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.

Why Utah is an underdog at USC

utah_logoHow can the markets possibly favor USC over Utah? (Spread is 3.5 points at noon on Thursday, October 22nd.)

Utah has an unblemished 6-0 record and rank of 3rd in the AP poll. They demolished Oregon 62-20, and their season opening win over Michigan looks better every week with the improvement of the Wolverines.

In contrast, USC is a mess. Their 3-3 record only tells part of their story. Coach Steve Sarkisian couldn’t stay sober on the job and got fired. Even when he was around, USC scored 12 points against Washington.

The Power Rank seems to agree that Utah should win. On my predictions page, I list the Utes as a 2.5 point favorite with a 57% win probability.

Not so fast on the Utah hype

However, this public prediction is based on team rankings that use the margin of victory in games to evaluate teams. I also do calculations based on yards per play, and this tells a different story about Utah.

Let’s look at how Utah has fared in terms of yards in their 6 games.

  • Michigan, 355 yards on 4.9 yards per play. Utah, 337 yards on 4.8 yards per play.
  • Utah State, 373 yards on 5.6 yards per play. Utah, 327 yards on 5.0 yards per play.
  • Fresno State, 365 yards on 5.7 yards per play. Utah, 380 yards on 5.1 yards per play.
  • Oregon, 400 yards on 5.7 yards per play. Utah, 530 yards on 7.2 yards per play.
  • California, 467 yards on 6.2 yards per play. Utah, 435 yards on 5.7 yards per play.
  • Arizona State, 257 yards on 3.7 yards per play. Utah, 369 yards on 5.5 yards per play.

Utah had a better efficiency than their opponent against only Oregon and Arizona State. Note that this evaluates their defense as well as offense since the defense determines yards allowed to the opponent.

Also, Utah gave up 5.7 yards per play to Fresno State, a terrible offense that ranks 124th of 128 teams in yards per play this season. Most of these yards probably came in garbage time, but that’s still embarrassing.

How Utah matches up with USC

Utah’s defense is solid but not elite. In my rankings that take yards per play and adjusts for schedule, Utah ranks 24th and will find it difficult against USC’s 9th ranked offense.

On offense, Utah’s Devontae Booker gets the headlines. However, he averages 4.9 yards per carry, more than 3 yards per carry less than LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Utah’s rush offense ranks a pedestrian 68th in yards per carry (numbers do not include sacks).

Utah’s 64th ranked offense is not explosive, and they’ll find life difficult against a talented USC defense ranked 36th.

Members of The Power Rank have access to my ensemble predictions that combine a number of different predictions, including calculations based on points per game and yards per play. This prediction favors USC by 3.2, suggesting no value for either team in the markets.

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Predicted playoff committee rankings for week 7, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.05.01 AMOn Bleacher Report, I predict what the college football playoff committee rankings will be based on past polls and game results from the past week.

In addition, I discuss some interesting movers from the week. This week’s article includes a discussion of Michigan, USC and the wreck of the Big 12 behind Baylor.

Note that I wrote the section on USC before learning of coach Steve Sarkisian leave of absence and center Max Turk’s season ending knee injury.

To check out the article, click here.

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.

3 predictions for week 4 of college football, 2013

Will Mack Brown continue to hook the horns?

Will Mack Brown continue to hook the horns?


College football isn’t giving us the most compelling slate of games this Saturday. The Gameday crew at ESPN looked at it and went to Fargo, North Dakota.

However, college football never disappoints for drama. Texas coach Mack Brown has provided plenty, as everyone talks about his replacement while his team struggles.

I’ll have more to say about what Vegas thinks of Texas. But first, let’s look at two intriguing games.

Arizona State at Stanford

Arizona State is overrated.

The Vegas line had them as more than a 5 point favorite at home against a good Wisconsin team last Saturday. ASU won by 2 when the referees failed to give Wisconsin the chance to kick a game winning field goal.

If you haven’t seen this truly bizarre play, click here. The announcer is wrong. Wisconsin’s quarterback did put his knee on the ground.

Moreover, Arizona State struggles against teams that can run the ball. They rank 108th in my rush defense rankings (yards per rush adjusted for schedule), and Wisconsin racked up over 7 yards per rush last week.

Stanford bring a big, physical offensive line, very similar to Wisconsin. They roughed up a good San Jose State team in their opener.

My team rankings predicted more than a 10 point win for Stanford at home. With a stellar defense and a rush offense that should dominate, Stanford should win by more than the 6.5 points predicted by Vegas.

San Jose State at Minnesota

A Big Ten team plays a cupcake school at home. The Big Ten team should win. Vegas opened with Minnesota as a 6.5 point favorite against San Jose State.

Not so fast.

Minnesota is the definition of mediocre. They finished last year ranked 82nd in my team rankings. With a host of returning starters, including star defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, my preseason rankings project them at 67th.

San Jose State was spectacular last season. They pushed Stanford to the limit in Palo Alto before losing. They lost to Utah State (10th in my rankings) but won every other game. With their convincing margin of victory against weak teams, San Jose State finished 24th in 2012.

San Jose State lost coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado. However, they return most of the offense, including a NFL prospect at QB, David Fales. Despite these returning starters, it’s reasonable to expect San Jose State to regress this season, as my preseason rankings have the Spartans at 48th.

However, San Jose State is better than Minnesota. As proof, the line has shifted from 6.5 to 3.5 in favor of Minnesota. Moreover, Minnesota QB Phillip Nelson is doubtful for the game. San Jose State has better than a 50% chance to win this game.

Vegas still likes Texas

A week ago, both Texas and USC were struggling. It gave college football die hards the chance to talk about their replacements.

I thought Texas coach Mack Brown was in more trouble.

Brown made the desperation move of firing his defensive coordinator and hiring Greg Robinson. In case you might have forgotten, Robinson was the DC at Michigan when that unit imploded the last two seasons under Rich Rodriguez. They both got fired, and new DC Greg Mattison immediately improved the defense the next season with many of the same players.

Last week, I correctly picked Mississippi to beat Texas in Austin on the Onside Sports app. You should download this app. It’s a great way to follow sports and interact with others. If you’re on an iPhone, click here.

Now, the media has reached a frenzy with speculation that Alabama coach Nick Saban will become the Texas coach. With the undying love that Saban has for the media, I can’t imagine his inner anger over dealing with Texas questions for the next 4 months.

Texas plays Kansas State at home this weekend. Vegas still favors Texas by 5.5. Since my predictions vary from Texas by 9.8 to Kansas State by 5.3, I’m believing in the wisdom of crowds on this one.

Vegas still likes USC, too

While this isn’t a popular opinion, I think USC’s Lane Kiffin is a good coach.

USC beat Boston College last week, as the offense improved drastically from the previous week against Washington State. In all the media noise surrounding Kiffin’s job, it’s getting lost that USC’s defense has improved from last season. They have only given up 3.8 yards per play, although they haven’t faced a great offense yet.

Vegas has USC as a 6.5 point favorite against Utah State, another strong team from a year ago that lost a coach. Given that Utah State will not end this season 10th like they did a year ago, this spread seems about right.

Thanks for reading.