What Makes a Top 25 Recruiting Class?

February 3, 2012

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COLUMBIA, MO - FEBRUARY 04:  Dorial Green-Beck...

Top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham. Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Sign On the Dotted Line

The best quote of all time in my opinion can be tied to recruiting. Former Oklahoma Sooner coach Barry Switzer once said. “It’s not about the X’s and the O’s, it’s about the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s. Essentially meaning, I don’t have to be as good of a coach if I have superior talent.

Signing day is over. Now it is time for the chat rooms from all the schools from Oregon to Miami to gripe about the guys that got away (and for Bret Bielema to complain that Urban Meyer is poaching players) , and laud the praises for the recruits that were landed.

Too much time and attention is given by the media, the fans, and the message boards about recruiting classes. Grades are arbitrary. They are handed out based on film, a few people’s opinions, and some tangible measurements such as height, weight, “reported” speed and the like.

5 Star Treatment

Recruits are given a “star” rating by recruiting services. The two most respected are Rivals and Scouts. Both of these services came into prominence for rating football recruits around 2002. Prior to that there were a myriad of services, including a “straw poll” vote from the coaches so to speak. So before 2002 it is tougher to put an exact rating While these for some part are a shot in the dark, it is still likely the best thing out there in helping to determine the viability and talent of the athletes that are being brought into a program.

But it is far from an exact science. Let’s look at the facts from 2011 as an example:

  • 47 College Football players at the Division 1 Level were named to one or more of the various “All-American” teams.
  • Of those 47 players – 7 were 5 star rated by the recruiting services.
  • 18 of the 47 were players that were rated 3 star or lower on the 5 star system

So this would appear on the surface that chasing the “4-star” player lands yours best odds (it is almost half of the total All Americans this year) but what this is really saying is that recruiting is still a crap shoot.

Which Came First?

Often times the more big name schools that get interested in a player, the higher the perceived rating will go as now suddenly there is the logic that “This guy must be good if Alabama, USC, Ohio State, LSU, and Oregon are after him” where if the same player is being chased by schools perceived as not as strong in the football arena they are not likely to get as many stars. You won’t see a 5 star guy being chased by just schools like Toledo, Iowa State and Idaho.

So it begs the question. Does the rating given to an athlete dictate which schools are chasing a player – – or does the schools that are interested in a particular player dictate their “star” rating?

Kind of like asking which came first the chicken or the egg?

What Do The Experts Know?

I recently read an older article on SI.COM ranking the top 15 recruiting classes of all time. As you scroll through the list a number of them won’t surprise you on the surface. The reason they are on this list of the top 15 recruiting classes of all time is that the teams were exceptionally talented and ending up having tremendous success.

While it is now a 2 year old article it points out some interesting teams that had success.

More interesting is that the 1992 class for Nebraska – which is mentioned as basically the top “modern era” football recruiting class of all time was not viewed very highly at all during the time it originally took place. In 1992 the various recruiting services at the time had the Nebraska class as high as 5th best in college that year to a low of 18th best recruiting class. You would think to finish 2nd on an ALL TIME list you would have been a slam dunk #1 ranked recruiting class in 1992.

The recruiting classes in the two year both before and after 1992 were ranked even lower. Nebraska won National Championships in 1994, 1995,and 1997.

Many players that are recruited never pan out. Some get hurt, some don’t adjust to college life well, some are as good as they are ever going to be the day they step on campus, some get in trouble, some can’t make grades.

Just as many are unheralded people that mature and develop well once they enter college, get good coaching and get stronger and faster and more confident.

Recruiting is definitely an inexact science. In the winter months it is yet another thing that keeps us focusing on football….at least until Spring practices begin.

Until next time, stay classy Cibolo, Texas

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evan
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 15:32:18

    Michael Robinson, NFL fullback and former Penn State quarterback, said something interesting at Joe Paterno’s memorial service. He mentioned that Paterno didn’t offer him cars like several other schools did. I thought stories of gifts were overblown, but maybe not.


  2. kosmo
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 21:16:31

    One point I’d like to make is that there are very few 5 star recruits, more 4 star recruits, even more 3 star, etc. You don’t have 20% of the recruits as 5 star, 4 star, etc …

    I don’t have the raw numbers, but let’s say there are:
    – 50 five star recruits
    – 500 four star recruits
    – 5000 three star recruits or worse

    7 of the 50 five star recruits would be All-Americans, or 14%
    22 of the 500 four star recruits would be All-Americans, or 4.4%
    18 of the other 5000 would be All-Americans, or 0.04%

    My point is that is that the context – the number of recruits at each level – is important.

    (Again, I pulled the 50/500/5000 number out of thin air to illustrate a point. These are NOT the exact numbers).


  3. Martin Kelly
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 16:38:01

    One of the problems I see in the ranking systems is that the class is based on the perceived ranks of the individuals selected, not what the team needs. Although the argument could be made that you need to get as many of the best players as possible to keep them from your opponents.

    What I am talking about is some schools are not going to try to recruit certain positions. Let’s pretend is this the January 1975. The Texas Longhorns have a freshman starting running back who just barely missed gaining 1000 yards. They did not recruit any of the high ranked running backs, they recruited offensive linemen. The next year that running back gained over 1100 yards and was a rare sophomore candidate for the Heisman Trophy. So they had a lousy recruiting year, but by 1977 that team was ranked #1 until they lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

    It is just like any other anticipation, you cannot know what you have until you try using it. Just look at Tom Brady. He was not one of the top picks in the draft, but now he is in his fourth Super Bowl. And I do not think anyone would say he is a guest on the Patriots team. He is the driving force on the field. By the way, for those of you who are too young to remember, I was talking about Earl Campbell in the last paragraph.


  4. kosmo
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 11:47:38

    Good point, Martin. You might not have what qualifies as a top recruiting class according the standard measurements, but if you get players you need, that’s very important.

    Schools who have players stick around for four years instead of opting early for the NCAA or leaving via transfers are also going to have smaller classes than the other schools, since the other schools are turning over their rosters every 3 years instead of 4 years.

    Years ago, signing players just to keep them away from your opponents was a big problem. There were no scholarship limits, so if you have the money to do it, you could sign hundreds of players. If you wanted to make sure your opponents had to always go for it on fourth down, you could sign the top 50 punters 🙂

    I’ve heard that Notre Dame was the biggest abuser/beneficiary, but I haven’t done an independent analysis to confirm this. I’d imagine all of the national powers engaged in it to some degree.


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