Ranking recruits isn’t exactly a science. On an individual player-by-player basis, it’s determined strictly on opinion based on game film, statistics, physical measurables and conversation. On a larger scale, ranking recruiting classes on a per-team basis becomes a little more objective. Yes, those classes are ranked based on the ‘opinions’ those who are doing the rankings have about the individuals within the group, but it’s probably safe to say the individual scores aren’t so far off to skew the team rankings by too much. In short – it’s what we have.
The four main ranking services consist of Rivals, which we’ll use today, as well as Scout, 247Sports and, for some, ESPN. These ranking services do their due diligence year around in order to supply non-stop reporting and analysis of these kids, a service that has blown up in demand over the last decade. Rarely does a day go by that you can’t find fresh online news that hasn’t sourced its information back to one of those four services.
While putting together the beginning of our new Class of 2013 page over the weekend it struck me to start crunching some numbers and take a closer look at the last handful of National Champions with regards to their class rankings. This brings us to today.
I decided to go back as far as Rivals would allow, 2002, in tracking the four recruiting classes leading up to the last seven college football national champions. By doing so, it has taken us back to Vince Young’s 2005 Texas versus USC Rose Bowl and encompasses each of the six straight champs from the SEC (hock, spit). My goal was to see what kind of a head start Urban Meyer has gotten in his seven months at Ohio State in comparison to recent history, as well as comparing his first class-and-a-half to his two Gators championship teams.
Off we go.
Of the last seven national champions, only two had a class-ranking average in double digits when looking at the four classes leading up to their BCS title game victory (Auburn 2010; Texas 2005). The remaining six champions had four-year averages that fell between 2.00 (Alabama 2011) and 7.25 (Florida 2006).
A quick look at each champion’s average of the last seven will tell a couple of stories. One, it’s obvious that supreme talent normally equals supreme success. But two, it shows that another variable can play into a title run. First, a look at the data:
- Alabama 2011 | 2.00 avg class ranking of the four years prior
- Auburn 2010 | 12.50
- Alabama 2009 | 5.75
- Florida 2008 | 5.25
- LSU 2007 | 8.75
- Florida 2006 | 7.25
- Texas 2005 | 12.5
If you drop the single best ranking (2.00) as well as the single worst ranking (12.50) on the list and then average what remains you’ll see that your cookie cutter national champion over recent years posted a 7.90 average class ranking in the four years leading up to winning it all. By comparison, according to Rivals, Meyer posted the fourth best class of incoming freshman for this year and his partial class for 2013 sits at a national ranking of ninth with far less commitments (14) than most every school above Ohio State aside from USC (11) and Texas (14). The Buckeyes’ average star-rating per commitment in the class sits at 3.92, higher than every other school in the top-15 except Lane Kiffin and his Trojans (4.27).
It’s apparent that Urban has kicked his reign in Columbus off with national champion-like success on the recruiting trail, but regardless of what Meyer puts together over the next couple of years, it’s obvious that Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide will likely be somewhere between he and whatever trophy the new playoff system affords the champion. His most recent champions had a four-year national recruiting class ranking average of 2.00 and his 2013 class currently sits at 2nd in the nation with a handful of names yet to commit. Alabama will very likely be knocking on the title door as long as Saban is around. But it doesn’t always work that way, as seen by Auburn’s run of 2009-10.
Auburn’s 12.50 average class ranking leading into their championship of two seasons ago consisted of a seventh (2007), twentieth (’08), nineteenth (’09) and a fourth (’10). Considering the 2010 class wouldn’t have greatly contributed to the championship season, they were left with a three-year average of 15.30 on the field, not exactly what you would expect out of the nation’s top team according to the data. But they had one variable that nobody else had – Cam Newton – and that can make all the difference.
The Heisman Trophy season Cam had as a junior with the Tigers was nothing less than astounding. He connected on 66.1% of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. Throw in his 1,500 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving and he accounted for more than 4,500 total yards for Gene Chizik’s Tigers in just thirteen games. In short, he was an offensive machine and literally carried the Tigers to the title. He’s the definite ‘exception’ to the rule. Every once in a while a talent will come along that can put his team on his back and make enough difference to get them to a championship. Cam Newton is that talent. Terrelle Pryor was supposed to be that talent, and who knows what happens had he played his senior year in Columbus.
So how did Jim Tressel’s recruiting performance stack up against 7.50 adjusted average of the seven champions in question? Here is the data:
- Ohio State 2011 | 10.75 avg class ranking of the four years prior
- Ohio State 2010 | 11.75
- Ohio State 2009 | 8.50
- Ohio State 2008 | 10.75
- Ohio State 2007 | 12.50
- Ohio State 2006 | 19.00
- Ohio State 2005 | 17.25
Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes don’t quite stack up. 95% of the college football world would beg for such averages, but for a program striving for national championships the numbers you see above aren’t, and weren’t, good enough. Maybe most surprisingly is that two of the worst three averages on Ohio State’s list came in seasons where they made the BCS National Championship Game. That’s a credit to Coach Tressel and his ability to maximize the talent he has. That said, neither of those two seasons earned the crystal trophy, falling to Urban Meyer and his 7.25 average in 2006-07 and Les Miles with his 8.75 average in 2007-08.
Urban, Urban, Urban. URBAN!
His six-year reign at the University of Florida, one that earned him two national championship rings, was nothing short of amazing with regards to recruiting. Because his first few years included recruits from the prior regime, let’s take a look at his three seasons where the full roster was of his doing.
- Florida 2010 | 4.75 avg class ranking of the four years prior
- Florida 2009 | 4.25
- Florida 2008 | 5.25
His second title with Florida came in the 2008 season above, but his six full classes from 2006-10 (with his fifteenth-ranked class of 2005 being only a partial class due to the commits he inherited) tell you all you need to know about Meyer’s success at Florida. Starting in 2006 he rattled off individual classes ranked second, first, third, eleventh and second in the nation, respectively. Based on those statistics it’s really no wonder how Urban dominated the most important statistic in college football – wins and losses – during his time in Gainesville. All told, he racked up sixty-five wins in six seasons, including five bowl wins, of which three were within the BCS umbrella. Oh yeah, two were national titles.
The numbers simply don’t lie. Want to know how your new head coach will fair in Columbus leading the Buckeyes? Look no further than his recruiting class rankings. He took a ‘down’ half-class of 2012 and finished it off with a fire and intensity never before seen in central Ohio, closing it with a ranking of fourth nationally. His current unfinished class of 2013 is ninth in the country, per Rivals, and still sits 4-6 commits short of where it’ll finish. His per-commit average star ranking of 3.92 is second only to USC’s 4.27.
Because of the current scholarship losses Urban will likely cut his 2013 class as small as eighteen total commits and possibly as high as twenty. Based on the talent level of the first fourteen in the class he’ll likely finish it off with 4-6 more names and land firmly in the top-5 nationally for the second time in two tries as a Buckeye.
For those outside of the Ohio borders doubting the impact Meyer will have on the Buckeyes need to look no further than the recent lot of national champions with respect to their recruiting performances. Take a look at Urban’s recruiting record at Florida versus the results he inked into the record books. Then peek in at what he and his staff have accomplished in the living rooms of the top talent in America since arriving in Columbus.
The future is bright around The Ohio State University football program. There’s simply no denying that.