches you've spoken with, who was the easiest to talk to?
Gene Chizik, Auburn: 8 votes
Mack Brown, Texas: 6
Lane Kiffin, USC: 5
Steve Sarkisian, Washington: 5
The buzz: The two coaches in college football's most heated rivalry apparently create entirely different impressions in their discussions with recruits.

Our survey indicates many prospects feel nervous when they spoke with Alabama's Nick Saban, though his recruiting track record shows that they certainly aren't scared away. But they apparently feel right at home when they talk to Chizik.

"He's down to earth, up front with you always," one prospect said of Chizik. "He's a nice guy."

Brown also got high marks for his approachability with recruits.

"He's just like a father figure, really," one player said. "He's very friendly. Every time you see him, you get a hug."

Sarkisian's appearance on this list is a bit of a surprise, as he received five votes even though this camp didn't include a single player committed to Washington.

"He's a real genuine guy," one player said.

While many prospects agreed on the most intimidating coach, they couldn't reach a consensus on this category. Twenty-nine different coaches were mentioned.

3. Of all the head coaches you've spoken with, who was the most persuasive?
Gene Chizik, Auburn: 4 votes
James Franklin, Vanderbilt: 4
Lane Kiffin, USC: 4
The buzz: The players couldn't come close to agreeing on this subject, either. Twenty-three different coaches were mentioned. Plenty of respondents struggled to come up with a nominee for this particular category.

"They're all pretty persuasive," one recruit said. "They all have their lines."

The most interesting name on this list is Franklin, since he coaches a program that has produced just one winning record over the last 29 seasons. Vanderbilt still currently is 16th in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings, which says quite a bit about his powers of persuasion.

"He's real persistent, a good salesman," one prospect said.

This survey also said plenty about USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron's reputation as an outstanding recruiter. More than one prospect suggested Orgeron as either the most persuasive coach or the easiest coach to talk to before being reminded to nominate a head coach instead of an assistant.

4. What college that you've visited had the best campus atmosphere?
USC: 10 votes
Texas: 9
Alabama: 8
The buzz: Although participants in the survey were granted anonymity, many of the committed prospects naturally went ahead and picked the school they plan on attending. It's also worth noting that USC had more verbal commitments at the camp (eight) than any other school.

"On gameday, I haven't found anything better [than USC]," one participant said.

And what did voters like about Texas?

"It was more of a family atmosphere to me," one Texas supporter said.

There was plenty of variety in the answers, as 33 different schools received at least one vote. Many voters also couldn't limit themselves to one school and picked multiple campuses.

5. What school that you've visited had the best facilities?
Alabama: 10 votes
Texas: 7
Georgia: 5
Tennessee: 5
The buzz: This was another topic in which prospects couldn't reach a clear consensus. Keep in mind that many of the prospects had only visited schools in their region of the country at this point in their recruitment. So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that they mentioned 27 different schools across the nation.

Alabama impressed recruits with its Hank Crisp Indoor Facility, billed as the nation's largest collegiate indoor practice facility under one room. The fully heated and air conditioned facility has 97,000 square feet of clear space. Alabama's Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility includes a 20,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center.

Texas also received high marks for facilities that include the 20,000-square-foot Nasser Al-Rashid Strength Complex.

"It was like nothing [else]," one player said of Texas. "Everything was A1 there."

Some responses came with an asterisk. USC is constructing the $70 million John McKay Center, an 11,000-square-foot building that should be ready by August. A few players voted for one school and then noted that USC would replace that choice as soon as that facility is ready.

6. Who means more when you're making your college decision - a school's head coach or your potential position coach?
Position coach: 79 percent
Head coach: 21 percent
The buzz: This one was a landslide. Almost four-fifths of the respondents said the assistant who coaches their particular position meant more to them than a school's head coach. And they pretty much all gave the same reason.

"He's the one I'm going to be spending the most time with, compared to the head coach," one player said.

They pointed out that their position coach potentially could have a greater impact on their careers both on and off the field.

"That's who you're going to be with the most, that's who you're going to talk to, who's going to be your leader and your father [figure]," one player said.

Of course, the very best position coaches often don't stay position coaches for long. They move up the coaching ladder and take higher-paying jobs elsewhere. That's why some players said they focused more on a school's head coach.

Yes, it's certainly possible those players could experience a head coaching change at some point in their careers. But it's much more likely their position coach will depart.

"With a head coach, there's more of a chance of him staying around than a position coach," one player said. "For them, any time they could up and go someplace and leave."

7. What's the No. 1 factor you consider when selecting a college?
Academics: 30 votes
Overall fit: 23
Relationship with coaches: 17
The buzz: The nation's top players are at least saying all the right things about making sure they benefit both academically and athletically from their college experience. Keep in mind this wasn't a multiple-choice survey. We asked the questions without offering any suggestions for them to choose. So nearly half our respondents brought up academics on their own.

"Football's a key that will open doors for you, but it's not going to last forever," one player said. "You have to have a backup plan."

Other players said they'd pick a school where they felt most at home. They wanted a place where they could still feel happy even if they weren't playing football. The makeup of a coaching staff also was mentioned often.

"I want to make sure those coaches are coaches who want to win and will push you to your hardest, but are good people as well," one player said. "Off the field, I want them to be coaches who keep track of you and make sure you're staying on your grades. I'm not saying I need a babysitter, but I want coaches who show that kind of care and interest in their players."

Other considerations that received at least four votes each included the possibility of early playing time and a school's proximity to home. Only one player mentioned a school's facilities as a chief reason for picking a particular team.

8. What's the most overrated factor that some recruits consider when they're picking a college?
Winning tradition: 19 votes
Jerseys/uniforms/school colors: 9
Facilities: 7
The buzz: Surprised? So were we.

These results don't mean that winning is unimportant to the players who participated in this poll. They just have so much confidence in their own abilities that they believe they can win anywhere, not just at a school that has plenty of championship experience.

"There's only one school that can win a championship," one player said. "I don't look at it as what team's won championships. Any year, any team can win a championship."

History apparently doesn't matter all that much to many of these prospects.

"You can go off the past, but you're not the past," one player said. "You're the future."

These guys also have short memories.

When one player talked about people "living in the past" about particular schools, he didn't refer to Notre Dame, Florida State or any other renowned programs that haven't contended for a national title in more than a decade. He referred to teams that had won titles much more recently.

"People might live in the past about a school like USC because they think about the [2004] season, or LSU and Florida from [2007] or [2008],'' he said.

A couple of players specifically mentioned Oregon when they talked about prospects who might say they pick a school based primarily on its uniforms. This survey also might raise some questions about whether all those recent multi-million-dollar facility upgrades really have that much of an impact on a team's recruiting.

Plenty of other topics also came up in this category. Women, playing time and a school's name recognition received four votes each.

"Everyone says, 'The girls are here, the girls are there,' '' one player said. "You're going to find girls anywhere. That's not something you should base your college education on."

Credit one prospect for a brutally honest response that raised the question many readers also might be asking. If a school's academic strength really means so much to players, why don't the BCS rankings bear more resemblance to the U.S. News rankings?

That prospect wasn't dismissing the importance of academics. He just thought some prospects were disingenuous when they mentioned academics as their main reason for picking a school.

"When people say academics [is their main consideration], if you really cared about academics that much, you'd go to Vanderbilt or Harvard or something," he said.

9. Should the NCAA allow football players to receive a stipend?
Yes: 67 percent
No: 33 percent
The buzz: Two-thirds of the prospects believed players should receive some type of monthly allowance to go along with the free room, board and tuition.

"They're making money off us playing football and we get nothing," one player said. "It's like we're McDonald's and we're making minimum wage. They're making millions of dollars, and we're just getting $7.25 [an hour], which is the scholarship."

One prospect noted that the time demands of balancing football and classwork prevent many players from having a part-time job while they're in school.

"Football's like a job," one player said. "Granted, they are paying for your tuition, but at the same time, you're putting in a lot more hard work than anyone could ever imagine. Plus, during the summer, it's really hard for some football players to get by. They can't get a job because they're doing a lot of football workouts, but at the same time they can't get paid."

Other proponents of a stipend said that if players started getting paid legally, it would reduce the number of NCAA violations.

This was one of the more polarizing questions on the survey. While the vast majority of prospects favored a stipend, some were categorically against it.

"We're not in the big leagues yet," one player said. "If you start having that, you really don't have anything to fight for to try to make it to the big leagues."

10. BCS or playoff - which do you prefer?
Playoff: 71 percent
BCS: 29 percent
The buzz: The majority of playoff proponents believed the new format would be a fairer way of determining the national champion.

"A playoff gives everybody a good chance of winning the national championship," one player said. "I respect that."

Some said it would create more excitement among fans because a greater number of teams would remain in title contention late in the season. One player compared it to the NFL, where a wildcard team could still win the Super Bowl (of course, a situation similar to that scenario unfolded in the BCS system last season when Alabama captured the national title without winning its division).

Another player said it could even give college players an idea of what to expect in the NFL postseason.

"I like the playoff because that's what they have in the pros," he said. "It would be preparing for that."

Most of the BCS proponents simply said they were satisfied with the current system. One said he believed one winner-take-all game between the two best teams was a better solution than having some type of tournament bracket, even one with just four teams.

"I think [the BCS] pits the best against the best," he said.

11. Would you like the NCAA to add an early signing date?
No: 77 percent
Yes: 23 percent
The buzz: Although the American Football Coaches Association and the ACC issued proposals for an early signing date back in 2009, the idea hasn't gained much momentum.

Most of the prospects in Atlanta last weekend said they like things just the way they are.

"It gives kids times to think [about picking a college] after football season," one prospect said. "That's a big factor."

One recruit mentioned that an early signing date might prove beneficial at one particular position, but he still preferred the status quo.

"For quarterbacks, the process is sped up so much that [an early signing period] might be a good idea," he said, "but at the end of the day, I feel like letting kids take all their visits and do all that stuff and then signing in February with one strict signing day is probably the way to go."

Proponents for the idea noted that it could prove particularly helpful because of the growing trend toward early commitments - and switches.

"A lot of people are really committing early," one player said. "[An early signing period] would help colleges know they're already going to that school."

12. Who's the main person you seek for advice on choosing a college?
Father: 22 votes
High school head coach: 18
Both parents collectively: 13
Family member aside from parents: 10
Mother: 8
Mentor or coach other than the high school head coach: 8
The buzz: A number of recruits couldn't limit themselves to just one choice in this category, but nearly every respondent mentioned either a family member or a coach. The few exceptions generally mentioned God or a clergyman.

The majority of recruits mentioned at least one family member. In a bit of a surprise, the dads received almost three times as many votes as the mothers, at least in the instances when a player specifically cited only one parent.

"He's always been there for me and has gotten me to where I am now," one recruit said of his father.

The recruits who didn't mention parents generally talked about their coaches instead.

"He's been with me through every step of this," one prospect said. "Whenever I had questions or felt uneasy, I went straight to him."






 

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