Everyone who follows Western Michigan and Mid-American Conference recruiting probably already knows that Chance Stewart's commitment to WMU is a rare event. But just how rare are we talking?
To get an idea of exactly what this means for Western Michigan from a historical standpoint, we looked back at Rivals250 rankings from years gone by, to analyze the big-time commitments to non-BCS schools. We'll go year-by-year, starting in 2007 when the first mid-major Rivals250 recruit was signed.
Although Rivals didn't rank the top 250 players in 2007 other than with star rankings, Bryant was by any measure highly sought-after. He chose nearby UCF over numerous offers including Florida State, Georgia and Miami.
Unfortunately, undisclosed personal issues caught up to Bryant, who left the program early in his freshman year. Rumors had him going to Florida International to play football, which never materialized.
A five-star prospect ranked 22nd in the country in 2008, Brown had plenty of options when it came to scholarship offers. Brown chose to stay close to home in Hattiesburg, and things went well for the 6-foot-6, 208 pound wideout for a while until injuries limited him.
Though injuries certainly were an issue, his 114 catches for 1,902 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore showed his ability when healthy.
No. 132 in 2009, Mars chose FIU to stay close to his family, but his career never panned out as he had hoped. After contributing on special teams as a freshman, he suffered an injury in the offseason in a car accident and never returned to the field as academic issues then caught up to him.
The third Rivals250 player to sign with a mid-major in 2009, the 206th-ranked Beaver switched late from Michigan to the Golden Hurricane. He played sparingly at Tulsa for two seasons before joining Division II Midwestern State.
Heaps, ranked 63rd in the nation in 2010, made an early decision to head to BYU, certainly a top mid-major program. He impressed as a freshman, throwing for 2,316 yards, 15 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
In 2011, however, he fell out of favor and chose to transfer after a mediocre half-season. Landing at Kansas and sitting out 2012 as his transfer year, Heaps now appears to be the odds-on favorite to start for the Jayhawks in 2013.
Reese, ranked 146th, chose UCF to stay close to home and get a shot at early playing time. On a talented Knights roster, Reese has 41 catches for 583 yards and two touchdowns through two seasons after redshirting as a true freshman. He looks to break out further in 2013.
Whether Dunn was dropped as a commitment or simply flipped from Cal to Fresno State in December of 2009, the end result was that the 243rd-ranked prospect became a Bulldog. Switching from wideout to cornerback after arriving in Fresno, Dunn has 41 career tackles headed into his junior season and will compete for a starting position in 2013.
Mathews is a major rarity as a highly ranked non-skill position player to head to a mid-major school. He checked in at no. 121 nationally, and took one redshirt year in 2011 before starting in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman on a strong Cougar offensive line.
Courtesy of Ryan Jones, Dallas Morning News: As the top-rated recruit in the best class SMU had seen in decades, California native Davon Moreland was supposed to step on campus and compete for a starting job right away. Instead, his Mustang career stalled before it even got started. Moreland was declared academically ineligible in the fall, meaning he missed the entirety of his first season on campus. That took some of the wind out of the sails of Mustang fans, but Moreland's still rife with talent, so a one-year hiatus shouldn't be enough to derail his entire career.
Sturdivant is the only MAC player to appear on this list, and he was only a MAC player for a short period of time. It was known at the time of his signing that there may be some underlying academic issues, but that didn't play a role in his departure from Toledo.
Instead, after a fairly promising first spring, Rivals' 244th ranked prospect got into legal trouble, with his career ending after he was charged with aggravated assault in 2012.
Leggett, ranked no. 110, chose the Herd over Florida State and Nebraska among others. He redshirted as a true freshman and is expected to compete for major playing time in the upcoming season.
Ranked 157th, Alford has had a roller coaster of a career so far, including joining the Toronto Blue Jays organization as an outfielder and starting five games at USM as a quarterback in a rough season. To make a long story short, he chose to transfer to Ole Miss after the debacle that was Southern Miss' 2012. Much more about his story can be found here.
Notably, not a single class of 2013 Rivals250 recruit signed with a mid-major program on the most recent National Signing Day, so Stewart will be bucking a recent trend in a sense, assuming he holds to his commitment.
To sum it up, of the 2000 prospects that have cracked the Rivals250 rankings between 2006 and 2013, a grand total of twelve have signed with a program not currently in the BCS ranks. That's 0.6%, if you're counting, an almost negligible number. Of those twelve, only one chose a MAC school, and most signed with schools on the upper fringes of the non-AQ's.
MAC schools usually only sign a handful of four-stars of any kind in a given year, and many of those come from prep schools rather than straight out of high school. Just eight four-stars have ever signed to MAC schools in the Rivals era, and only one (Sturdivant) was nationally ranked in the Rivals250. It's also worth noting that if Stewart signs, he would be the highest-ranked player to ever sign with a MAC program.
All this is to say that, well, this is a big deal. We'll offer the caveat that Stewart has yet to sign, and there are still ten long months until he is officially a Bronco. Still, he's saying all the right things, and we have no reason not to take them at face value.
Sure, there's no guarantee that he'll be a star if he does arrive at WMU, either. However, if you look at the highly-ranked players that washed out at other mid-majors through the years, it was rarely a result of their athletic ability. Usually there was some off-the-field issue that arose, and there is no indication that will be an issue with Chance Stewart.
By all means, WMU fans should proceed with caution when developing expectations for Chance Stewart's potential career as a Bronco. But there is no reason to understate this. P.J. Fleck has just made his first huge statement on the recruiting trail.