Over on SB Nation last week, Bud Elliott took a look at the age of current recruits (class of 2018) relative to teams’ last national championship. While the article didn’t outright say that history doesn’t work as a selling point, it did put the age of these incoming kids into better perspective.
Class of 2018 prospects have zero recollection of USC or Miami’s most recent titles. And pretty much all of us here remember those pretty vividly.
The Syracuse Orange obviously (to us) have a history of success on the football field, but that also becomes a bit of the issue. It’s a history of success, rather than a culture of it. That’s something that Dino Babers is changing, but the wins need to come with that shift at some point (perhaps in year two?).
SU has had a host of All-Americans in its history, but before Amba Etta-Tawo last year, the most recent was Dwight Freeney in 2001. Current prospects were one year-olds. They don’t remember anything about Freeney’s time in college, though they’re probably familiar with his accolades in the NFL -- assuming they followed much of his Colts career, vs. recent seasons.
This offseason, a lot of the program’s social media focus has been on current players whose names may be a bit more relatable to current recruits. Chandler Jones has seen a few tweets. There have been numerous mentions of Amba Etta-Tawo and Justin Pugh as well.
Some names you haven’t seen as much of: Donovan McNabb, Daryl Johnston, Rob Konrad, etc.
Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little are mentioned because they’re what keeps the legend of the number 44 alive. But this also gets back to points we’ve made here before. If you keep 44 in mothballs/the rafters, eventually the only thing you have left of it is its history. The number took on so much weight because it was a living, breathing reminder of every great player that wore it before — and every great player that could after.
Current recruits weren’t even alive the last time a player wore the number. They were five years old when the number was retired.
It’s the danger of banking on history in recruiting, vs. recent and future returns.
Clemson hadn’t won a championship since 1981, but became a favorite among recent recruits even before this January’s title. Oregon’s never won anything of note, and were succeeding by way of a #BRAND that sold kids on recent success and the future. Same goes for pre-scandal Baylor. It’s been awhile since teams like USC, Miami, Penn State and Michigan have won titles. But they have recent success to point to, and an upward trajectory to bank on (PLUS previous titles, to use history as the final selling point, rather than the initial one).
To bring this back to Syracuse, perhaps it’s what the basketball program is kind of balancing right now as well. The 2003 championship may be pretty vivid in all of our minds, but the current recruits were three and four years old at the time. They have no memory of Hakim Warrick’s block, and their lasting memory of Carmelo Anthony is his dejection as a member of the Knicks. Gerry McNamara’s a coach to them, not a folk hero.
The benefit SU basketball has is recent Final Four trips (two that these prospects should recall). But with Mike Hopkins gone, now we have to figure out how to sell them on the future without knowing who will be on the sidelines. With Hopkins as a coach-in-waiting, that was easier. It’s not impossible now. But it does get a bit dicier. Every year we’re further removed from the ‘03 win is another we have to lean a bit more on the Final Four bids. Once Carmelo hangs up his sneakers in the NBA, that job gets even harder (since who else are we pointing to as the NBA player recruits can strive to be?).
This isn’t to paint a negative picture of our chances in football or basketball at all. Football’s got a top-40 class right now, with Babers gaining steam on the recruiting trail. Basketball’s added two players in the last two weeks, and could have an intriguing (and young) team in 2017-18.
It’s just worth pointing out the difference between what fans find important vs. prospective recruits. And how those things don’t always align.