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Real College Football Recruiting Rankings are Determined Years From National Signing Day

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With ESPN.com's reevaluation of the 2012 recruiting classes from the SEC, we should all be reminded that stars mean very little until it's proven on the field.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day is Wednesday, when every undecided high school football prospect in America will pick up the hat of the team they choose to spend the next three to four years competing for.

Some of these players decided over a month ago where they would play their college career. Others flipped back and forth between several teams throughout the process, even committing in the spur of the moment to their favorite school only to retract that commitment down the road.

A lot of it is not due to indecisive kids, but a process that is attention driven.

There's no doubt these athletes soak up the praise and attention that comes with media coverage of college football recruiting. Adding to that recognition is the constant adoration and obsession shown to these 17 and 18 year olds by some of college football's finest fans on Twitter and other social media sites.

It's those same fans who become infatuated with a little thing in the football world we call stars. When a four or five-star player commits to their favorite school, they feel like their team just landed the next Cam Newton or Herschel Walker. But when their team lands a three-star player who doesn't have the same type of national buzz as other recruits, they feel like the coaches settled.

While player evaluators for all the various media outlets such as 247Sports and Rivals do an excellent job at what they do, I'm here to remind you that they don't always get it right. Yes, more often than not a five-star player ends up producing at an elite level, but you can take the majority of the three and four-star kids and throw them in a hat. They may have very productive careers and prove their rankings were not a fluke, or they might bust and struggle to crack the starting lineup.

Stars and team recruiting rankings mean very little until years down the road. Just take a look at the 2012 classes for each Mississippi team. Both were viewed as bottom of the barrel classes compared to the rest of the league, but many of those players were pivotal pieces to MSU and Ole Miss teams that produced 9+ wins in 2014 and 2015.

ESPN.com ran a piece on Monday reevaluating the 2012 recruiting classes around the SEC. MSU's group of players were rated the second worst class in the SEC four years ago. After their careers played out -- and are still playing out for some -- and we had actual results to see on the field, ESPN rated that class No. 5 out out of the 14 teams.

ESPN.com writer Sam Kahn Jr. had the following to say regarding MSU:

"Dan Mullen's hit rate was strong here: 13 of the 28 signees started at least 10 games and nine more played at least 20 games and completed their eligibility or are scheduled to do so next season, meaning more than three-quarters of the class has contributed. The foundation for the Bulldogs' 2015 starting defense comes from this class: Beniquez Brown, Richie Brown, Jefferson, Ryan Brown, Will Redmond, Nick James and Kivon Coman."

Juco transfer Denico Autry was also a part of that class and a quality two-year starter. On offense the 2012 class featured Devon Desper, Brandon Holloway, Justin Senior, Fred Brown, and Gus Walley.

Along with the MSU and Ole Miss classes that exceeded expectations, you also had the ones that underperformed. South Carolina's original ranking dropped from 6 to 12. Then there were the teams that produced about what was expected. Alabama, LSU, Florida, and Georgia recruiting classes all started and finished top four in the league.

That just goes to show recruiting services such as Rivals, Scout, 247Sports, or ESPN are going to hit some and they're going to miss some. It will all play out three or four years down the road, not on National Signing Day.

An even better MSU example is the 2011 class which was rated No. 35 nationally by 247Sports. I can remember some MSU fans acting like the world was coming to an end. However, five players from that class -- P.J. Jones, Josh Robinson, Benardrick McKinney, Darius Slay, and Preston Smith -- all landed on NFL rosters, most of them through the draft. That number has a chance to increase to seven assuming Dak Prescott and Taveze Calhoun are drafted.

Outside of Jones and Smith, all of those players were three-stars according to 247. Smith was actually a two-star. He went from a two-star to a second round pick in last year's NFL draft.

I'm not saying all this to make excuses for what looks to be a down recruiting year for Dan Mullen and MSU. It may very well be, especially if they don't finish strong on Wednesday. But taking everything into consideration, I think we all just need to take a step back.

I know it's fun to follow and some of you will continue to do it religiously no matter what I say. I get it, do what you have to do. Take off work on signing day, check the recruiting sites every day, tweet at prospects.

But please, for your own sanity, don't obsess with number of stars or your team's recruiting ranking. The results on the field -- not the hype train before a player even puts on the uniform -- are ultimately all that matter. As fans we often lose sight of that, especially every year when February rolls around.