“Four-star” quarterback Brian Lewerke committed to Michigan State on April 19 and “three-star” quarterback Alex Malzone committed to Michigan on May 12, followed by this tweet from an MSU fan with the handle @JohnnyMacSparty: “When can we expect Lewerke’s ranking to drop? Must please the fan bases that buy the most subscriptions. Malzone now high 4 star.”
On cue, recruiting site Rivals.com released its latest 2015 player rankings Wednesday. Malzone, of Birmingham Brother Rice, was up to four stars. Lewerke, of Phoenix Pinnacle High, was down to three stars.
And the Rivals.com staff was up to its ears in MSU fan malice.
“It can wear you down a little bit,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com. “Rankings weeks are the most exciting, but also the most difficult.”
Rivals.com releases new rankings five times in a calendar year, and the latest version comes with questions. Why did Lewerke drop? Why did Malzone rise? Is this part of a pro-Michigan/anti-MSU conspiracy? Why does it matter and who cares?
After all, U-M’s average Rivals.com team ranking since 2007 is No. 11 nationally, and MSU’s is No. 34, yet the Spartans are averaging nine wins a year with two Big Ten championships and a 5-2 record over U-M in that time, while the Wolverines are averaging seven wins with no titles.
When it comes to individuals and star ratings — the range is one to five, with five-star prospects in short supply and considered elite — MSU’s two-star recruits under Mark Dantonio include Darqueze Dennard, Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, Trae Waynes, Joel Foreman and Trenton Robinson.
Still, fans who follow recruiting closely care about rankings and stars, and some MSU followers spent the past few days firing off angry e-mails and threatening cancellations on the Rivals.com MSU site, Spartanmag.com.
“I’ve seen a lot worse,” said Rivals.com analyst Rob Cassidy, whose evaluation of Lewerke resulted in his drop. “A Utah fan once threatened to blow up my car.”
The Lewerke/Malzone flip-flop actually came about as the result of two separate evaluations, Farrell said, with no interaction between the two evaluators. Cassidy, who covers the West region, said Lewerke “really struggled” at a Rivals.com camp in March in Fullerton, Calif.
Josh Helmholdt, who analyzes the Midwest, came away extremely impressed with Malzone at a Rivals.com camp in April in Saline. Both submitted their recommendations independently. Farrell reviews all evaluations from regional analysts, and he said he went to the junior season film of both Lewerke and Malzone before deciding.
“With Malzone, we saw great strides from his junior season to what we saw live,” Farrell said. “He was lights out. With Lewerke, what we saw was regression (from the junior film). We just didn’t see a four-star quarterback. His junior film was four-star film.”
In particular, Cassidy said, Lewerke struggled in terms of accuracy and reading defenses, though his physical ability remained impressive. The ranking decisions were made after a week of discussions between Farrell and the analysts — and right before Lewerke excelled at an Elite 11 quarterback camp in Oakland, Calif., earning a coveted spot in the summer finals in Oregon.
Rivals.com has set rankings periods. The Elite 11 performance will be part of Lewerke’s August ranking, when that coveted fourth star could return.
“The unfortunate thing here is the cutoff,” Cassidy said. “And it’s hard to explain that to Michigan State fans.”
As far as the conspiracy talk, “we couldn’t care less where a prospect is going to school,” Farrell said. “We’re doing the very best job we can,” he added, “in a very subjective area.”
Scout.com already had Malzone as a four-star and Lewerke as a three-star months ago, before either committed, while 247Sports.com gives both three stars — ranking Lewerke the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the nation and Malzone No. 21.
■ U-M LOSES THIRD VERBAL: Michigan lost another elite commitment from its 2015 football class, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward cornerback Shaun Crawford, following Crawford’s visit to Notre Dame. Crawford, who tweeted the news, is the third high-level recruit in the class to pledge, then rescind, following Kentucky running back Damien Harris and Florida receiver George Campbell.