You're fooling yourself if you think recruiting doesn't matter in college football
The 2017 NFL Draft is in the books and like every draft before this one, surprises happened, players draft stocks rose, fell and starting this fall you will notice names of guys like Derek Rivers who was drafted with the 83rd pick out of Youngstown State by the Patriots, or Grover Stewart who was taken by the Colts with the 144th pick out of Albany State. Those unsung prospects will flourish in the National Football League and instantly football fans will again proclaim, “See stars don’t matter in college football.”
It’s the age old question among fans, “do stars really matter?”
Some coaches and fans laud player development, while others will tell you it’s not the X’s and the O’s, but the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.
We now have about 20 years’ worth of recruiting data from various sites to digest and if you look at the numbers of top end recruiters and National Championship games, the results are without question – recruiting matters.
This isn’t to suggest upsets don’t happen because they do, or some teams recruit well, but never meet expectations because that happens as well. But – if you ever want to even sniff a National Championship Game or the College Football Playoff, you better be serious about recruiting.
We went back 19 years and revisited every National Championship game through the BCS and the College Football Playoff and what we found wasn’t earth shattering. People have done this before, but we felt like the exercise was again necessary to remind people – numbers matter.
Starting with the 1998 National Championship game between Tennessee and Florida State, all the way to last year’s Clemson win over Alabama the numbers don’t lie regardless of the outlet you chose.
While outlets like 247sports, Scout, ESPN and others may vary, the results at the top are the same. The top end recruiters on a three or four year average win and play for Championships.
That’s why recruiting is a major component to most any numbers person in college football and why we use it in the Drive’s College Football Hour Glass, along with quarterback play and coaching.
Outside of Virginia Tech in 1999 and Nebraska in 2001, all National Championship participants have recruited inside the top 20 on a four year average. And per Dave Bartoo with the College Football Matrix last year, Washington and Michigan State in back to back years had a chance to break this trend had they won their national semifinal games against Alabama. Both were between 27-30 on a four year recruiting average.
Here is what the year by year four year recruiting average of the National Championship participants looks like dating back to 1998. The number ONE on the bottom scale represents 1998, while 19 represents 2017. The number on the left hand side represents four year recruiting class averages.
Here’s a second look at the same data via a line graph, with the numbers representing the same data and dates, but a mean recruiting trend regardless of winner or loser of the National Championship.
While someone may break this trend at some point along the way, the facts are clear up to this point. If you don’t recruit inside the top 15 in the country, you can just about kiss the National Championship goodbye, unless you have a game changer at quarterback like Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson or someone else.
People can predict dark horses for conference annually and will, like Arkansas, TCU and more, but once the rubber meets the road, those teams cannot hack it over the long haul with more talented teams.
Which is why we created three tiers of recruiting within the Hour Glass this year to show which teams had a realistic chance on paper of obtaining certain goals.
NOTE: The four teams in the 2018 College Football Playoff had a combined four year composite of 6.5 on a national scale, again holding true to this data and this form.
2018 - 3 year recruiting metric (recently established for the 2018 season)