Recruiting rankings are alive and well
Richard Linde, 22 January 2009
Not only can avid college
football fans feed on a steady diet of games during
the season, but they can follow their favorite teams' progress in
corralling their next generation of
talent by following the recruiting services on the Internet in the offseason. These services,
such as scout.com, rivals.com, and realdawg.com, provide all kinds of data relating to student
athletes at the high school and junior college levels.
One set of data compares each school in the country with the others, showing their
relative ranking in signing student athletes to letters of intent for their next football classes. To
provide these rankings, each prospective student athlete is ranked qualitatively (given one to five
stars) and quantitatively (ranked numerically by position).
How well the current class meets the
school's needs is factored into a school's ranking. Also, teams must have
balanced classes because of susceptibility to injury. Because of need and
balance, a team with a 2.54 average star rating, say, might be ranked ahead of a team
with a 2.75 average star rating.
Obviously, these relative
rankings are not the whole enchilada when it comes to predicting how
well a given team will do.
That said, however, the final
poll of the nation's 12 top teams in 2008 correlates strongly with the teams'
recruiting rankings over the last five years. (Data taken from scout.com).
Note that all of the BCS teams in the top 11 had at least one
single-digit recruiting class over that period. See the table below:
The two glaring anomalies, Utah (66) and TCU (78.6), are non-BCS schools
that play much weaker schedules than those in the BCS, and summarily are tossed
out of the discussion, their fans kicking and screaming, upsets notwithstanding --
like in on any given day.
Similarly, Texas Tech (34.6), somewhat of a BCS anomaly,
played the likes of Eastern Washington, Nevada, Southern Methodist, and
Massachusetts in OOC games. Ty Willingham, formerly of Washington, might
have been 6-7 this season if he'd played that OOC schedule in lieu of
his own. This scenario assumes he had beaten Stanford in a game that wunderkind Jake Locker was
injured in and had beaten WSU in double overtime.
Willingham ended up 0-12 and was fired. He lost out-of-conference games
to BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The BYU game was lost on a fluke
decision that should prompt an NCAA rules' change.
Other factors affecting a team's
won/loss record are strength of schedule, weather, home-field advantage, coaching
stability, injuries, early attrition, luck, APRs, character issues and NCAA probationary periods
Hopefully, those five-star players who don't pan out are
offset by those who do. Every team has a sleeper or two, so a coach can't bank
The coach must swear his quarterback to an oath
that says he will execute
his game plan faithfully.
Almost too trite to say, a coach must develop the talent
he has in place and be a good tactician on game day. The way the system
is set up, a coach can take a group of inferior athletes, at least
according to the rankings, and convert them into overachievers and
This is because college football teams don't play enough
games over the course of a season to determine the "best teams." That's
professional baseball, as well, according to a study I ran across.
Because of the 85-scholarship rule, any
FBS team can beat any other on a given day most likely. That's a given. Playing a
limited number of games provides a chance for the best teams to fall flat on
their faces and gives the poorer teams a chance to pull off shocking upsets
under the watch of the media -- whose members are always looking for controversy
and a chance to go bonkers over an upset. If teams played more games over the
course of a season, upsets would be more prosaic and, as a consequence, would be
downplayed by the media in a relative sense.
The subjective recruiting rankings are
just one measure of progress that a coach is making. The best coaches recruit
better players. The more game-breakers and playmakers a coach has the better his
chance of winning. That's not to say Pete Carroll will win all of his games or that the
rankings themselves are infallible.
A benchmark for Steve Sarkisian:
I’m giving Sark five to bring the Dawgs alive – that is, to "faithfully" execute
Mike Stoops’ 5-year benchmark set at Arizona. Stoops turned the 2003 corpse
(2-10) he inherited at Arizona into a zombie, and now it’s human again and
walking about. Stoops’ first class (2004) was ranked 64th by scout.com. Two top 20 recruiting classes
later on propelled the Wildcats into a winner this year. Add offensive
coordinator Sonny Dykes here,
who added 130 yards to the Wildcats’ offense in 2007.
Link to the Stoops benchmark.
An interesting note: all of the BCS teams that were ranked from 1 to 11 in the
final USA Today poll had at least one single-digit class during the last 5
recruiting seasons (2004-2008). USC, Cal, and Oregon are the only Pac-10 teams
to bring in single-digit classes during that period of time.