Converting Recruiting Into Rankings: Over and Under Achievers

During the off season of college football it seems we try and talk about anything and everything that is happening. I have recently begun to fear that because of this, we make a much bigger deal out of recruiting than we should. I know National Signing Day is fun and all, and I know it is a big deal to these kids and their families, but is it really a big deal for each program? Does hauling in top recruits really make a difference in the long run? The answers may shock you.

Being the stats/math geek that I am, I decided it was time to take a look at this whole recruiting thing in depth since ESPN couldn’t stop jamming it down my throat. Seriously, enough was enough. And when all was said and done, Florida State jumped in their preseason rankings to #3 for having the top recruiting class. So I thought, what do recruits have to do with anything anyway? Freshmen don’t really play much. So what is the impact of recruiting on a program’s success?

It may surprise you to know that recruiting plays no significant role in your actual rankings. I decided to look at the recruiting class rankings for the last 5 years. That means recruiting classes from 2006 – 2010. I then looked at the final season rankings for those same years. That means I looked at how all the teams were actually ranked after the season from 2006 – 2010. I then looked at the top 25 for both recruiting and actual play and scored them like they do traditional rankings. No. 1 got 25 points, No. 2 got 24 points, etc. This way I could see how each program fared over the 5 year span. One would think that teams who got high recruiting points would end up ranked higher, right? Well, sometimes…

Let’s look at the actual numbers here to illustrate the point now. Below you will see two columns. On the left will be that year’s recruiting class rankings. To the right of it you will see that year’s final season rankings. The last set will be the cumulative scores for each team. I’ll point out a lot more teams get ranked in the season rankings than the recruiting rankings, so when you get to the end, the right column will be a bit longer. So check out these numbers and then see my reaction below:


2006 Recruiting Rankings
1 Florida
2 USC
3 Texas
4 Georgia
5 Notre Dame
6 Florida State
7 Oklahoma
8 LSU
9 Penn State
10 Ohio State
11 Michigan
12 Auburn
13 Clemson
14 Mississippi
15 Oklahoma State
16 Pittsburgh
17 Miami (FL)
18 Alabama
19 UCLA
20 Tennessee
21 Louisville
22 Texas A&M
23 Maryland
24 Virginia Tech
25 North Carolina

2007 Recruiting Rankings
1 USC
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 South Carolina
5 Tennessee
6 LSU
7 Auburn
8 Notre Dame
9 Miami (FL)
10 Michigan
11 North Carolina
12 Illinois
13 Georgia
14 Georgia Tech
15 Virginia Tech
16 Texas A&M
17 Alabama
18 Clemson
19 Pittsburgh
20 Ohio State
21 Penn State
22 Nebraska
23 Oregon
24 Iowa
25 Florida State

2008 Recruiting Rankings
1 Miami (FL)
2 Clemson
3 Alabama
4 Florida
5 Georgia
6 Ohio State
7 USC
8 Oklahoma
9 Notre Dame
10 Texas
11 LSU
12 Florida State
13 Michigan
14 UCLA
15 Virginia Tech
16 Illinois
17 Arizona State
18 Arkansas
19 Auburn
20 North Carolina State
21 Pittsburgh
22 Nebraska
23 Minnesota
24 Colorado
25 Texas A&M

2009 Recruiting Rankings
1 LSU
2 Alabama
3 Texas
4 USC
5 Florida
6 Georgia
7 Miami (FL)
8 Florida State
9 Ohio State
10 Michigan
11 Oklahoma
12 South Carolina
13 North Carolina
14 Notre Dame
15 Tennessee
16 Penn State
17 UCLA
18 Virginia Tech
19 Clemson
20 Arkansas
21 Rutgers
22 Mississippi
23 Mississippi State
24 South Florida
25 Auburn

2010 Recruiting Rankings
1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Alabama
4 Auburn
5 Oklahoma
6 Florida State
7 USC
8 LSU
9 Tennessee
10 UCLA
11 Penn State
12 Georgia
13 Miami (FL)
14 Michigan
15 Cal
16 Ohio State
17 Texas A&M
18 Stanford
19 Clemson
20 Washington
21 Notre Dame
22 Oregon
23 South Carolina
24 North Carolina
25 Mississippi

Recruiting Points
1 Florida 117
2 Texas 109
2 USC 109
4 LSU 96
5 Georgia 90
6 Alabama 87
7 Miami (FL) 83
8 Florida State 73
8 Notre Dame 73
8 Oklahoma 73
11 Michigan 72
12 Ohio State 69
13 Auburn 63
14 Clemson 59
15 Tennessee 55
16 Penn State 47
17 UCLA 44
18 South Carolina 39
19 Virginia Tech 32
20 North Carolina 31
21 Illinois 24
21 Texas A&M 24
23 Pittsburgh 22
24 Mississippi 17
25 Arkansas 14
26 Georgia Tech 12
27 Cal 11
27 Oklahoma State 11
29 Arizona State 9
30 Nebraska 8
30 Stanford 8
32 Oregon 7
33 North Carolina State 6
33 Washington 6
35 Louisville 5
35 Rutgers 5
37 Maryland 3
37 Minnesota 3
37 Mississippi State 3
40 Colorado 2
40 Iowa 2
40 South Florida 2


Final 2006 Rankings
1. Florida
2. Ohio State
3. LSU
4. USC
5. Boise State
6. Louisville
7. Wisconsin
8. Michigan
9. Auburn
10. West Virginia
11. Oklahoma
12. Rutgers
13. Texas
14. California
15. Arkansas
16. Brigham Young
17. Notre Dame
18. Wake Forest
19. Virginia Tech
20. Boston College
21. Oregon State
22. TCU
23. Georgia
24. Penn State
25. Tennessee

Final 2007 Rankings
1. LSU
2. Georgia
3. USC
4. Missouri
5. Ohio State
6. West Virginia
7. Kansas
8. Oklahoma
9. Virginia Tech
10. Texas
(tie) Boston College
12. Tennessee
13. Florida
14. BYU
15. Auburn
16. Arizona State
17. Cincinnati
18. Michigan
19. Hawaii
20. Illinois
21. Clemson
22. Texas Tech
23. Oregon
24. Wisconsin
25. Oregon State

Final 2008 Rankings
1. Florida
2. Utah
3. USC
4. Texas
5. Oklahoma
6. Alabama
7. TCU
8. Penn State
9. Ohio State
10. Oregon
11. Boise State
12. Texas Tech
13. Georgia
14. Mississippi
15. Virginia Tech
16. Oklahoma State
17. Cincinnati
18. Oregon State
19. Missouri
20. Iowa
21. Florida State
22. Georgia Tech
23. West Virginia
24. Michigan State
25. BYU

Final 2009 Rankings
1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Florida
4. Boise State
5. Ohio State
6. TCU
7. Iowa
8. Cincinnati
9. Penn State
10. Virginia Tech
11. Oregon
12. BYU
13. Georgia Tech
14. Nebraska
15. Pitt
16. Wisconsin
17. LSU
18. Utah
19. Miami (FL)
20. Ole Miss
21. Texas Tech
22. USC
23. Central Michigan
24. Clemson
25. West Virginia

Final 2010 Rankings
1. Auburn
2. TCU
3. Oregon
4. Stanford
5. Ohio State
6. Oklahoma
7. Wisconsin
8. LSU
9. Boise State
10. Alabama
11. Nevada
12. Arkansas
13. Oklahoma State
14. Michigan State
15. Mississippi State
16. Virginia Tech
17. Florida State
18. Missouri
19. Texas A&M
20. Nebraska
21. UCF
22. South Carolina
23. Maryland
24. Tulsa
25. North Carolina State

Rankings Points
1 Ohio State 104
2 Florida 86
3 Boise State 75
3 LSU 75
3 Texas 75
6 Oklahoma 74
7 USC 72
8 TCU 67
9 Alabama 61
9 Virginia Tech 61
11 Oregon 57
12 Auburn 53
13 Wisconsin 50
14 Georgia 40
14 West Virginia 40
16 BYU 37
16 Missouri 37
16 Penn State 37
19 Cincinnati 36
20 Utah 32
21 Michigan 26
22 Arkansas 25
22 Iowa 25
24 Oklahoma State 23
24 Texas Tech 23
26 Stanford 22
27 Boston College 21
28 Louisville 20
29 Kansas 19
30 Mississippi 18
30 Nebraska 18
32 Georgia Tech 17
33 Nevada 15
33 Tennessee 15
35 Florida State 14
35 Michigan State 14
35 Oregon State 14
35 Rutgers 14
39 Cal 12
40 Mississippi State 11
40 Pittsburgh 11
42 Arizona State 10
43 Notre Dame 9
44 Wake Forest 8
45 Clemson 7
45 Hawaii 7
45 Miami (FL) 7
45 Texas A&M 7
49 Illinois 6
50 UCF 5
51 South Carolina 4
52 Maryland 3
53 Tulsa 2
54 North Carolina State 1

Now I know what some of you are thinking. So what? What does all this mean? Let me tell you what it means. I took the rankings points (reality) and subtracted the recruiting points (expectations) to see who the big over achievers and under achievers are. Here’s the breakdown, from best to worst performing with point differences on the left:

75 Boise State
67 TCU
50 Oregon
50 Wisconsin
40 West Virginia
37 BYU
37 Missouri
36 Cincinnati
35 Ohio State
32 Utah
29 Virginia Tech
23 Iowa
23 Texas Tech
21 Boston College
19 Kansas
15 Louisville
15 Nevada
14 Michigan State
14 Oregon State
14 Stanford
12 Oklahoma State
11 Arkansas
10 Nebraska
9 Rutgers
8 Mississippi State
8 Wake Forest
7 Hawaii
5 Georgia Tech
5 UCF
2 Tulsa
1 Arizona State
1 Cal
1 Mississippi
1 Oklahoma
0 Maryland
-2 Colorado
-2 South Florida
-3 Minnesota
-5 North Carolina State
-6 Washington
-10 Auburn
-10 Penn State
-11 Pittsburgh
-17 Texas A&M
-18 Illinois
-21 LSU
-26 Alabama
-31 florida
-31 North Carolina
-34 Texas
-35 South Carolina
-37 USC
-40 Tennessee
-44 UCLA
-46 Michigan
-50 Georgia
-52 Clemson
-59 Florida State
-64 Notre Dame
-76 Miami (FL)

Whoa, now seeing the picture? Suddenly being at the top of those recruiting rankings doesn’t mean much, huh? We have some big time under achievers:

Auburn
Penn State
Pittsburgh
Texas A&M
Illinois
LSU
Alabama
florida
North Carolina
Texas
South Carolina
USC
Tennessee
UCLA
Michigan
Georgia
Clemson
Florida State
Notre Dame
Miami (FL)

And we also have some big time over achievers:

Boise State
TCU
Oregon
Wisconsin
West Virginia
BYU
Missouri
Cincinnati
Ohio State
Utah
Virginia Tech
Iowa
Texas Tech
Boston College
Kansas
Louisville
Nevada
Michigan State
Oregon State
Stanford
Oklahoma State
Arkansas
Nebraska

It is interesting to note that the top achievers, Boise State and TCU, were never in the top 25 recruiting classes. That’s just great coaching. Or the scouts have no idea how to rate these players coming out of high school. At any rate, it is very interesting that Florida, Texas and USC are the top recruiters of the past 5 years, but Ohio State is the program that comes out on top in the rankings over the same time period.

So what gives? It looks like recruiting doesn’t have much to do with performance on the field. Ask Boise State-they are tied for third best in this time span in the rankings, yet never had a top 25 recruiting class. Or ask BYU, who was ranked 4 of the past 5 years without a top 25 recruiting class. Then ask Miami, Florida state and Notre Dame how they managed to perform so poorly in spite of having some of the top recruits in the country.

As we can clearly see, pay no attention to these rankings. In general they do a decent job of determining a program’s success, but I think coaching has a lot more to do with it. Of these 60 teams, only 17 can legitimately say they played up to recruiting expectations. That means a full 2/3 of schools will either exceed expectations or fall way short.

So the next time an ESPN columnist declares Florida State to be the third best team in the land right now for landing so many top recruits, you send him a link to this post and set him straight.

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