The ultimate question is whether a college football team must sign some number of four and five star recruits as a prerequisite to winning a college football national championship. The issue percolated in Bobby Petrino's first recruiting classes, died down, and then rose to the surface again with Arkansas' 2012 football recruiting class. Now the issue for the Arkansas Razorbacks has been to preserve the percieved recruiting gains under the Petrino era as the Hogs have John L. Smith as an interim coach for the next 10 months. Competing against the beliefs that four and five star recruits are must-haves for national championship contention and that inadequate recruiting classes will not produce a national championship are that players' skills and talents and precise ways of evaluating talent will produce results. But the answer won't be found internally because it requires understanding more about College Football.
Facing somewhere around 7,500-8,000 lines of data representing all of Rivals.com and Scout.com's four and five star recruits from 2002 through 2012, this series' first post examined the broad landscape of four and five star recruits since 2002 for both Rivals.com and Scout.com recruits. Arkansas Football & Star Players: The Prospects We condensed the information into summaries of each service's four and five star prospects by state, position, year, and ultimately derived the number of four and five star recruits for each state plus its adjoining states. Without question, the SEC is in the heart of the best college football prospects in the country.
Schools and Four and Five Star Recruits from 2002-2012
At the bottom of this post are detailed charts with Rivals' and Scout's four and five star recruits for 2002-2012 for all schools which signed four or five star commitments.** As basic information, Rivals shows five star recruits committing to a total of 56 schools over the last 11 years, or just under one-half of all DI college football programs reeled in at least 1 five star recruit over the last 11 years. Rivals four star recruits made it to a total of 105 college football programs but don't mistake those programs for being exclusively Division I programs. Tennessee State, Southern Utah, Princeton, and Georgia Southern hit the chart. Moving over to Scout, 67 schools have reeled in at least one five star Scout.com recruit since 2002 with some of these recruits attending the mid-major schools. Even Hofstra, whose football program was terminated after its 2008 five star recruit managed to be listed here. 108 schools have recruited at least one Scout.com four star recruits.
Only 14 schools from 2002 through 2012 have 10 or more Rivals.com five star recruits, representing almost 1 five star signee each year. In order from the highest to lowest, they are: USC (38), Florida (29), Florida State (24), LSU (20), Texas (20), Miami (FL) (18), Tennessee (18), Alabama (17), Oklahoma (16), Ohio State (15), Georgia (13), Michigan (12), Notre Dame (11), and Auburn (10). These fourteen schools account for 68% of all Rivals five star commitments from 2002 through 2012.
The bigger question for those schools not on the list of schools with almost 1 Rivals five star recruit per year is whether they can break into that group. When the last five year averages are compared to the overall 11 year averages, the same number of schools, 14, have at averaged at least 1 Rival five star recruit per year. The list has only one change in that Clemson, with its 2011 recruiting class with 4 Rivals five star recruits, plus one from 2008, takes Tennessee's spot on the list as the Vols have had only 3 Rivals five star recruits in the last five years. Otherwise, the schools remain the same and only their order changes. USC(14), Florida (14), Alabama (14), Florida State (11), LSU(10), Ohio State (9), Texas (8), Miami (FL) (7), Georgia (7), Notre Dame (7), Oklahoma (6), Auburn (6), Michigan (5), and Clemson (5). If anything, these schools have tightened their grip on the best players by signing 123 of the 158 five star Rivals recruits over the last five years, i.e. 77.8% of all five star recruits.
Looking at the information another way, with 1 five star Rival recruit being the set standard per year, only ten schools in college football averaged 1 five star Rival recruit in the time period from 2002-2007 and then again in the period of 2008-2012 : Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami (FL), Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, and USC. Four schools, Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Clemson each logged Rivals five star recruits from 2002-2007 but increased the number of five star recruits over the threshold level of one per year from 2008-2012 while Tennessee failed to average one five star player from 2008-2012 while averaging more than two per year from 2002-2007.
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Regarding Rivals four star recruits, the total number of recruits attending schools have fairly clear groupings. At the top of the list is the University of Texas with 142 Rivals four star recruits. After Texas comes a grouping involving LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, USC and Georgia who each have signed between 133 and 126 Rivals four star recruits since 2002. The next grouping has Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, Auburn, and Miami (FL) who have had 114 to 104 Rivals four star recruits each. Below that, the groupings taper off drastically. Notre Dame is the only school in the 90s (94). UCLA is the only in the 80s (80). South Carolina, Clemson, Penn State, and Oregon are in the 70s. Nebraska and Texas A&M are in the 60s with North Carolina showing to be the only other school averaging at least 5 Rivals four star recruits per year from 2002 through 2012. These top 23 schools account for almost 64% of all Rivals four star recruits.
When all eleven years of recruiting are compared to the last five years, none of the schools in the eleven-year list above fell off the list when considering whether they have at least 5 Rivals four star recruits per year for the last five years. Five schools, however, make their way onto the list of those averaging 5 four star recruits for the last five years. They are Oregon, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Stanford.
When 2002-2007 is compared to 2008-2012, only Virgina previously recruited on average five four star players per year in the first six years and then failed to do so more recently.
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Over the last 11 years 17 teams have recruited an average of one five star recruit per year. Those teams are: USC (54), Florida (44), Texas (38), Florida State (34), Oklahoma (33), Ohio State (29), Miami (FL) (28), Georgia (26), LSU (24), Tennessee (20), Michigan (19), Notre Dame (19) Alabama (16), Auburn (16), Pittsburg (11), South Carolina (11), and Penn State (11). Altogether they account for 444 of all five star recruits from 2002-2012 or 71% of all five star recruits, leaving the other 50 schools who have been fortunate enough to land five star recruits to share the remaining 179 five star recruits over the last 11 years.
Like the analysis for Rivals above, from 2002 through 2007, the following 19 schools recruited at least one Scout five star recruit per year: USC , Florida, Miami (FL), Texas , Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia, Penn State, Notre Dame, Auburn, Pittsburg, South Carolina, Mississippi and Illinois. Over the last five years Illinois, Mississippi, Penn State, Virginia and Tennessee fell out of the ranks of those teams recruiting at least one five star recruit per year while Alabama (14), Oregon (5), UCLA (7), and Clemson (5) eclipsed that mark. Of the “new additions” over the last five years, for the most part the teams are not recruiting much differently than they were from 2002 through 2007. Oregon had 5 five star recruits from 2002 -2007 and 5 five star recruits from 2008-2012. UCLA and Clemson each had 4 five star recruits in the earlier period. Only Alabama has changed its recruiting drastically having only 2 Scout five star recruits from 2002-2007 but scoring 14 over the last five years. On the negative side, Tennessee plummeted from 17 five star Scout recruits from 2002-2007 to only 3 over the last five years. It’s hard not to wonder whether Alabama’s increase of 12 over the last five years and Tennessee’s decrease of 14 are directly related given that they are neighboring states in the same conference. Virginia’s program reeled in 8 Scout five star recruits from 2002-2007 but only managed 1 over the last five years, and Illinois fell from 6 in the first six years down to none in the last five. However, those are the extremes of the negative side. Ole Miss is down 2 five star recruits and Penn State is down three.
Over the last 11 years 22 teams convinced at least 5 four star Scout.com prospects to commit to their schools per year. Texas (119), LSU (112), Florida (109), Ohio State (105), USC (102), Michigan (101), Alabama (98), Oklahoma (96), Auburn (94), Tennessee (93), Notre Dame (93), Georgia (91), Florida State (89), Miami (FL) (85), UCLA (73), Penn State (71), Oregon (67), Texas A&M (65), California (64) South Carolina (61), North Carolina (55), and Clemson (55). Showing that Scout four star recruits are more diverse in their choices, altogether the 22 schools accounted for 60.6% of all Scout four star recruits from 2002-2012.
From 2002-2007 20 teams averaged at least 5 four star recruits per year: Florida, Texas, LSU, Tennessee, Miami (FL), Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, USC, Auburn, Georgia, UCLA, Texas A&M, California, South Carolina, Penn State, Nebraska and Arizona. Fast forward to 2008-2012, only South Carolina, Nebraska and Arizona failed to average 5 four star recruits per year having 23, 21, and 7 Scout four star recruits over the last five years. However, Oregon, Alabama, North Carolina, Clemson and Stanford gladly added to their Scout four star recruits and joined the ranks of those with an average of 5 Scout four star recruits per year. North Carolina pulled in 27 while Clemson and Stanford had 33 each and Oregon had 38. All of this leads up to the elephant in the middle of the recruiting room. Alabama hauled in 70-four-star-recruit-team from 2008-2012 which is an increase of AN AVERAGE OF 9.3 Scout four star recruits per year.
The necessary, mind-numbing number review above allows us to make observations about college football recruiting based generally on facts and not guesses.
• Roughly two-thirds of the elite five star football recruits consistently take their talents to approximately 15% of Division I schools.
• 85% of the Division I football programs share the remaining one-third of the five star athletes.
• About one-half of all Division I teams will not have a five star recruit over a decade.
• Approximately 20% of the Division I schools recruit between 60-70% of all four star athletes.
• Although slightly broader than the list of schools reeling in most of the five star recruits, schools getting the bulk of four star recruits are the same.
• Around 85-90 BCS and FCS teams share between 30-40% of all four star recruits.
• With only very limited exceptions, sustained and substantial changes in the schools and in the number of schools recruiting of four and five star athletes recruited over the last eleven years has not happened. Said another way, the numbers of four and five star football players attending any particular school may vary from one year to the next (or even spike, see Clemson’s Rivals five star recruits in 2011), but based upon the last eleven years, there is little variation over time for the vast majority of schools.
• BCS Champions from 2002 through 2012 have only come from teams with the most four and five star recruits over the last eleven years.
BCS Champion Standards Regarding Four and Five Star Recruits
Although any number of rating systems exist to quantify the quality of a recruiting class, the simple method of multiplying the number of four star recruits for a school’s class by four and the number of five star recruits by five and adding them together suffices here. Since we are dealing with two recruiting services, the composite scores for each service are added together. This simple method allows us to make uniform comparisons from one recruiting class to the next across different teams and to set standards.
No one is in a twist about three star recruits who are much more plentiful in number, and for this evaluation, the quantification is limited to four and five star recruits.
The BCS Champion teams from 2006 through 2011 are listed below using this method. As one last detail, the previous five years of recruits are considered for each team so that no recruit with potential to impact on-the-field play is omitted. These six teams have composite scores ranging from a low of 462 by Auburn’s 2010 championship club to a high of 644 for Florida’s 2008 squad. For the moment, 462 is the minimum target number for BCS Champions.
2011 Alabama 638
2010 Auburn 462
2009 Alabama 496
2008 Florida 644
2007 LSU 599
2006 Florida 555
At this point it seems virtually certain that recruiting four and five star players is the only way to the BCS Championship, doesn’t it? From the first post the schools which came from the areas closest to the highest numbers of prospects have been the only ones to win the BCS Championships over the last 11 years and moreover, BCS Champions have only come from the small percentage of schools who recruit the most four and five star athletes. However, the presence of four and five star players on any given roster as recruited over the previous five years does not ensure success at the end of a season nor does the lack of presence of four or five star players on any given roster guarantee failure.
Teams, Four and Five Star Recruits over the Last 5 Years, and Final Associated Press Rankings
The following chart takes all teams which have recruited four or five star players as designated by either service, formulates the composite number representing both Scout and Rivals recruiting classes for the previous five seasons, and places each schools’ AP Final Rank next to each school.
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With some study…
• Frequently teams have composite four and five star recruit scores higher than the BCS Champion. (2011- Texas and Florida; 2010 – a dozen schools; 2009- nine schools; 2008- none; 2007- one; 2006- two)
• Teams with low four and five star recruit composite scores may be highly-ranked at the end of a season.
2011- Oklahoma St. ranked 3rd with a 29th best score while No. 5 Arkansas had the 27th.
2010 – No. 2 TCU had the 62nd best score, No. 4 Stanford had the 35th, and lowly No. 11 Nevada had the 104th.
2009 – With recruiting composites of 65, 66, and 67 TCU was AP No. 6, Cincinnati No. 8, and Boise St. AP No. 4. Also, with a composite score of 0 Central Michigan was No. 23.
2008- AP No. 2 Utah scored 57th while No. 7 TCU scored 69th.
2007- Missouri was No. 4 in the A.P. Final Poll with a composite score that was 45th best.
2006- A.P. No 7 Wisconsin ranked 51st while A.P. No. 6 Louisville, Bobby Petrino’s team, was 45th.
• Teams with top recruiting ranks may be unranked at the end of the season.
2011- Florida, Texas, and Ohio State
2010- Florida, Texas, USC, and Georgia
2009- Georgia and Florida State
2008- LSU and Michigan
2007 & 2006 – Florida State and Miami
Through the lens of recruiting the best College Football players, two worlds exist with little exchange between the two. Teams that currently sign the best college football players for the most part are the same teams which recruited the best college football players 11 years ago. These are traditional powerhouse programs and long-standing names in college football. Some have huge stadium capacities or are nestled in glitzy cities, or are schools located in prime high school recruiting areas. There is little indication that any school not already in that elite group of schools can take a place in that group; for instance, despite Tennessee being down now, it could return as Alabama has, but Boise State has never been there and likely never will be there despite its success. For schools in the group, recruiting can take the team far and can produce success but it is no guarantee of success. For schools not in that group, fans can hope that their team will find a place there.
The reality gives rise to the second world of College Football. Becoming one of the recruiting elite is a worthy effort, but more current success will not come strictly from recruiting better players because there is no evidence that any school can manage a sustained, long-term increase in recruiting elite athletes. For all of the concern that the University of Arkansas fans have expressed regarding recruiting success during the Bobby Petrino years, the reality is that the Razorbacks have averaged an additional 1.3 four star recruits per year over the last five years compared to the previous six under Houston Nutt. In essence the Hogs have five more four star players. Recruiting five star players remained about the same. Teams in the second world like Arkansas, Oregon, Stanford, and Clemson must develop players, find great unrecognized players, or have unique and creative schemes to overcome the disparity in recruiting. These teams can have success although the scant data has yet to show one that has accomplished a BCS Championship.
To boil it down, elite recruiting teams can go a long way with recruiting. Everyone else must hunker down and find a way. -- Sharp
**I apologize in advance for what appears to be a lack of sorting capacity. The size of the charts matters, and these are too large. As a caveat, these numbers are as accurate as they can be within reason. A number of recruits for each service continued to have multiple schools listed as of 2012 even though they were recruited years ago. Some were recruited, signed, placed at a junior college, or were part of the class and then came back or went to another school in a subsequent year. As another observation, these numbers are for signees. As observed in the first post, some percentage of players (estimated at 4% ) are duplicated. Further this post doesn’t take into account the practice of over-signing.
On the other hand, in the time shortly after a class is signed, the airwaves and print are filled with a wide varieties of opinions and rankings of each recruiting class. Some will try to project which players will actually make it to campus, and some don’t. The fate of some signees isn’t known until the end of the summer. The point is that none of these imperfections, or in data terms, “error”, stop the regular practice of evaluating recruiting classes. These numbers should be considered accurate for the purposes of trying to understand which schools get four and five star commitments and how those commitments impact the bottom line.