Tables are omitted for the time being but should be added later. Originally published April 6, 2012.
When we journeyed with Arkansas football recruiting in February 2010, 5-7 and 8-5 seasons and recent recruiting class(es) weighed heavily on the minds of professional writers and recruiting followers. We rolled down the Razorback bus' windows and asked, "How do we get to the SEC and National Championships?" Resoundingly the gurus replied, "You Can't Get There from Here". You know the story that follows.
In the two years since, the not-talented-enough-for-SEC-primetime classes transformed a 13-12 bus into a 21-5 bullet train as they shined UA with its first BCS Bowl appearance, forged two back-to-back 10+ win seasons for only the third time in school history, bolted into the 2011 BCS Championship conversation, and arrived at the end of the 2011 season ranked No. 5 in the country. However, among some professionals and fans who embraced You Can't Get There from Here's two-year-old message that Coach Petrino and staff develop recruits' strengths and skills, traditional recruiting concerns linger despite how far the Razorbacks have traveled in a relatively short time. Two seasons of performance are no longer the measuring sticks, but rather the Razorbacks' direction to overcome two 24-point losses to Alabama and LSU is. To them, the 2012 Arkansas Razorbacks' recruiting class fails to propel the Hogs quickly toward LSU and Alabama who appear to move further away with more seemingly talented recruits. Never mind that from 2005 through 2010 that LSU and Arkansas held records of 3-3 against one another with game point totals for each adding to 185-184 in favor of Arkansas including a victory against the 2007 LSU squad which went on to win the BCS Championship. Never mind that Arkansas lost to Alabama by 4 points in 2010. To them, the current results are great but prove in cardinal and white that Arkansas isn't a championship caliber team. It's a No. 5 in the Nation team and 24 points short of LSU and Alabama.
Fans who tend to believe that Arkansas recruits lack great quality will usually say, "Recruiting is the life blood of a program." "Better recruits equal a better team." "Without better recruits, we start off behind." Indeed, those are general truisms, but there's probably more to what they really want to say. Public quotes from a writer and friend on the evening of February 1, 2012, probably articulate better what many think, "Hog fans, we can spin it however we want, but we are not going to get where we want to be if we do not recruit better, period!" "It's great, but we've reached our ceiling. To get where we want, SEC and BCS titles, it is going to be hard to beat Bama, USC." No matter how the principle is expressed, in the context of Arkansas' performances and recruiting classes over the last four years, the professionals and fans mean one thing-- the Hogs need more four and five star recruits to play for the National Championship. The Razorbacks' classes for years have been predominately three-star recruits.
Do the Razorbacks need more four and five star recruits to play for the National Championship? Maybe Arkansas does. On the other hand, it could be that the common sense, even logical, proposition is fallacious. Or, the relationship between recruiting and BCS Championships may exist but have less than a definitive cause and effect. It's time to find out.
With the amount of information and number of insights that may be gained from it, this is the first of three posts which will explore several areas regarding four and five star players, their frequency on the better teams and BCS Championship teams, and their development as players using the NFL Draft as a gauge.
Briefly, a conversation which started on HogSportsTalk.com began this analysis before the Cotton Bowl. To get to this point was a journey in itself, but ultimately the data found here is based on four and five star recruits as assessed by Rivals.com and Scout.com for the years of 2002 through 2012 inclusive.** It's eleven years of recruiting information consisting of basic stats for more than 3,800 recruits listed by each service. As a standing disclosure, where data was missing or not definitive (such as a recruit still having two or more schools listed as possible destinations years later), the recruit is not counted in the individual area being explored. In advance, we know that total numbers may not match from one chart to the next.
Let's start with finding out how many four and five star prospects are out there to reel in.
Rivals and Scouts 4 Star & 5 Star Players
[table id=183 /]
Sort as you like.
Most certainly all recruits are included here for each class as designated by each service, but it doesn't mean that either Rivals.com or Scout.com is saying that there are 3,991 or 3,881 individual players who were four or five star recruits over the last eleven recruiting classes.** Analyzing the list which we generated for Rivals' ranked recruits, we found a minimum of 121 players whom Rivals ranked out of high school and then again out of prep school or junior college. A few had three entries.*** The best that can be reasonably done for this post is to say that a minimum of 3% of the players are listed twice with the actual numbers being estimated to be around 4%. Rivals includes about 3,800 individual players out of the 3,991 recruiting entries. Scout.com is similar.
Trying to gauge the overlap between the two services, efforts were made to match the two lists.** With confidence there were 2,407 recruits common to both lists, or about 60% of each list. Very conservatively another 2,400 players (1,200 per service over 11 years) were ranked four or five stars by one service and not the other.
To take a stab at the number of players who garner four or five stars by both Rivals and Scout, an average of 218 players per year are true four and five star players. Add approximately the same number of recruits each year (218) who have a four or five star designation by one but not the other service. Depending upon one's point of view, on average between 218 to 436 four and five star recruits are available each year.
Don't plan on leaving to the realm of opinion whether being a true four or five star recruit matters.
We'll go there.
Realizing the counting issues above, it's reasonable to have some idea of where recruits are from. We always hear that Texas and Florida are hotbeds of college football recruiting, but now we can get a very good idea of which states have the best numbers of the best prospects according to Rivals and Scout. What follows is a state-by-state breakdown of each list showing for each state the number of Rivals five star prospects, four star prospects, the total number of Rivals prospects, and then doing the same for Scout over an eleven-year period. Click on the drop down menu and expand to 100 to view the entire list at once.
Rivals and Scouts 4 Star & 5 Star Players
State-by-State for 2002-2012
[table id=184 /]
Sort as you like.
Sorting is almost a required task here. When you do, you'll see that 11 states (with the entire set including a single line for Canada and one for the District of Columbia) produced more than 100 four and five star prospects as listed by each service. When the prospects from those 11 states are aggregated, their numbers are very close to 70% of all four and five star recruits for each service. The information above is probably unusual only because of the expansiveness of the data considered. Others have similar information for shorter periods of time without pointing out areas where it might be misunderstood.
Let's get more specific. It may help to know how many players are available at categories of positions. Once again, click on the drop down menu and expand to 100 to view the entire list at once. The years are in descending order 2012, 2011, 2010...2002. Also, the columns should still sort even if your cursor is not "giving you the finger." Just click in the top cell of the year or total that you want to sort.
Rivals and Scout Position v. Year v. Stars for 2002-2012
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The services don't categorize recruiting prospects in the same way. What's shown above is the Rivals method which groups safeties and corners as defensive backs (DBs), offensive guards and tackles as offensive linemen (OL), etc. On the other hand, Scout lists outside linebackers, middle linebackers, Will Linebackers, Offensive Guards and Tackles, etc., and also doesn't have a designation for "Athlete." Kickers include both kickers and punters. The Scout information could be converted to match Rivals, but vice versa was unrealistic.
The chart provides some core information on the issue of whether recruiting services (at least Rivals and Scout) tend to favor skilled players over linemen. The OL prospects are the easiest grouping to illustrate additional analysis on that point. The number of prospects is relative to the number of positions on the field for each category, so the offensive line numbers would be divided by 5, 1 center, 2 guards and 2 tackles because tight ends have a separate category. For instance, Rivals 4 star offensive linemen total 50 in 2012 leaving 10 four star offensive line prospects per position. How many tight ends would be appropriate for an offense? 2,1, or maybe none? It makes a difference on how one views the services. This kind of analysis, though, depends greatly on the scheme and for that reason, it's left for the reader to determine from his or her perspective.
Backing off from the details, the information gives some insight into both services in wide, general terms. For offensive players rated by each service, what is the percentage of four star players to five star players? What about on defense and have the services changed their percentages over the years?
[table id=189 /]
No need to sort here.
Aggregating all of the Rivals offensive five star players and doing the same with Rivals defensive five star players, then on to Rivals four stars, the moving to Scout, the chart reveals that Scout has remained consistent with the numbers of four to five star recruits over an 11 year period as compared to a 5 year period and is also consistent from offense v. defense for the ratio of four to five star recruits. Rivals on the other hand has tended to tighten up the numbers of five star prospects on both sides of the ball. The numbers are not huge, but they are noticeable. Lastly, when Scout and Rivals are compared, Scout will have a higher percentage of five star players year-in and year-out.
Circling back to the state chart, it's here that we can show you what's rarely shown. Common wisdom tells us that the distance recruiters have to go in order to interest players matters in terms of time, recruiting budgets and the ability to get an on-campus visit from a top recruit. We've taken the data above and moved it with effort into a summary of each individual state's product of four and five star recruits, and then we've added the numbers of four and five star prospects from the states which border each state. For Fans in any state, the question is how many four and five star recruits are here or only one state away?
Rivals and Scouts 4 Star & 5 Star Players
State Plus Bordering States for 2002-2012
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The realities of college football dominance begin to come clear on our way to attempting to solve whether four and five star designated recruits matter. Down the Rivals Total list when sorted in descending order, the states of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana in that order have the most four and five star recruits in their own states and adjacent states. From Scout over the same period, the State of Georgia had one more four or five star prospect than did Arkansas followed by Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.
It's a sobering graphic over the last 11 years and is the best indication yet that four and five star recruits matter, but we're nowhere close to being done. Next up, we'll take the information and narrow the information to schools, their successes or failures, and the rates of four and five star players who contribute to a team's success. -- Sharp
** As the data were gathered over the recruiting season it started with simply Top 100 or 150 over a period of years and looked to trace those recruits through BCS Champion rosters and then onto NFL Draftees. BCS Champion rosters were gathered and all NFL rounds from 2003 through 2011 fell into place, but the recruiting end didn't seem to be enough compared to some 2600 lines of NFL Draftees. The total number of recruits was similar to the number of players on BCS Championship rosters. The college data were scrapped.
We needed ALL four and five star recruits, so we started with Rivals.com for all four and five star recruits from the earliest available, 2002, through the 2011 recruiting class. Only including Rivals.com still sounded narrow so Scout.com information was accumulated for the same 10 recruiting classes. Filtering was begun and then scrapped to sort out players who were recruited in one class and who then reappeared after going to prep school or through junior college. Out of more than 3500 lines of Rivals recruiting data alone, more than 120 athletes had multiple lines, at least for those who could be easily identified. Clearly there were more, but we were very much in an area where greater precision came with much greater investigation time about whether two entries for players with similar names, positions and other data separated by two and sometimes three years apart were actually the same player. Some names that didn't match from one year to the next were as easy as Cam vs. Cameron Newton (an actual example). Others would be similar to (not an actual example) having the name D.D. Jones one year and Dequinta Jones two years later. If D.D. would have been one of the players, it would have been fairly easy to match up height, weight, 40 time, etc. because it may not have changed much. Where the data pushed us beyond an acceptable point of diminishing returns came with some 50-60 players whose names didn't match, who were within eligibility times, but who also changed positions and physique. Excluding Juco or prep school players produced unacceptable for the simple nauseating necessity of keeping Cam Newton and others associated with the proper school.
[edit:Paragraph is deleted because a method of matching names on the two different lists was utilized after this paragraph was written. The results are above.]
The ultimate sets of data are: Rivals.com four-and-five-star recruits from 2002 through 2012, Scout.com four-and-five-star recruits from 2002 through 2012, BCS Champion Rosters as found on NCAA.com for the years 2003 (allowing at least two years of recruiting classes to begin to get an idea of the trends), and NFL Draftees from 2003 through 2011 (again the data is there but may not be fully considered). NFL Draftee information may or may not be used. As of this writing, I haven't decided.
*** For instance the player might be rated well out of high school in year 1, go to a junior college where he red-shirts one year and he's ranked again coming out of the juco the next. However, he fails to make a grade or get a transferring class and goes back to junior college for another year and is ranked again when he completes that year or semester.