People certainly take it seriously. Thousands of LSU fans flock to the daylong Bayou Bash Recruiting party every year and pay $25 a head to sit and watch letters of intent come across the fax machine. But does it really matter? Will February 1st have any impact on January 1st (2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th)?
The last three BCS champions, LSU, USC, and Texas, each had at least one #1 recruiting class on their national title teams. In fact, every Rivalâ€™s #1 recruiting class since 2002 has won a national title. But donâ€™t get too excited Trojan fans, that seems more like coincidence than science.
Whatâ€™s not coincidence is that of the twelve teams to win at least a share of the national title since 1994, nine had a five year average recruiting ranking of better than 15*. As for the other three teams, Nebraskaâ€™s â€™94 and â€™95 teams both averaged about 18 and OUâ€™s 2000 team averaged 26. Seemingly, Big 12 teams donâ€™t need as much talent to win it all â€“ but thatâ€™s another issue for another day.
Other than the 2000 OU team, all the other national champions since 1994 had recruiting classes consistently ranked in the top 20. In fact, of the sixty recruiting classes shared by these twelve teams, only six were not ranked in the top 20, and only two were not ranked in the top 30 â€“ both of those classes were OUâ€™s. Again discounting the Big 12, every other team to win a national title since 1994 had at least 3 out of their 5 previous recruiting classes ranked in the top 11, and only one single recruiting class of non Big 12 title winners wasnâ€™t ranked in the top 20 â€“ Nick Sabanâ€™s first class at LSU in 2000 was ranked 26th*.
Recruiting analysis is getting better. While it may not be the NFL yet, the best players go to camps or combines and are subjected to NFL style scrutiny. Recruiting rankings are certainly not a perfect measurement, but they are the best available predictor of team talent. In 2005, every BCS conference champion except Big 10 co-champ Penn State (at 20) would have been ranked in the top 10 based on five-year recruiting rankings alone.
Looking forward using recruiting classes as a predictor of the 2006 season, eleven teams have an average recruiting ranking of 15 or better. Only one of those, USC, averaged better than a top 5 ranking. Georgia comes in 2nd with an average of 5.8. OU, FSU, Miami, Florida, LSU, Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, and Auburn are the others with a 15 or better ranking. Ohio State and Texas A&M are a fraction over 15. The next four teams are South Carolina, Notre Dame, UCLA, and Alabama, who is the final team to average in the top 25.
As expected, the SEC dominates from a talent standpoint with 7 teams averaging better than 25, and the next team on the list is Arkansas at 25.6. The other BCS conferences are relatively even with the Pac 10, ACC, and Big 10 each having 2 teams, and the Big 12 having 3.
Consistent with many peopleâ€™s perception of the Big East, the top Big East team, Pittsburg, comes in at number 40. The media darlings of the conference, WVU & Louisville, break in at 46 and 50 respectively. Those classes would make them the 11th most talented team in the SEC or the 10th most talented team in the ACC. Luckily for them, in the talent deficient Big East, they rank 2 and 3.
As for the Mid Majors, not surprisingly, the most talented Mid Major is TCU. What may come as a surprise to some is that their talent ranks 59th, which places them somewhere between Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
With all the variables in college football: coaching, injuries, returning starters, strength of schedule, etcâ€¦, it is amazing that recruiting rankings predict as well as they do. Of course they are not a perfect predictor, and talented teams from 2005 like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Michigan will tell you talent isnâ€™t a free pass to a New Yearâ€™s bowl. However, while talent alone wonâ€™t get a team into a championship game, a lack of talent will likely keep a team out.
* SuperPrep â€“ Rivals rankings are not available for that time period.
* Click here for another interesting take on this topic.