How much talent does your college football team have? If only recruiting mattered, which teams would contend for next season’s College Football Playoff?
Here, I use recruiting rankings to rank college football teams for 2017. Sure, recruiting rankings don’t always accurately access the talent of teenagers. Five star recruits fail while a three star recruit like Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman in his freshman year.
However, recruiting rankings look pretty good in the big picture. Matt Hinton showed that five star recruits have the highest chance to become an All-American, with diminishing chances for four and then three star recruits.
Here, I use a regression model to rank college football teams for 2017 based on the past four years of team recruiting rankings from Rivals. This model assigns a weight to each of the past four years to best predict on field performance.
The model gets trained on data from past years. As a measure of a team’s performance in each year, I use its rating given by my college football team rankings at The Power Rank. This rating gets calculated by taking margin of victory in games and accurately adjusting for strength of schedule.
Let’s count down the top 25 teams for 2017 by recruiting rankings.
The Wildcats had their best class of the past decade in 2014 (15th). These players should be seniors who take on a big role this season.
Mike Riley got the 31st ranked class in this transition year from Oregon State in 2015. Since then, his classes have improved to 27th and 20th in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
23. Michigan State
It gets more difficult to recruit after a 3-9. After 3 straight top 25 classes, Michigan State’s rank fell to 33rd in 2017. While they remain in the top 25 of these rankings, the Spartans take a fall from 18th last season.
With looming sanction against the program, Hugh Freeze could only recruit the 39th ranked class in 2017. It might be a long few years in Oxford.
The Ducks had a miserable 4-8 season that cost Mark Helfrich his job. Then 3 Oregon players landed in the hospital after a workout, a poor start for new coach Willie Taggart. Despite all the adversity, Oregon still had the 18th ranked class in 2017.
Charlie Strong had three recruiting classes that ranked 19th, 12th and 13th. Tom Herman’s first class dipped to 31st, mostly because of its small size. Herman convinced 5 star defensive tackle Ed Oliver to join him at Houston, so expect his recruiting classes at Texas to get better.
19. South Carolina
In Will Muschamp’s first season, South Carolina’s defense improved but the offense declined. That makes sense given his defensive background.
David Shaw got two of the nation’s top offensive lineman and the nation’s top quarterback to join him at Stanford. They had the 19th class by Rivals but the 3rd best class by stars per recruit.
Jim Mora recruited a small class to land at 21st this year, his worst ranked class at UCLA. He has to wonder whether the administration is getting uneasy after two straight poor seasons, although an injury to star QB Josh Rosen hurt the Bruins in 2016.
16. Penn State
The Nittany Lions end the season with 9 straight wins before losing a tight Rose Bowl to USC. This success may have helped James Franklin land his highest ranked class (12th) at Penn State.
15. Miami (FL)
Mark Richt had an up and down first season at his alma mater (4 wins, then 4 losses, then 5 wins). An 11th ranked recruiting class should help him rebuild the program.
The defending champions really shouldn’t be this low. Dabo Swinney had the 22nd ranked class due to its small size (14 recruits). They had the 4th best class by stars per recruit.
13. Notre Dame
A dismal 4-8 season didn’t hamper Brian Kelly on the recruiting trail. Notre Dame picks the 13th ranked class in 2017.
Will Muschamp had three straight top 10 classes from 2012 to 2014. Jim McElwain finally got this first top 10 class this year (9th) in his third class.
Guz Malzahn only had the 14th ranked class, Auburn’s worst since 2009. However, he does bring in Baylor transfer Jared Stidham as his new quarterback.
Tennessee expected a great year in 2016 after two top 5 recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015. They managed a 9 win season but most feel they underachieved. Now Butch Jones has recruited the 15th ranked class the last two years.
Jim Harbaugh has landed two straight top 5 classes, but Michigan’s rank of 9th shows the importances of the classes from 3 and 4 years ago. In the transition from Brady Hoke to Harbaugh in 2015, Michigan had a small class that ranked 49th. They only had the 31st ranked class the previous year.
Bob Stoops had his first top ten class (7th) since 2010 this year. He always seems to have enough talent to contend on the national level.
7. Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin doesn’t lack for talent in College Station. However, the Aggies haven’t been an elite, top 10 team since Johnny Manziel’s freshman year in 2012.
Ed Orgeron is known as a good recruiter, and LSU managed its fifth straight top 10 class. But can Orgeron, who went 10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss, turn this talent into wins?
Kirby Smart has shown he can recruit, as he got the 9th and 3rd ranked class in 2016 and 2017 respectively. But can he turn this talent into a SEC champion? The offense declined dramatically in his first year as coach, perhaps because he played a true freshman at quarterback.
So far, it looks like I was wrong about Clay Helton as a lazy hire. USC won 9 straight games to end the season, and then Helton had a fantastic National Signing Day as USC surged to the 6th best class.
3. Florida State
Jimbo Fisher has never had a recruiting class finish outside the top 10 since he took over in 2010. With another strong class and Deondre Francois back at quarterback, the Seminoles will go as far as a talented defense will take them in 2017.
2. Ohio State
As long as Urban Meyer and Nick Saban remain at their respective schools, Ohio State seems destined to keep this second rank behind Alabama in these recruiting rankings. Meyer had a second ranked class in 2017 but only marginally trailed Alabama by stars per recruit.
Over eight of the past ten years, Nick Saban has recruited the top class in the nation. With rising true sophomore Jalen Hurts as the quarterback, expect Alabama to contend for another national title in 2017.
Marc Kenyon says
Ed – IMO evaluating recruiting rankings is only part of the battle. You also have to look at attrition. While you can argue that if a team loses 3 four stars and replaces them in the next class with 3 other four stars it’s a wash, but the issue is, you are replacing older players with younger ones. That’s why teams that have a lot of attrition are “forever young”. If a team doesn’t have room for the allotted 25 in each class, it’s an indication that they are building depth and experience, OTOH if they are always taking 25 they have a lot of churn.
Dr. Ed Feng says
Completely agree that recruiting rankings are only part of the battle. Good point about those that have small classes.