Welcome to reality

Not Exactly…

Despite bringing in some of the best recruiting classes of the last four years, Georgia coach Mark Richt and his Bulldogs have struggled on the field of late.

Ranking college football teams is an inexact science.

Even less scientific is ranking the recruiting classes that these programs bring in on a yearly basis.

Early each February, while the majority of the football-loving world is living in the purgatory that is the week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl(the Pro Bowl doesn’t make it any better), college football fanatics are hanging on 17 and 18 year-old mega recruits’ every word. Nevermind the fact that, in any other walk of life, a 40 year-old man obsessing over the life decisions of a late teenager would be considered incredibly creepy, this is about building a program!

They say that recruiting is the life blood of college athletics, and every year certain fan bases are bragging about their latest transfusion, while others are fretting as if they had a run in with one of the sexy vampires from Twilight. But, in a college football world where we seemingly rank teams on program reputation, overall record, conference reputation, conference record and the “eyeball test,” in that order, how do we rank recruits that play against vastly different levels of competition in different corners of the country?. How do we explain the fact that every year “experts” tell us that Notre Dame is slow and doesn’t have the athletes to run with USC, while other “experts” tell us Notre Dame brought in another top recruiting class?

Well, here is a look at this year’s current AP Top-10,(which is a poor sample because the season is so young and many of these teams will drop out, but still)and what they “should” be ranked based on their average recruiting success over the past four(yes, I am aware of redshirts and I should do five, deal with it) seasons according to the “experts” at rivals.com. Whoa that was a long sentence.

1. Oklahoma: 10- The Sooners have recruited very well, snagging two top-10 classes in the past four seasons. This average finish of 10 puts them among the best in the country.

Where they should be ranked: Top-5-10

2. Alabama: 2- No team has recruited better over the past four seasons than Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. If Alabama had any experience at quarterback there is no doubt in my mind they would be No. 1.

Where they should be ranked: Top-3

3. LSU: 6.25- The Bayou Bengals only have one class not in the top-10, and that was way back in 2008. Their star-studded 2009 class is just now coming into its own, especially on defense.

Where they should be ranked: Top-3

4. Boise State: 50- The Broncos were not ranked in the top-50 in any of the past four seasons, so I gave them credit for a score of 50. However, according to rivals, Boise was out recruited by other mid-majors Texas Christian, Central Florida, Southern Miss, Southern Methodist, and Rice, along with conference bottom dwellers Minnesota, Iowa State and Washington State.

Where they should be ranked: Unranked

5. Florida State: 7- Jimbo Fisher has the ‘Noles recruiting like they did in the early 90’s. Their freshman class was rated No. 2 in the country and the expectations are once again sky-high in the Panhandle.

Where they should be ranked: Top-5-10

6. Stanford: 29.5- I thought Stanford would be out playing its ranking by more, but the average of 29.5 actually puts the Cardinal in the top-25 in the country for recruiting over the past four years. Still, they do not recruit like your average top-10 team with no top-20 classes and an unranked 2008 recruiting haul.

Where they should be ranked: Top-25

7. Wisconsin: 43.5- Ding, ding, ding. Here is your winner for the team that does the most with less. Wisconsin never had a class ranked higher than 40, yet the Badgers are a consistent top-15 team playing in a major conference.

Where they should be ranked: Unranked

8. Oklahoma State: 30.25- Who would’ve thought that Stanford was beating Oklahoma State on the recruiting trail? I sure didn’t, but the Cowboys are still hovering around the top-25 in terms of average recruiting success.

Where they should be ranked: Top-25

9. Texas A&M: 20.5- The Aggies are recruiting like their usual “we’re a good Big 12 program but we’re not Texas or Oklahoma” selves. Maybe that’s why they want to leave so badly. Hmmm..

Where they should be ranked: Top-15

10. South Carolina: 19- See above, only sub in “SEC” and “Alabama, LSU or Florida.”

Where they should be ranked: Top-15

Now, let’s take a look at what the Top-10 would look like if recruiting rankings determined things.

1. Alabama

2. USC

3. LSU

4. Texas

5. Florida

6. Florida State

7. Ohio State

8. Georgia

9. Oklahoma

10. Michigan/Notre Dame

Now, people can look at that and draw their own conclusions. I think it tells us a few things. First of all, the ratings of players is affected by what schools they commit to. If a kid commits to a  traditional power like Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia and Texas it is likely that his rating could be inflated. But, it also tells you that recruiting ratings can be a good indicator because Alabama, LSU, Florida State and Oklahoma come in very high, while teams like Texas, Florida and Ohio State have been in the BCS within the past two years and are currently ranked. USC’s probation and abrupt coaching change serve an a decent excuse for why they are not sniffing the top-10 at the moment.

This also shows you why fans in Athens are losing their patience with coach Mark Richt after a losing season and why the fan bases in Ann Arbor and South Bend are becoming more and more restless.

But, it also presents a bit of a chicken or egg question.

Do power programs get the highest recruiting rankings because they win the most, or is it the other way around? Meaning, does winning come from getting the best players, or does this perception that you have the best players come from winning? Wisconsin and Boise State have certainly shown that you can win without “blue chip” recruits, while Notre Dame and Michigan, along with Miami and Clemson who came in just outside the top-10, have shown that getting highly touted players does not lead directly to wins.

My take on this is a bit of both. Were some of Notre Dame’s recruiting rankings inflated because of their program’s reputation? No doubt. But, do you have a better chance of being a top-10 team if you recruit like one? Most certainly. Something that I think most people need to remember is that there are A LOT of talented players around the country, and not all of them are ranked appropriately, giving coaches plenty of hidden gems to find. Also, teams like Wisconsin recruit players that fit their system, something that teams like Notre Dame and Michigan, who have had recent coaching changes, have not had the luxury of.

My final take home point is that, like ranking the football teams themselves, recruit rankings are based mostly on perception and pre-conceived biases. A team in the ACC may be better than a team in the SEC, but they may not be ranked as such due to the prestige of the SEC. Similarly, a player from Wisconsin may be better than a player from Georgia, but the prestige of Georgia high school football and the SEC schools recruiting him may lead to a higher rating. So before you go bragging about your school’s next big recruiting class, or bemoan your school’s inability to recruit, remember that, in recruiting, perception is reality.


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