How talented is your college football team? If only recruiting mattered, which teams would contend for next season’s College Football Playoff?
Here, I use a regression model to rank college football teams for 2016 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 in 2016.
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.
Will these rankings accurately predict next season?
This article looks at the top 25 teams by recruiting rankings for 2016. Will these rankings accurately predict team performance next year?
The regression model is a poor predictor of team performance by The Power Rank. You’re better off looking at the year end rating from the previous season. (For you math types, the recruiting model explains 25% of the variance in team ratings, while the year end rating from the previous season explains 57%.)
However, I do have a better preseason model that has predicted the winner in over 70% of college football games before a single game has been played. This model drives my preseason rankings and win totals report.
This report, which gives an expected win total for each college football team, is available to people who get my free email newsletter. This is also how I give a sample of my best football predictions during the season.
To sign up to receive the 2016 college football win totals report (due out July 5th, 2016), enter your best email and click on “Sign up now!”
Let’s count down the top 25 college football teams by recruiting rankings.
25. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs will no longer have the services of QB Dak Prescott, who set every school record for passing. This will make life difficult in the SEC West.
The defense has plunged over the past two seasons (35th in 2014, 74th in 2015 by my yards per play adjusted for schedule). Can former Michigan coach Brady Hoke revive the Oregon defense as coordinator?
23. Penn State
Despite a small class of 20, James Franklin still recruited a top 25 class for Penn State in 2016. And perhaps the offense will improve as they transition from pro style QB Christian Hackenberg to an up tempo spread offense.
After ranking 40th in these recruiting numbers last year, Baylor jumps into the top 25 this season with the 17th ranked class, by far their best of the past decade. Then coach Art Briles gets fired and replaced by the uninspiring Jim Grobe.
21. Miami (FL)
Mark Richt, a good enough coach to not get fired at Georgia for 15 years, takes over the Hurricanes program. Always a strong recruiter at Georgia, he managed the 21st best class in his first year at Miami.
Coach David Shaw continues to inspire a range of emotions in this Stanford alumni.
First, the Cardinal embarrasses Iowa in the Rose Bowl. The 45-16 victory had every alum dancing to All Right Now.
Then Shaw embarrasses the entire Stanford community with this reaction to satellite camps.
It doesn’t make sense for us to go hold a camp some place where there might be one person in the entire state that’s eligible to get into Stanford.
Hey coach, try not to make us all look like pompous asses.
19. South Carolina
Will Muschamp? As a recent SEC power program, you couldn’t find someone with more head coaching success?
Muschamp would have fared better at Florida had he found a player that could throw the ball with any accuracy. He needs to do better in the QB department to last at South Carolina.
18. Michigan State
Mark Dantonio turned the Spartans recent success into the 18th ranked class in 2016, a strong result for a class of 20 players. Now they must deal with the loss of the best QB (Connor Cook) and tackle (Jack Conklin) in program history.
The Sooners seemed to struggle in 2014 to an 8-5 record, but they went 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They rebounded in 2015 with an 11-2 record and a playoff berth last season, going 2-1 in close games.
Can Charlie Strong find a quarterback? Returning starter Tyrone Swoopes will compete with Shane Buechele for the starting job this fall.
Butch Jones couldn’t do better than the 5th ranked classes he had in both 2014 and 2015. However, he did get the 15th ranked class in 2016 with only 21 players.
Tennessee will build on a program that played close games with Oklahoma and Alabama, both playoff teams last season.
It seems like Jim Harbaugh’s team should rank higher than 14th after their top 5 class in 2016. However, the model takes a weighted average over four years that includes the 31st and 49th ranked class in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Michigan will rise in these rankings if Harbaugh continues to recruit top 5 classes.
13. Texas A&M
Is Kevin Sumlin an offensive guru? Or was Johnny Manziel just that good in college?
In 2015, Texas A&M had the 63rd ranked pass offense by my yards per play adjusted for schedule. Then two quarterbacks transfer during the off season.
Sumlin did bring in graduate transfer QB Trevor Knight. At Oklahoma, Knight won MVP of the 2014 Sugar Bowl when the Sooners beat Alabama.
Jim Mora scored the 8th best recruiting class in 2016, tied for the best in program history over the past decade. They’ll need this talent to replace 8 players drafted into the NFL.
The Gators had a strong 10-4 season in Jim McElwain’s first season, led by a top 10 defense. However, the offense was a ceiling for this team, with the rushing worse than the passing.
How must Hugh Freeze felt on NFL draft day?
- Crap, they lifted the ban on satellite camps. Now I gotta go work in June.
- Well, at least Laremy Tunsil is getting drafted tonight.
- What??!! He posted a video with his smoking of a bong on Twitter?
- Well, at least my boy went 15th to the Dolphins.
- What??!! He told everyone that we play our players??
Freeze can’t wait to get back to camp and take a look at his 7th ranked class from 2016.
The Rebels were one fluky fourth down bounce against Arkansas from winning the SEC West last season over Alabama.
Can Kirby Smart take this program higher than Mark Richt? The long time Alabama DC has never been a head coach before.
Smart passed his first test by recruiting the 9th best class of 2016, including three 5 star recruits.
The championship game against Alabama must have traumatized Tigers fans. The defensive line whipped a solid Bama offensive line only to see a stellar secondary make repeated mistakes that cost Clemson the game.
Still, a championship game appearance could only have helped Dabo Swinney recruit his second straight top 10 class. Expect Clemson to move up on this list next year.
Will Muschamp had the defense headed in the right direction. After ranking 41st in 2014, Auburn’s defense jumped 19th in 2015 by my yards per play adjusted for schedule.
Former LSU coordinator Kevin Steele takes over the defense for 2016.
One of college football’s traditional powers, USC can attract just about any coach to take over their program. They decided on OC Clay Helton, who has never been a head coach.
However, even Charlie Weis could recruit at USC. The Trojans had the 10th best class in 2016.
5. Notre Dame
Brian Kelly has done an exceptional job improving the talent at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish had 6 players picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
The offense was spectacular last season (2nd in yard per play adjusted for schedule), but the defense needs to catch up (48th).
Les Miles hasn’t had a recruiting class worse than 8th the past four years, which leads to this lofty ranking. The tougher trick will be coaxing better QB play out of Brandon Harris.
3. Florida State
Jimbo Fisher has recruited a top 10 class each of his 7 years as head coach of the Seminoles. If he can get some solid QB play in 2016, Florida State will challenge for a playoff spot out of the ACC.
2. Ohio State
In August of 2015, Ohio State was the toast of college football. Urban Meyer’s team had won the first playoff, and he was killing it as usual on the recruiting trail.
Then in the most inexplicable game of 2015, Ohio State lost to Michigan State, a team without star QB Connor Cook. The loss cost the Buckeyes a spot in the playoff, and they lost 10 players to the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft.
Now, heading into 2016, many believe that Michigan is a better team than Ohio State. I find this difficult to believe, and Ohio State’s recruiting rank of 2nd is only one reason why.
Full disclosure: I live in Ann Arbor and consider myself part of the Michigan family (although I may get booted this preseason). For the past three years, I’ve talked Michigan sports on WTKA sports radio.
Over seven of the past nine years, Nick Saban has recruited the top class in the nation.