Posted by Adam Butler on February 5, 2013
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you…. “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Cliff Edwards
By Kris M. Boyd
Five-star running back Alex Collins of Plantation, Fla., surprised the college football world last night when he committed to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks over the homestanding Miami Hurricanes and several of the sport’s bluebloods.
The decision sparked a flurry of internet activity nationally, (again) further evidencing the fact that College football recruiting has become a big business and a year-long “sport”.
It’s an odd, but predictable phenomenon. The internet has combined with college football’s immense popularity and spawned the need for blow-by-blow updates of the sometimes whimsical decisions of 18-year-old gridiron superstars. A growing number of national recruiting outfits have sprung up in the last decade to service the need for information.
Each national service has some sort of “star” ranking system. The majority of the services rate the players from NR (not ranked) or one star to five stars.
Usually only the top 100 recruits at each position receive rankings. Those players are then ranked overall/ nationally, regardless of position.
From time to time, however, players are included in the rating system that stand out in their state and may not have been high enough to place in the top 100 at their respective position.
In addition to the stars, each player has his own unique numerical ranking on some sites. For example, a four star player can either be a “low” four star player or a “high” four star player.
The services will add up the numerical ratings and take an average of the stars to come up with team rankings. There are other scores that get thrown in that can boost a team’s ranking such as bonus points for five-star recruits and players at the top of their position rankings.
On the eve of National Signing Day, aka Utopia for College Football dorks like us, now is a good time to examine whether these rankings have any value.
Some pundits swear by them while others think they’re worth about as much as the paper on which they aren’t written.
The truth is the recruiting rankings have value, but calling them an exact science is like calling a chiropractor a doctor.
I came to this conclusion by using some inexact science, myself. I analyzed the Final AP Top 25 Polls over the past 10 years as well as the Top 25 Recruiting Class rankings during the same span. I used Scout.com but suspect I would have had similar results using its competitors.
(For those who are unsatisfied with this approach, feel free to go Star Wars Geek vs. Star Trek Geek and crunch the other numbers.)
I used the 2001-2011 time frame because I wanted to account for cyclical ups and downs through programs as well as recruiting dips and spikes following down years and National Championship years. It also hurt Notre Dame’s numbers, which was a welcomed, but unintended benefit.
I simply took the AP Top 25 for each year and assigned points for each ranked team. The #1 team received 25 points; the #2 team got 24 points and so on. Teams received zero points for not being in the top 25, but their overall points were still divided by 10 (years). The teams were then ranked overall for that 10 year time span according to their scores.
Here are the results from 2001-2011
Final AP Poll Rankings
2. Ohio State
6. Boise State
9. Virginia Tech
17. Miami, FL
t19. Penn State
t19. West Virginia
21. Florida State
24. Oklahoma State
25. Kansas State
t31. Texas Tech
t32. Boston College
t32. Notre Dame
33. Washington State
34. Ole Miss
36. Michigan State
39. South Carolina
t44. Arizona State
t44. Georgia Tech
45. Miami, OH
Recruiting Class Rankings
4. Florida State
7. Ohio State
10. Miami, FL
14. Notre Dame
16. Texas A & M
17. South Carolina
18. Penn State
20. North Carolina
24. Texas Tech
t31. Oklahoma State
t31. Mississippi State
32. Ole Miss
33. North Carolina State
34. Virginia Tech
t40. West Virginia
t40. Michigan State
41. Arizona State
42. Georgia Tech
t45. Washington State
t47. Boston College
A few things stand out immediately. You’ll first notice that the last 10 National Championship winners are all ranked in the top 13 of the recruiting rankings. You’ll also notice that the top 13 are all pretty much the same except for a few teams.
From there, though, the Recruiting Rankings are not supported by the teams’ performances in the Final AP Polls. Consider:
- Florida State has the 4th highest-rated recruiting classes over that period, but its AP ranking is 21.
- Boise State and Wisconsin are both ranked in the top 15 of the Final AP Polls but did not have one recruiting class in the top 25.
- Texas A & M has the 16th-ranked recruiting class, but is ranked 57 in the AP Polls.
- Virginia Tech is ranked 9th in the Final AP polls but its classes have never impressed the services and are ranked 34th.
- The Notre Dame bias leaked into recruiting services, also, as ND’s classes ranked 14th but the Irish only managed to tie Boston College at 32 in the Final AP Polls.
- Iowa finished 16th in the Final AP Polls but its classes are way down at 35.
- Washington’s classes are somehow ranked 22nd even though the Huskies never finished in any of the top 25 Final AP Polls over the 10 years.
- South Carolina and Clemson’s classes are ranked 17th and 21st respectively, but could only muster Final AP rankings of 39th and 42nd.
The rankings seem to be on the money with regard to the top recruits and top 12-13 classes, but after that, it seems to be a crapshoot.
Obviously, the five-star players are going to be easier to spot and rank.
It’s easy to spot a 6’2” 220 lb. running back from Texas who has 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in his senior year and label him a “five star”.
However, the tricky part comes into play with the three and four-star players. How is one linebacker from a certain area a three-star and a linebacker from another area a four-star? Why are there so many consistent discrepancies between the rankings and on-field outcomes?
Some of the problem probably lies in institutional and geographic bias. There are three states in which high school football is widely considered the biggest and best and therefore receive by far the most media attention– California, Texas and Florida.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the schools whose highly ranked classes that are not supported by their Final AP Poll rankings (Texas A & M, Florida State, CAL, UCLA and Miami, FL) are in these states as well as similarly ranked schools that (Washington, South Carolina, Clemson and Notre Dame) heavily recruit these states.
Would a linebacker from small eastern Arkansas town who is a physical beast and dominates his competition be a low three star if he was in Dallas?
Would a high four-star running back from Dallas be ranked that same way if he was from western Kentucky?
“No” is the answer to both.
To be fair, these services simply lack the resources or impetus to accurately rank players throughout the country.
They must spend their resources in the states where there are the most Division I recruits allowing them to see and evaluate the players from California, Florida and Texas more accurately and aggressively.
Schools are going to have higher-ranked recruiting classes if their classes are stacked with players from the Big 3 states.
In sum, the “stars” matter, but there are more than are being accurately counted.
I don’t fault the services too much. I wouldn’t want to go to Jug Fork, Mississippi, either.