What do recruiting rankings mean anyway?
Jim Grobe
Jim Grobe
Director of Scouting
Posted Feb 3, 2009

Is there a correlation between recruiting rankings and winning? I think even those most jaded when it comes to discussing college football recruiting rankings would agree that there's a definite correlation between the teams that typically recruit the best and win the most. But just how strong a connection is there?

What do the recruiting rankings mean?

That's a question I often get, and based on the spirited discussion recruiting rankings can generate, it's obvious to me that they mean very different things to different people. 

Some consider them affirmation of their own superiority as fans of a team ranked high. 

Some consider them nothing more than marketing ploys to pander to the largest fan bases as their team consistently outperforms their historic recruiting ranking.

Some consider them to be gospel, while others consider them to be garbage.

What do they mean to me? 

Recruiting rankings are meant to be a guide. Recruiting is a step in the process of winning football games -- it's not the entire process. Team recruiting rankings are a compilation of individuals. Games are won by TEAMS. It's not always the best collection of individuals that makes up the best TEAM.

I went back through Scout's ranking for the Class of 2005 thru 2008, the four years that made up the vast majority of rosters for the 2008 season and I compared those rankings to both the compiled AP ranking and winning percentage for the same period.

Looking through the numbers below, there are several trends worth noticing, while keeping in mind that we're not comparing apples to apples all the time. For example, teams don't all play the same schedules. It's not fair to discount strength of schedule when comparing winning percentage. But by the same token, it would also be irresponsible not to point out that there are multitudes of teams that win at a much greater pace than those who would take recruiting rankings too literally might believe.

One trend I can't help but notice, teams high in recruiting but low on winning seem to be breaking in new coaches the last couple of years, and teams high on the right, but low on the left seem to find their coaches as hot commodities. Coincidence?

West Virginia is the team that immediately jumps out at me as a BCS school that wins at a high level and finishes high in the polls at an equally high level, despite rarely cracking the Top 25 in recruiting. Quarterback Pat White was the square peg in a round hole for most teams, but at West Virginia, his talents fit the system perfectly, and the four-year starter is leaving Morgantown with the accolades of a five-star.

The non-BCS conferences have continually gotten stronger and stronger. Boise State, TCU, Utah, and BYU are four teams that have proven they can compete with anyone on the field, despite typically having to pass on players recruited by bigger-named BCS schools. TCU is in a football hotbed in Texas, but Idaho and Utah aren't exactly considered deep in local talent.

In the ACC, two perennial overachievers are Wake Forest and Boston College. I've said for the last several years that I think Jim Grobe and his staff at Wake Forest do the best job of recruiting to a system based on the players available to them. What impresses me most about what Wake Forest is able to do is the localized competition in a small area. With five Football Bowl Subdivision schools and four in the ACC in a state that produces toughly 60 FBS guys, there's a tremendous amount of in-state competition for a limited amount of players.

Speaking of small states producing big results, the state of Oregon is lucky to produce 25 FBS signees per year, yet Oregon and Oregon State each outpace their respective recruiting rankings. Exciting offenses bolstered by a few special talents can go a long way to leveling the playing field.

In the Big 12, Missouri and Kansas are teams that have to contend with heavyweights that make a living closer to Texas, yet stand toe-to-toe with them on the field. Quarterback play can go a long way to elevating a team on the field. Chase Daniel of Missouri was heavily recruited; Todd Reesing at Kansas wasn't. Both have proven invaluable to their teams.

As another National Signing Day will come and go, much will be made about who won the wars in February. Die-hard recruitniks and skeptics alike should keep in mind that while some battles may have been won and lost, the war for supremacy in 2009 is just beginning and will be settled next fall.

Compiled Rankings 2005-2008

Recruit Rank Winning % AP Rank*
1 USC 1 USC 0.885 1 USC
2 Florida 2 Texas 0.865 2 Ohio State
3 Michigan 3 Boise State 0.846 3 Florida
4 Georgia 4 Ohio State 0.843 4 Texas
5 Texas 5 Florida 0.830 5 LSU
6 LSU 6 West Virginia 0.824 6 West Virginia
7 Ohio State 7 TCU 0.804 7 Oklahoma
8 Miami (Fl) 8 LSU 0.792 8 Georgia
9 Notre Dame 9 Penn State 0.784 9 Virginia Tech
10 Auburn 10 Oklahoma 0.778 10 Penn State
11 Oklahoma 10 Virginia Tech 0.778 11 Auburn
12 Florida State 12 Georgia 0.769 12 Boise State
13 Alabama 13 BYU 0.745 13 TCU
14 Tennessee 14 BC 0.736 14 BC
15 California 15 Wisconsin 0.731 15 Oregon
16 Clemson 16 Texas Tech 0.725 16 Wisconsin
17 Texas A&M 16 Utah 0.725 17 Alabama
18 Nebraska 18 Oregon 0.706 18 Michigan
19 Pittsburgh 19 Tulsa 0.704 19 Texas Tech
20 UCLA 20 Missouri 0.698 20 BYU
21 Penn State 21 Auburn 0.680 21 Missouri
22 South Carolina 22 Alabama 0.673 22 Oregon State
23 Virginia Tech 23 California 0.667 23 Cal
24 North Carolina 23 Rutgers 0.667 24 Louisville
25 Illinois 25 Hawaii 0.660 25 Notre Dame
26 Mississippi 26 Kansas 0.660 26 Utah
27 Oregon 27 Louisville 0.653 27 Cincinnati
28 Arkansas 28 Cincinnati 0.647 28 Tennessee
29 Arizona 28 Navy 0.647 29 Kansas
30 Arizona State 28 Oregon State 0.647 30 Nebraska
31 Iowa 31 Clemson 0.627 31 Clemson
32 Washington 31 South Florida 0.627 32 Florida State
33 Miss. State 31 Wake Forest 0.627 33 Hawaii
34 Wisconsin 34 C. Michigan 0.615 34 Rutgers
35 West Virginia 34 Georgia Tech 0.615 35 Arkansas
36 Oklahoma State 34 Houston 0.615 36 Wake Forest
37 Georgia Tech 37 Nebraska 0.608 37 Iowa
38 Maryland 38 Michigan 0.600 38 Tulsa
39 NC State 39 Florida State 0.596 39 Mississippi
40 Colorado 40 W. Michigan 0.592 40 Georgia Tech

*Not every team was ranked all four years. For each time a team wasn't ranked, a ranking of 40 was generated for that year.

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