Recruiting Rankings Do Matter

Every year we hear pundits proclaim that recruiting rankings do not matter.  And every year Matt Hinton proves them wrong.  Very, very wrong.  I have lamented Hinton's move to his new Yahoo! platform because I find his articles less in-depth than before as he is asked to crank out content more frequently.  But he does this series very, very well.  This year he did a five-part series, and it is the best he has ever done.  I encourage you to read them all, I have profiled them here.

Star Power: Recruiting gurus' All-American track record, by the numbers - Dr. Saturday - NCAAF  - Yahoo! Sports

The ratio always looks identical on a per-capita basis, and it is not a crapshoot. Four and five-star players are roughly seven times as likely as two and three-star players to land on an All-America team, and the numbers in the NFL Draft tend to be even even more lopsided toward the hyped recruits. All the more reason to want as many of them as you can get your hands on.

Star Power: Recruiting gurus' track record at the top of the polls, by the numbers - Dr. Saturday - NCAAF  - Yahoo! Sports

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.

Those 10 also happen to be among the 13 schools – along with Florida State, Miami and Tennessee (three programs with terrible coaching for much of the last decade) – that have consistently finished at the top of the recruiting rankings.

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. Doc then explains that the other teams typically have once-in-a-generation luck and a super easy schedule if they accomplish such a finish.

Star Power: Judging the recruiting rankings, game by game - Dr. Saturday - NCAAF  - Yahoo! Sports

...on the final count, the higher-ranked team (by recruiting stars) 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.

Star Power: The nation's most overachieving teams - Dr. Saturday - NCAAF  - Yahoo! Sports

... even most of the low-on-the-totem-pole schools that consistently turn in the kind of winning percentages that put the initial assessments their lineup to shame – see Boise State, Cincinnati, UConn, TCU, Utah and other would-be BCS party crashers over the last five years – pile up those wins over other low-on-the-totem-pole outfits whose recruiting rankings didn't fare much better. Those five schools have combined for four regular season wins in five years over teams whose overall recruiting numbers (according to Rivals) put them in the top 25 nationally since 2006. The vast majority of upstarts feed on other would-be upstarts.

3. Virginia Tech. The Hokies haven't fared particularly well against the upper echelon – they were blown out by eventual BCS champ LSU in 2007, and again by eventual BCS champ Alabama in 2009 – but their middle-of-the-pack prowess on the trail hasn't stopped them from dominating the ACC: Tech is 9-3 since '07 against conference peers Florida State, Miami, Clemson and North Carolina, all of which have ostensibly out-recruited the Hokies, with three ACC championships in the same span.

All told, Tech ranks at the fringes of the top 25 in terms of recruiting, but with back-to-back wins over Nebraska and a Chick-Fil-A Bowl rout of Tennessee in 2009, it's won twice as often as its lost over the last four years against teams that brought in more talent according to the gurus.

Then again, Tech is 0-27 all-time against top-ten teams. The records against FSU, Miami, and Clemson are hardly surprising considering how poorly coached those teams have been for the better part of the last decade. The evidence shows the Hokies can beat talented teams that are poorly coached, but cannot beat talented teams who are well coached.

Star Power: The nation's most underachieving teams - Dr. Saturday - NCAAF  - Yahoo! Sports

5b. Florida State. The Seminoles' recent penchant for disappointment may not be as extreme as you think: Florida State is the only team on this list with a winning record each of the last four years (its streak of winning seasons stands at 34, the longest in the nation), and has finished in the top 25 in two of the last three. In relative terms, though, no collection of "underachievers" is complete without the 'Noles, now five years removed from their last ACC championship in a league they once ruled with an iron fist, and more than a decade out from their last foray among the national elite.

FSU has continued to dominate the rest of the Atlantic Division on the recruiting trail, but also has multiple losses against four of its five Atlantic rivals since 2006, with losing records against Boston College, Clemson and perennial recruiting doormat Wake Forest, owner a stunning three-game winning streak over the 'Noles from 2006-08. Last month's Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina capped a 10-win campaign in Jimbo Fisher's first season as head coach, which seemed like a significant step forward. That in itself pretty much sums up the lost decade.

Together with last week's group of overachievers, we've now seen almost a dozen teams over the last four years that have consistently defied the scouts' projections in one direction or another … and four times as many that have performed, over time, pretty much exactly as the rankings projected them to perform. The outliers are notable because they're just that: Outliers.

And there you have it.  What can we learn from this?

Elite recruiting is necessary but not sufficient to have an elite team. That is, it won't guarantee you an elite team, but if you don't recruit at an elite level, you will be guaranteed not to have a consistently elite team.

What does this mean for FSU?

If you accept the premise that FSU now has good coaching, then you should expect FSU to begin consistently (not always) beating teams with lesser talent.  The facts say FSU should begin beating ACC teams at a better than 66% clip, as FSU will soon (give it a year) have more talent than all of them.  The facts say FSU should be able to at least split with teams like UF, Miami, Clemson; all teams with similar talent levels.  It also means Virginia Tech could be in trouble if they don't improve their recruiting.

Please do take the time to peruse each of Matt's articles.  It is an excellent series and is worthy of a traffic bump.  You will learn much more than I have excerpted here.

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