Ubben: Final Four, TCU football show selling hope in college sports, has never been easier

College coaches’ catchphrases are now hackneyed performance art.

We have all our needs met. These guys are taking us to the next level as a program. This class is full of hidden gems. We don’t look at the stars. We look at the tape.

But recruitment is still judged like the product on the field: it’s a results business. In recent decades, winning and losing in recruitment has largely depended on elevating a program’s class rank above its historical place.

And then happened in 2023.

Suddenly, selling hope in college football and basketball has never been easier.

Those recruitment numbers are still important. But in the optics industry, it’s become a lot easier to sell the idea that they’re not everything.

TCU defied decades of trends and data to make it to the College Football Playoff National Championship with a 32nd-ranked roster, just behind Georgia Tech and Missouri on the 247Sports Team Talent Composite based on recruit rankings.


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This happened to a first-year coach who inherited a 5-7 team. No matter what happened after kick-off, the sport’s modern era had literally never seen anything like it.

A few months later, men’s college basketball’s Final Four has two real Cinderellas and a shortage of elite talent. For the first time since seeding began in 1979, none of the four teams have a McDonald’s All-American on their roster, it said ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. The average starting value (5.75) is the highest in history.

FAU, seeded number 9, goes into the Final Four after winning in the East region. (Robert Deutsch / USA Today)

There’s a randomness to March Madness that’s not present in college football (yet?), but there’s no hiding from reality in this unprecedented Final Four. That’s all before you examine the four-year average recruitment rankings of this year’s contestants from 363 Division I teams:

Of the 16 recruiting classes used by these four programs over the past four cycles, only one (UConn in 2021) cracked the top 18 in the 247Sports Composite.

Why is this happening now? That will be debated in both sports for years as we learn if 2023 will be the dawn of a new era or a speed bump that will eventually remove the sports’ richest blue-blooded neighbors

Undiscovered coaching? The transfer portal? zero money? The most talented players choosing to spend a year in college or opting for the G-League Ignite entirely? Determining the why – or rather, guessing – will be a never-ending debate in both sports.

But for most of the modern recruiting era, convincingly selling an unconvincing recruiting class was almost impossible. Now college sports has entered the golden age of selling hope. Any football coach can refer to the TCU. Every basketball coach can point to this year’s men’s Final Four.

If they can, why can’t we?

And the schools with all the blue chippers?

Texas was the only program to sign a top 20 men’s basketball class in 2022, going beyond the Sweet 16. College football’s top signing league of 2022 belonged to Texas A&M, which promptly lost to Appalachian State (which ended 6-6 and was tied). fourth in the Sun Belt East) at home and finished 5-7 overall and last in the SEC West.


Is this the craziest Final Four ever?

The reality hasn’t necessarily changed: the best way to win in college sports is to attract the best talent possible, develop that talent, and have a coaching staff employing a system that makes the best use of that talent. If any of these three pillars are missing, a program will most likely have problems.

But for programs with little talent, selling optimism was often like setting up a Brussels sprouts stand in a playground. Eventually, poor recruiting cost Dan Mullen his Florida job, despite winning just under 70 percent of his games with three New Year’s Six Bowl appearances in four years.

Time will tell how much the transfer portal and NIL cash have enabled teams to truly find shortcuts to stack elite recruitment courses as the only route into college football’s exclusive VIP club. Now, however, the coaches can point to the success of TCU, the failures of Texas A&M and this Cinderellas-half-studded Final Four.

The boundary between perception and reality has never been so fluid.

(Top Photo: Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

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