With signing day looming, it's time for the Doc's annual, week-long defense of the recruiting-industrial complex. Part Two: Recruiting rankings at the top of the polls.
College football may not offer the snuggest metaphor for macroeconomics – nowhere else in America are individuals actively prohibited from marketing their skills (or personal property) to would-be buyers – but it does jibe with the growing income gap economists are always talking about. That's true financially, thanks to the BCS, but as ever, it's still in recruiting where the rich get (and stay) richer.
That's not really a revelation, but the numbers throw the cyclical dominance of a handful of recruiting heavyweights into even sharper relief. Since 2006, only 25 different schools have finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll at least once; 15 have finished that high at least twice, accounting for 40 of the 50 top-10 slots in that span. And fully half of those slots – 26 of 50 – have been occupied by one of 10 schools: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC.
The last two years have been rough for the blue-chip destinations, with USC's multi-pronged descent, Georgia's slide into mediocrity, attrition-ravaged outfits at Michigan and Tennessee joining Florida State and Miami among the ranks of the perennial underachievers and Florida and Texas turning in epic flops last year in the transition from all-time-great quarterbacks to their not-so-great predecessors. USC and Florida State spent the season adjusting to new orders, and Florida, Miami and Michigan are introducing new regimes of their own.
But that still doesn't change the bigger picture: Those 13 schools alone have consistently produced a majority of the top five in the final polls, half of the top 10, at least half of the teams in the BCS and all of the national champions in the BCS era. (With Auburn's triumph – thanks mainly to über recruit Cam Newton, the five-star headliner of a top five class last year – only two of the top dozen recruiting powers have failed to win a BCS championship: Georgia and Michigan. Last year, Oregon was only the third team form outside of the group to even play for a BCS title, joining Virginia Tech in 1999 and Nebraska in 2001, and we might find the '01 Cornhuskers were a pretty highly regarded bunch themselves if those numbers were available.)
You know this already, but in black and white: In any given season, you can count on at least 50 percent of the nation's elite teams on the field coming from the 10 percent that routinely dominate the recruiting rankings. Every year. If n elite class doesn't guarantee a team vaulting to the top of the polls, it still dramatically increases the odds.
As for the other half, chalk it up to a combination of timing and relativity. Eight of the 25 schools with a least one top-10 finish since 2006 – Boston College, Cincinnati, Iowa, Kansas, Louisville, Missouri, Stanford and Utah – have only one, all of them in a one-shot run at the best season at their respective schools in more than a generation, if not ever. (It helps that half of them didn't beat another ranked team on the way to the bowl game.) Among the mediocre recruiters with more than one expedition to the top of the polls, TCU and West Virginia only see one conference rival per year (Utah and Pittsburgh, respectively) that's consistently out-recruited them according to the rankings, and Boise State doesn't see any.
Oregon, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin do, and have made multiple, (albeit sporadic) runs into the elite against outfits that were supposed to possess more talent in their own conferences. As USC, Ohio State and Miami can attest this year, that supposed talent advantage can turn out to be pretty shallow, and sometimes doesn't turn out at all. In the long run, though, when you take all of the numbers into account, it's still a much better bet that it will.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.