Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 2/1/12


The debate rages every year as National Signing Day approaches: Do recruiting rankings matter?

CBR's writers argued about it earlier today, and our buddies over at Coaches By The Numbers have also weighed in. They compared where teams finished in the recruiting rankings during the last five years versus where they finished in the AP Top 25.

CBTN's results weren't all that conclusive. They found that 60 percent of team's in the final top 25 poll of poll of the season didn't rank in the top 25 in their cumulative top 25 recruiting rankings. In other words, just nine of the teams that finished in the top 25 of the AP poll were ranked in the top 25 of CBTN's recruiting rankings. (Note: CBTN's source for its recruiting rankings is not given, but I'm confident we can trust the data for the purposes of this exercise. If you're interested in digging a little deeper here, Dave Bartoo of College Football Matrix also does great work when it comes to aggregating and analyzing recruiting data.)

The guys at CBTN theorize that the mixed results in this exercise could suggest a number of conclusions:

  • Recruiting services tend to give a bump to name programs.
  • Successful programs recruit players to match their styles of play, giving the services' rankings less relevance.
  • Some coaches just get more out of their players than others.

Of course, it could be that Rivals, Scout, etc. just don't deliver the goods. Put another way, if the AP poll really does represent the 25 best teams in the country, then that indicates recruiting services don't evaluate prospects all that well.

The AP poll is one way to evaluate the recruiting services, but I'm not convinced it's the best. The pollsters tend to rely heavily on records when filling out their ballots, and the results don't necessarily reflect an objective measure of teams' levels of strength. (For instance, Oklahoma beat Kansas State by five touchdowns in Manhattan, but finished the year ranked behind Wildcats in the final AP poll. That doesn't mean KSU didn't deserve its ranking, but it does suggest the Sooners are going to win that match-up more often than not.)

I'd contend that we have two different sets of rankings at our disposal that offer a better standard for objectively ranking teams. One is the Don Best Linemakers Poll, which reflects the collective wisdom of the guys – and gals? – in Vegas setting the point spreads. The other is the F/+ system put together by Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau for Football Outsiders.

What happens when we compare the recruiting rankings to the Linemakers Poll and F/+? To find out, I ran CBTN's numbers against the two polls. I did the same with each using the CFB Matrix recruiting rankings for grins. (Note: A blank space means the team wasn't ranked. Also, the Linesmaker Poll was compiled prior to the bowl games.)

Linesmaker Poll vs. Recruiting Rankings Rank Team

CBTN

CFB Matrix 1 LSU 2 4 2 Alabama 4 1 3 Oklahoma St. 4 Oregon 16 16 5 Stanford 6 Wisconsin 7 Arkansas 25 8 Oklahoma 12 9 9 Boise St. 10 Michigan St. 11 Michigan 13 12 12 Georgia 7 6 13 USC 1 2 14 Va. Tech 15 S. Carolina 17 19 16 Clemson 20 23 17 Notre Dame 10 11 18 Florida St. 9 5 19 TCU 20 Kansas St. 21 Houston 22 Southern Miss. 23 Baylor 24 Nebraska 22 25 W. Virginia

 

F/+ vs. Recruiting Rankings Rank Team CBTN CFB Matrix 1 Alabama 4 1 2 LSU 2 4 3 Oklahoma St. 4 Boise St. 5 Oregon 16 16 6 Wisconsin 7 Oklahoma 12 9 8 Florida St. 9 5 9 Stanford 10 Michigan St. 11 USC 1 2 12 Michigan 13 12 13 Notre Dame 10 11 14 Arkansas 25 15 Georgia 7 6 16 Texas A&M 23 17 17 TCU 18 Houston 19 Texas 3 3 20 Southern Miss. 21 S. Carolina 17 19 22 Va. Tech 23 W. Virginia 24 Temple 25 Missouri

I definitely wouldn't characterize it as a resounding response. In both cases, a greater share of the top 25 in the power rankings had recruiting rankings in the top 25 than was the case for the AP poll. That goes for both the CBTN and CFB Matrix systems. However, the highest share – 13 teams in both the Linesmaker Poll and F/+ rankings were ranked in the CFB Matrix's recruiting top 25 – was just slightly above 50 percent, so the results are far from overwhelming.

Ultimately, this is a quick and dirty way of evaluating both the recruiting rankings and coaches. I'd caution against drawing any hard and fast conclusions from the exercise. The results do seem to suggest, though, that highly touted recruiting classes are decent indicators of future success.

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