January 26, 2011
With signing day looming, it's time for the Doc's annual, week-long defense of the recruiting-industrial complex. Part Three: Putting the rankings to the test on a game-by-game basis.
So far, the week's efforts have focused on two byproducts of success: All-Americans and the final polls. Fine, but for the skeptics, maybe still a little narrow. If you play to win the game, shouldn't the validity of recruiting rankings hinge on, you know, wins?
Obviously. So let's look at the records.
To do that, we have to start by identifying exactly – more or less – what the rankings project for each team. Using the "star" scale in a slightly different capacity, I classified all 65 teams in one of the "Big Six" conferences (the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) and Notre Dame into one of five "classes," based on each team's accumulated recruiting rankings over the last five years in Rivals' extensive database.
The designations are based strictly on the combined scores of the rankings alone, with no attempt to account for injuries, transfers, academic casualties, arrests or any other routine form of attrition:
Big Six Conference Teams by Recruiting Class*
• Five-Star: Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, USC.
• Four-Star: Arkansas, Auburn, California, Clemson, Miami, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCLA, Virginia Tech.
• Three-Star: Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Stanford, Texas Tech, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
• Two-Star: Baylor, Iowa, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota, N.C. State, Oregon State, Purdue, South Florida, Syracuse, Washington State.
• One-Star: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Duke, Indiana, Iowa State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest.
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* Based on Rivals' accumulated 2006-10 team recruiting rankings.
To judge their success with respect to strength of schedule, I avoided catchall, potentially apples-and-oranges numbers like straight winning percentage, and limited the look to the major conferences both to keep the research manageable and because the rankings tend to be virtually indistinguishable in the mid-major conferences, where the vast majority of players are obscure two-star types who may not have appeared on the recruiting gurus' radars at all. Impressive success of Boise State, TCU and Utah notwithstanding, it's safe to say the smaller conferences' grisly track record against the "Big Six" speaks for itself.
2010 was a relatively terrible year for the usual suspects – Texas and Georgia turned in losing records for the first time in well over a decade; Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame barely struggled past .500 – and a great one for middle-of-the-pack recruiters like Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin. Still, on the final count, the higher-ranked team won about two-thirds of the time (just a hair over 66 percent, to be exact), and every "class" as a whole had a winning record against every class ranked below it. The gap on the field also widened with the gap in the recruiting scores: At the extremes, "one-star" recruiting teams collectively managed one win over a five-star team (Iowa State over Texas) and one win over a four-star (Vanderbilt over Ole Miss) in 24 tries.
Or, in more succinct visual form:
It's a simple equation: The better your recruiting rankings by the gurus, the better your chances of winning games, against all classes. Emphasis on the word chances – the counterexamples are obvious and legion in both directions. But as far as forming a reasonable basis for predictions, well, it probably goes without saying that you never want to count on being one of the anomalies.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.