The top 25 college football teams of 2016 by recruiting rankings

Nick_Saban_StatueHow 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?

Probably not.

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.

24. Oregon

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.

22. Baylor

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.

20. Stanford

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.

17. Oklahoma

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.

16. Texas

Can Charlie Strong find a quarterback? Returning starter Tyrone Swoopes will compete with Shane Buechele for the starting job this fall.

15. Tennessee

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.

14. Michigan

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.

12. UCLA

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.

11. Florida

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.

10. Mississippi

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.

9. Georgia

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.

8. Clemson

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.

7. Auburn

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.

6. USC

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).

4. LSU

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.

1. Alabama

Over seven of the past nine years, Nick Saban has recruited the top class in the nation.

Would a Big 12 championship game be a mistake? — Analytics on College Football Playoff odds

big12_numbers

The Big 12 hired an analytics firm to advise them on the best way of making the College Football Playoff. After crunching the numbers, the firm suggested expanding to 12 teams, playing 8 instead of 9 conference games and having a championship game.

This idea of holding a championship game interests me the most. Navigate, the research firm, says this change alone would increase the Big 12’s playoff odds by 5 percent. (All three suggestions add up to an 10-15 percent increase.)

However, it doesn’t make sense that adding a championship game will increase a conference’s chance to make the playoffs.

Think back to 2015. Oklahoma finishes their regular season at 11-1 and 3rd in the committee rankings. Since the Big 12 didn’t have a championship game, the Sooners sat at home during the last week of the season. They couldn’t lose and fall in the rankings.

Here, we’ll use simulations to determine the effect of a championship game on a conference’s playoff chances. The results impact not only Big 12 teams but also Notre Dame.

The numbers suggest that the committee must place extremely high value on winning a championship game, not just being a conference champion, to see any kind of increase in playoff odds. Let me explain.

Analytics on conference championship games

br_playoff_oddsIn 2014, Bleacher Report asked me to calculate the chance that each team would make the College Football Playoff. I wrote about these simulation results in their weekly playoff odds report for the past two seasons.

I’m happy with the accuracy of these projections. The numbers didn’t like undefeated Utah in early in 2015, and they subsequently lost 3 games. I also predicted a difficult path for top ranked Mississippi State in 2014, a team that failed to make the playoff. You can make your own judgement based on the archive of predictions.

To look at conference championship games, I use the same methods to simulate the past three seasons retrospectively. Let’s look at the two key components to this calculation.

  • College football team rankings. For each season, I use season ending rankings to calculate a win probability for each game. This uses the best estimate of team strength to retrospectively look at the season.
  • Season long simulations. The simulation marches through each week of the season and picks winners at random according to the assigned win probability.

Each week, teams that lose drop in the committee rankings. Teams that win usually hold their place in the rankings but occasionally jump over teams ahead of them.

The simulation also determines the winners of divisions to hold conference championship games the last week of the season. The simulation accounts for conference champions before the final rankings. If a top four team is not a conference champion, they have a chance of falling out of a playoff spot (25% with one loss, 50% with two losses, 75% with three losses).

These assumptions on conference champions have an enormous impact on playoff probability.

Does a championship game give the Big 12 an edge?

Suppose the Big 12 added a conference championship game with its current 10 team structure. The simulation finds the top two teams by conference record and has them play in a championship game.

Over the past three seasons, the Big 12’s playoff chances drops an average of 17%. This differs from the Navigate Research results that show a 5% increase.

My story almost ended here. The simulations made the clear statement that a championship game would hurt the Big 12. Their top team can’t drop without a loss, so don’t hold a championship game.

And I probably should have stopped here. “Big 12 analytics firm makes stupid conclusions” makes a pretty good headline. But I wanted to see how far I could push these results. What if the simulation gave more credit to teams that played in a title game?

How will the committee view a conference championship?

Let’s push the boundaries of how the committee gives credit to a conference championship.

  • 1. Dropping teams without a conference championship. Now, a one loss team has a 50% to drop out of a playoff spot, and all two loss teams get dropped.
  • 2. Moving up for winners of conference championship games. A team that wins a conference title game has a 75% chance to move ahead of the team in front of them. This places a high value on “one last chance to impress the committee,” an opportunity Big 12 teams and Notre Dame do not have right now.

With only the first criteria of a higher drop rate for non-champions, the Big 12’s playoff chances decrease an average of 9.2% with a championship game. The drop is smaller than in my original model (17%) but still significant.

With both criteria, the Big 12’s playoff chances increase by 5.5% with a championship game. If you assume the committee will give a bump to teams that win a conference championship game, then this game helps the odds. This 5.5% increase is about the same result obtained by Navigate Research.

What about expansion to a 12 team league?

Navigate Research also suggested expanding to a 12 team league. It’s impossible to know this might impact the Big 12 without knowing which teams would join the conference.

However, a simple trick lets us study how a championship game impacts a larger conference. I can eliminate the championship game from each the other Power 5 conferences and study how this changes their playoff odds.

First, consider the strongest assumptions on a conference championship that include both criteria of the previous section. Then a conference championship gives these conferences a 1.2% advantage to make the playoff, a smaller increase than the Big 12 increase of 5.5%.

In my study over three seasons, I get three probabilities for the Big 12 and 12 for the other Power 5 conferences with more teams. This small sample size most likely explains the differences in the playoff odds between these two sets. This also suggests that the estimate of a 5.5% increase for the Big 12 is probably high.

What does analytics say about expansion?

My simulations confirm that a Big 12 championship game would increase their odds of making the College Football Playoff. However, there are numerous reasons to doubt whether this increase actually exists.

First, the simulation assumes that the committee will give a strong preference to teams that win a conference championship game. This includes the dropping of teams without a conference title and the bumping of teams that win a championship game, an opportunity that doesn’t currently exist for Big 12 teams or Notre Dame.

The results are extremely sensitive to the parameters. For example, the simulation assumes a 75% chance that a team that wins a conference title game jumps over a team without such a win. This leads to a 5.5% edge for making the Playoff if the Big 12 holds a title game.

If the simulation only gives a 50% chance to make this jump, then a championship game hurts the Big 12. Remember, this extra game exposes a team to a possible loss. With these parameters, the Big 12 playoff chances decrease by 2.8% with a championship game.

What’s the honest truth on analytics and a Big 12 championship game? We don’t know. It’s impossible for me to assign pinpoint values to the parameters of my simulations, even if I had ten years of data on the selection committee.

The committee does seem intent on giving winners of a championship game every advantage. In 2014, a flawed Florida State team jumped TCU after winning the ACC championship game. In 2015, Michigan State and Stanford both moved ahead of teams without championship game wins (Oklahoma, Ohio State respectively).

But no one knows if the committee will keep placing such a high value on conference titles. And what about top teams that lose their conference championship game? If top ranked Clemson lost to North Carolina in the 2015 ACC title game, would they have dropped from the top 4?

What do you think? Do my methods give too much credit to conference champions? Let me know in the comments.

College football playoff probabilities after week 10

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 9.49.02 AMWill your team make the College Football Playoff?

Over on Bleacher Report, I posted my probabilities for each team based on the current committee rankings and simulations of the season. Clemson has the highest chance after their win over Florida State, while Stanford edges out Notre Dame for the fourth highest probability.

To check out all the numbers on Bleacher Report, click here.

It’s also work checking the same calculation by FiveThirtyEight. They have Baylor a bit higher and LSU a bit lower, but otherwise the two sets of calculations give roughly the same results.

My article on Bleacher Report also looks at other issues:

  • Does Notre Dame necessarily make it if they win out?
  • How the hell did Iowa jump Baylor in the rankings?
  • How does new Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham change their odds?
  • Stanford can’t overlook Oregon this weekend

To read the article, click here.

I also did this calculation last week, which I forgot to post on the blog. To check out the numbers after the first committee rankings, click here.

Finally!! College football preseason rankings for 2015

American Football on the Field near the hashmarks or yard lines

Which college football teams will excel in 2015 and go over their projected win total? Which teams will fail to live up to the hype and fall short?

In college football, it’s much easier to make this projection than in the NFL. Team performance tends to persist from year to year.

For example, Alabama has consistently been in the national championship picture for the last 6 years. Even with the worst luck, Nick Saban’s team usually ends the season in the top 10 of The Power Rank’s team rankings.

In contrast, Eastern Michigan has none of the resources of a program like Alabama and perform accordingly. Escaping the bottom 25 of FBS schools in computer rankings constitutes a monumental achievement for the Eagles.

Preseason regression model for college football

My preseason rankings come from a regression model that uses The Power Rank’s team rankings from the past 4 years, turnovers and returning starters. For more details, see the bottom of this post.

The college football preseason model is simple. It doesn’t break down a team into offense and defense or distinguish a starting quarterback from a linebacker. These are areas for potential improvements.

However, the model performs very well in predicting the winners of games. The model assigns each team a rating, and the difference in the rating of two teams gives a predicted margin of victory on a neutral field. The home team gets an extra 3 points.

For example, Ohio States opens the season at Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes have a 19.7 rating, which gives a predicted margin of victory against an average team. The Hokies have a 11.0 rating.

On a neutral field, Ohio State would beat Virginia Tech by 8.7 points. The home advantage for Virginia Tech brings this advantage down to 5.7 points. The model still predicts an Ohio State victory.

In 2014, this model predicted the winners in 70.4% of games. With a large sample of 678 games, the model performed very close to the 70.5% win rate from the 2005 through 2013 seasons.

If we assume no home field in bowl games, then this model predicts the higher ranked to win. This prediction has won in 59.9% of bowl games from 2005 through 2014.

For comparison, the team favored by the opening line of the markets won 59.5% of bowl games from 2005 through 2013. The markets have the benefit of evaluating an entire regular season of games.

The top preseason college football teams of 2015

The visual shows the top 15 college football teams for 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 12.29.32 PM

For a full list, click here or check out the list at the bottom of this post.

Let’s look at three things that jump out at me.

Ohio State

Ohio State had a preseason rank of 13th before the 2014 season.

While that might seem low, Ohio State’s performance on the field didn’t justify a higher rank. Even with a 24-2 record over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Buckeyes finished 15th and 12th in my rankings.

However, Ohio State surged at the end of the 2014. They obliterated Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship before winning two more games to capture the first college football playoff championship.

This season, the Buckeyes are 2nd in my preseason rankings. If the model considered the quarterback depth with 3 returning starters, they would be above Alabama for first.

The end of SEC dominance?

Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU all lost their bowl game last season. College football fans outside the south rejoiced, claiming the end of the SEC’s rule over college football.

However, my preseason numbers disagree. Let’s look at the rank of SEC teams in my preseason rankings over the past two years.

  • 2014: 2, 5, 6, 8, 9.
  • 2015: 1, 6, 8, 9, 10.

With cross country scoring, SEC teams had a total rank of 34 for its top 5 teams in 2015. Since a lower score is better, this is only slightly worse than their 30 score from last year.

The SEC continues to have traditional powers with ample financial resources and fertile recruiting territory in their back yards. They are in no danger of becoming the ACC anytime soon.

Don’t let the small sample size of 5 bowl games losses for the SEC fool you. For more on this crucial aspect of understanding sports, check out this article.

Notre Dame

Brian Kelly started coaching at Notre Dame in 2010 and has achieved these final rankings in The Power Rank’s college football rankings.

  • 2010: 32nd.
  • 2011: 21st.
  • 2012: 11th, went undefeated before losing to Alabama in the BCS title game.
  • 2013: 23rd.
  • 2014: 39th, started 6-0 before losing to Florida State and ending 8-5.

It’s not the resume of an elite team.

Moreover, Notre Dame recruits well. They finished 7th in the 2015 rankings of college football teams by recruiting. The roster is always littered with 4 and 5 star recruits.

Could 2015 be the year that all the talent meshes into a winning team? Notre Dame returns every starter besides QB Everett Golson, who graduated and transfered to Florida State, and two offensive lineman. This propels them up to 12th in my preseason rankings.

Notre Dame should be favored in every game except their trip to Stanford. If they can’t get 9 wins with this kind of talent and experience, it’s not unreasonable to ask Brian Kelly or anyone else can consistently win at Notre Dame.

More college football previews to come

Over the next two months, I’ll be adding more college football preview content based on these analytics. This includes team write ups on win totals as well as a preview of Michigan at the dawn of the Jim Harbaugh era.

To get updates on this content, sign up for my free email newsletter. As a thank you, I’ll send you a report with the top 5 football analytics articles.

Enter your email and click on “Sign up now!”.








Full preseason college football rankings for 2015

1. Alabama, 20.91.
2. Ohio State, 19.70.
3. Oregon, 19.65.
4. Baylor, 18.02.
5. TCU, 17.22.
6. Georgia, 14.84.
7. UCLA, 14.60.
8. LSU, 13.97.
9. Texas A&M, 13.87.
10. Mississippi, 13.36.
11. Oklahoma, 13.24.
12. Notre Dame, 13.14.
13. Stanford, 13.14.
14. Wisconsin, 12.72.
15. Arkansas, 12.14.
16. Michigan State, 11.97.
17. Florida State, 11.72.
18. Georgia Tech, 11.42.
19. USC, 11.41.
20. Arizona State, 11.26.
21. West Virginia, 11.12.
22. Virginia Tech, 11.00.
23. Kansas State, 10.53.
24. Tennessee, 10.49.
25. Auburn, 9.80.
26. Boise State, 9.73.
27. Missouri, 9.52.
28. Oklahoma State, 9.14.
29. South Carolina, 8.88.
30. Clemson, 8.84.
31. Mississippi State, 8.73.
32. Nebraska, 7.94.
33. Florida, 7.66.
34. Michigan, 7.60.
35. Utah, 7.58.
36. Arizona, 6.99.
37. Pittsburgh, 5.89.
38. Penn State, 5.79.
39. North Carolina, 5.68.
40. Texas, 5.35.
41. California, 5.10.
42. Brigham Young, 5.08.
43. Miami (FL), 4.84.
44. Texas Tech, 4.83.
45. Louisville, 3.99.
46. Utah State, 3.96.
47. Minnesota, 3.38.
48. Duke, 3.37.
49. Iowa, 3.19.
50. Marshall, 2.75.
51. Washington State, 2.59.
52. Washington, 1.73.
53. Vanderbilt, 1.57.
54. Cincinnati, 1.47.
55. Northwestern, 0.99.
56. East Carolina, 0.62.
57. Temple, 0.44.
58. Western Kentucky, -0.14.
59. Louisiana Tech, -0.18.
60. Boston College, -0.30.
61. North Carolina State, -0.35.
62. Virginia, -0.37.
63. Houston, -0.74.
64. Kentucky, -0.98.
65. UCF, -1.01.
66. Oregon State, -1.19.
67. San Diego State, -1.27.
68. Colorado State, -1.41.
69. Iowa State, -1.69.
70. Rutgers, -1.80.
71. Purdue, -1.99.
72. Navy, -2.28.
73. Toledo, -2.33.
74. Colorado, -2.61.
75. Illinois, -2.65.
76. Northern Illinois, -2.66.
77. Western Michigan, -2.69.
78. Nevada, -3.08.
79. Air Force, -3.40.
80. Indiana, -3.46.
81. Arkansas State, -3.54.
82. Memphis, -3.57.
83. Maryland, -3.94.
84. Wake Forest, -4.00.
85. Fresno State, -4.16.
86. Ball State, -4.44.
87. Syracuse, -5.10.
88. San Jose State, -5.75.
89. Louisiana Lafayette, -6.36.
90. Tulsa, -6.39.
91. Louisiana Monroe, -6.98.
92. Middle Tennessee State, -7.48.
93. Central Michigan, -8.27.
94. Bowling Green, -8.36.
95. Ohio, -8.37.
96. South Florida, -8.38.
97. Connecticut, -8.86.
98. Hawaii, -8.87.
99. Kansas, -9.27.
100. Florida International, -9.39.
101. Rice, -9.96.
102. Tulane, -10.03.
103. Kent State, -10.82.
104. UTEP, -11.00.
105. New Mexico, -11.57.
106. Florida Atlantic, -11.84.
107. Akron, -11.93.
108. Wyoming, -12.44.
109. Southern Miss, -12.92.
110. SMU, -13.07.
111. Buffalo, -13.36.
112. Miami (OH), -14.45.
113. New Mexico State, -14.56.
114. Troy, -14.87.
115. North Texas, -15.09.
116. Army, -16.05.
117. Idaho, -16.74.
118. UNLV, -16.94.
119. Eastern Michigan, -21.17.

Factors in The Power Rank’s preseason model

First, the model considers a team’s year end rating from each of the past four seasons. This rating comes from The Power Rank’s algorithm that considers margin of victory in games and adjusts for strength of schedule.

It’s crucial to take a four year window. With the short season in college football, a team can get a calculated rating higher than their true skill level for one year. It’s much harder to achieve a high rating for four straight years.

The second variable in the model is turnover margin. As I’ve written about before, randomness plays a large role in this statistic. A large turnover differential one year for a team has no ability to predict the same quantity next year.

Last, the model considers the number of returning starters. Teams with a large number of returning starters tend to exceed their performance from the previous season due to experience.

The top 26 college football teams of 2015 by recruiting rankings

Nick_Saban_StatueHow talented is your college football team? If only recruiting hype mattered, which teams would contend for next season’s college football playoff?

Here, we use recruiting rankings to rank college football teams for 2015. 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.

I developed a regression model that uses four years of team recruiting rankings from Rivals to predict on field performance. This on field performance is defined by the team rankings at The Power Rank. The regression model simply assigns a weight to each of the past four years.

Will these rankings accurately predict next season?

We’ll count down the top 26 teams of 2015 below. But don’t go telling people “ED FENG THINKS USC IS BY FAR THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12.” Not true.

The regression model is a poor predictor of team performance by The Power Rank. It’s much better to just look 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%.)

This model will never describe teams like Wisconsin, a program that never has a top 25 recruiting class but contends for a conference title every year. It will also overrate programs (cough, cough, Notre Dame) that never live up to their talent level.

But hell, it’s fun to look at which teams have the most talent according to recruiting rankings. It will help pass the long 7 month off season.

Honorable mention

Wisconsin ranks 44th. Former coach Gary Andersen, who left for Oregon State this winter, lamented the tough academic standards that prevented him from recruiting some players to Wisconsin.

TCU and Baylor rank 37th and 40th respectively. Guess coaching matters, as these should be top 10 teams next preseason.

Missouri checks in at 32nd. Low recruiting rankings haven’t stopped Gary Pinkel’s team from winning the SEC East the past two seasons.

26. Michigan State

Mark D’Antonio has produced a mighty fine team the last two seasons despite mediocre recruiting. With the probably return of QB Connor Cook, the Spartans should still be a very good team in 2015.

25. Penn State

Coach James Franklin came to State College with a reputation for recruiting, and he seems to be delivering. But can he fix QB Christian Hackenberg, the supposed NFL prospect whose completion percentage slipped from 59% to 56% from his freshman to sophomore year?

24. Arizona State

Coach Todd Graham has elevated the level of recruiting in Tempe. Arizona State was outside the top 25 from 2009 through 2013 but has drawn the 20th best class the last two seasons.

23. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs had an amazing 10-3 year (well, they could have done better with a bowl win over Georgia Tech) and translated their success into the 16th best class this season. That’s their best rank since 2003.

22. Virginia Tech

Frank Beamer is still getting good recruits to come to Blacksburg? Virginia Tech was a perennial top 25 team in The Power Rank but have fallen off since the 2011 season.

21. Michigan

Michigan has had two successive small recruiting classes, which has reduced their team rank the past two seasons. When recalculating these rankings using average stars per recruit, Michigan ranks 17th.

20. Miami (FL)

The Hurricanes had a rough season. They ranked 17th in my ensemble rankings but finished with a losing 6-7 record. Al Golden recruited the 26th best class but 16th by average stars.

19. Oregon

Oregon always plays above their rank by recruiting numbers. However, 2015 will be a tough test for Mark Helfrich, as he loses QB Marcus Mariota and has many leaks to plug on the defense.

18. Mississippi

Two years ago, Hugh Freeze made a big splash on recruiting day by signing multiple five star recruits on his way to the 7th best class. However, he hasn’t been able to replicate that success the last two years. It remains to be seen whether their successful 2014 season was a fluke or not.

17. South Carolina

Steve Spurrier really had issues on defense this season, as South Carolina finished 37th in my team rankings in 2014. They didn’t finish outside the top 20 the previous four seasons.

16. Stanford

At least once during every Stanford game, I scream at coach David Shaw for some unthinkably bad decision. However, he wins games, and the 2014 Stanford team was much better than their 8-5 record suggests.

15. Oklahoma

In 2014, the Sooners won a huge bowl game over Alabama and entered the next season overrated. In 2015, they blew their bowl game against Clemson and will probably be underrated heading into next season. Bob Stoops continues to recruit at the same level, so expect them to challenge TCU and Baylor for the Big 12.

14. UCLA

The Bruins had a tremendous signing day, finishing with the 4th best class by average stars per recruit. Let’s see if this makes them into the top 10 team that people expect each preseason.

13. Texas

Charlie Strong recruited the 12th best class to Texas. This is a fine haul anywhere except Texas, a program that had one class outside the top 5 from 2006 through 2012 under Mack Brown.

12. Florida

It seemed like new coach Jim McElwain had a good National Signing Day when five star CeCe Jefferson committed. However, Jefferson still hasn’t sent his letter of intent, and Florida has the 23rd best class, their worst rank in any year since 2002.

11. Tennessee

Butch Jones recruited his second straight 5th ranked class. Perhaps Tennessee can finally overcome the curse of Phil Fulmer, the Hall of Fame, national championship winning coach they fired in 2008.

10. Georgia

Mark Richt always recruits well. That’s why he can find a freshman (Nick Chubb) to replace the best running back in the country (Todd Gurley) when he gets hurt.

9. Clemson

Dabo Swinney recruited the best class of his tenure as Clemson head coach (4th by team, 7th by average stars). With a healthy DeShaun Watson at QB for the next two seasons, the future looks bright for the Tigers.

8. Texas A&M

The numbers back up Kevin Sumlin’s reputation as a top recruiter. Texas A&M had its third straight top 10 class in 2015, a feat they didn’t achieve the previous 7 years. Now, they need to fix that defense that has stunk for two straight seasons.

7. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish recruit well no matter the coach. However, their play hasn’t lived up to their top 10 recruiting rankings, even under Brian Kelly. Since he arrived in 2010, they have finished 32nd, 21st, 11th (reached title game against Alabama), 23rd and 39th in my team rankings.

6. Auburn

It should scare the rest of the college football world that Auburn landed Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. He was an excellent DC at Texas, and his reputation helped Auburn land top recruit Byron Cowart.

5. LSU

Les Miles had only the 13th ranked class by average stars. This is only the second time since 2007 that his recruiting class by average stars finished outside the top 10.

4. Florida State

The Seminoles had the top ranked class in 2015 by average stars. Jimbo Fisher needs some of these guys to step in on a defense that struggled this season.

3. USC

Did these recruits see USC get gashed by Boston College this season? And they still decided to play for Steve Sarkisian and his 9-4 record this past season? USC had the top ranked recruiting class in 2015.

2. Ohio State

For a team that won the first college football playoff, a 9th ranked recruiting class (10th by average stars) seems like a poor haul. However, Ohio State didn’t have one five star recruit on their offensive line that powered their running game this season.

1. Alabama

Duh? What did you expect? Nick Saban must be torturing himself because USC had a better ranked class (the first time since 2010 that Saban didn’t have the top ranked class by Rivals). However, Alabama still ends up at the top of these rankings that look at a four year window.