National Signing Day has been a time for celebration in Tallahassee, South Bend and Westwood. Game day, however, has not.
Based on recruiting classes from 2006-10 and on-field production over the last five seasons, Florida State, Notre Dame and UCLA carry the dubious distinction of being the most underachieving college football programs. Each school has withstood at least one coaching change over that span, offering a partial explanation of its shortcomings. But while recruiting success has sustained, results have clearly suffered.
From 2006-10, Florida State landed four recruiting classes ranked among the top 10 in the nation. But over the past five seasons, the Seminoles haven't finished a season higher than 17th in the polls and twice finished unranked. According to Gene Williams, publisher of Warchant.com, the team was targeting the wrong type of players.
"You look back at how many of those guys didn't stay on the team," said Williams. "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. And Florida State fell woefully short.
During the Bobby Bowden era, Florida State finished in the top five in the polls for 14 consecutive years from 1987-2000. It didn't sit well in Tallahassee, then, that the Seminoles limped to repeated mediocrity despite heralded recruiting classes.
"When you have highly regarded recruiting classes, fans get excited," Williams said. "Obviously, 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."
This year, the Seminoles notched another strong recruiting class, headlined by five-star defensive linemen Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman. Florida State faithful hope that Rivals' No. 6 haul will return the program to its mid-1990s greatness.
"The guys who put their hand in first change the game," coach Jimbo Fisher said on Signing Day.
As bad as it's been for Florida State, it's been markedly worse for Notre Dame. Four of the Irish's five recruiting classes from 2006-10 ranked in the top 15, including the touted 2008 class, which ranked second. But Notre Dame managed just 16 victories from 2007-09 under Charlie Weis and have still failed to crack the polls -- despite consecutive eight-win seasons -- since Brian Kelly took over. Notre Dame is a pedestrian 32-31 over the past five years.
"In the Weis years, it was a systems problem," said Pete Sampson, the editor of IrishIllustrated.com. "You had a coach that didn't know what defense he wanted to run, so basically half the football team was a mess. 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 improved in Kelly's tenure, but the team has been plagued by quarterback issues.
"Kelly's problem is he hasn't figured out the quarterback position yet," Sampson said. "[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."
UCLA has been similarly disappointing, recording a 27-37 over the past five seasons and managing just one winning season (7-6 in 2009). It may come as surprise, then, that from 2006-10, they boasted four recruiting classes ranked in the top 17.
The Bruins recently replaced coach Rick Neuheisel with NFL lifer Jim Mora.
"Rick Neuheisel could not translate success on the recruiting trail to the field, and he paid for it with his job," Adam Gorney, Rivals' West Coast recruiting analyst, 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 could never 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."
Conversely, Michigan is working its way off the recent list of underachievers. Each of the Wolverines' last five recruiting classes ranked in the top 20, including the 2009 class, which ranked eighth. Yet, Michigan managed just 15 victories and went unranked in three seasons under Rich Rodriguez.
But Brady Hoke righted the ship last year, leading the Wolverines to an 11-2 mark, a Sugar Bowl berth and a No. 12 finish in the AP Poll. They turned that success into Rivals' No. 7 recruiting class. Suddenly, everything seems to be returning to normal in Ann Arbor.
They're the lucky ones. Now Florida State, Notre Dame and UCLA hope to mirror their blueprint.