“You’ve got to win in February to win in the fall.” It’s an old adage referring to recruiting in college football; so old, in fact, it doesn’t really apply anymore. Considering the majority of players now sign with schools in December, February’s National Signing Day has become an arbitrary date.
December or February, doesn’t really matter. The thoroughbreds in college football continue to build iron horses. If you’re looking for parity like the NFL, look elsewhere. Recruiting rankings aren’t the end all, be all, but they tell a big part of the story. If you’re not loading up on blue chip recruits, you can just about forget playing in January. And unfortunately for more than 95% percent of colleges, only about five teams have cornered the market, although there are some outliers.
Here’s a look at each Power 5 conference and what the recruiting rankings, courtesy of 247 Sports’ overall team talent (a combined score of all scholarship players’ recruiting rankings on the roster) and recruiting rankings (the average ranking of 247 Sports, Rivals and ESPN), tell us.
We start with the SEC because, well, no other conference comes close when it comes to recruiting. There’s a reason five different teams from the conference have played for the national championship the past 11 years. From the 2020 recruiting rankings, seven of the top 10 teams reside in the SEC. Sure, the conference has built-in advantages like living in the recruiting hotbed of the South and having the SEC winner almost assured to receive a playoff invite. But there’s no denying what Alabama has done in recruiting, and it’s not stopping. The Crimson Tide had the top-ranked overall roster from 2019 in the team talent rankings and finished second in the 2020 composite recruiting rankings. Of course, ‘Bama was upended in the regular season by eventual national champ LSU, which had the fifth-ranked overall roster and finished fourth in 2020 recruiting. The Tigers lost a ton in talent and coaching after the title game, but the depth is there to make another run this fall, especially with ‘Bama going to Death Valley. Georgia continues to dominate the SEC East in roster talent and recruiting, with Kirby Smart capturing another recruiting title in 2020. The Bulldogs had the third-ranked team talent roster in 2019, but on-the-field results in the biggest games haven’t followed. And, for the third time in five years, Georgia is bringing in a new offensive coordinator, so it remains to be seen if offensive continuity can be built with a new quarterback.
On the Fringe: Texas A&M (No. 12 roster in 2019, No. 6 composite recruiting ranking in 2020)
Not breaking news: Ohio State recruits at the highest level, and, as a result, it owns the Big 10. The fact that the Buckeyes had the second-ranked roster nationally in 2019 is a testament to Urban Meyer’s recruiting, and Ryan Day hasn’t missed a beat, finishing with the fifth-ranked composite recruiting ranking in 2020. From a talent standpoint, no other team is relatively close. Penn State featured the No. 10 most talented roster in 2019 but finished No. 15 in 2020 recruiting. Michigan had the 11th-ranked roster and finished No. 14 in recruiting. Wisconsin continues to outproduce its talent on the field, having not collected a top 20-ranked recruiting class in the past five years, but the Badgers haven’t been able to overcome the massive talent gap with Ohio State.
On the Fringe: Nebraska (No. 24 composite roster in 2019, No. 20 recruiting ranking in 2020)
We could just write Clemson and move on, but that doesn’t explain what Dabo Swinney has done in the past four years. The Tigers had the ninth-ranked most talented roster in 2019 and haven’t finished higher than seventh in the recruiting rankings during their run, despite winning two titles in the last four years. They played for another championship in 2019 because they don’t miss on QB evaluation and have been able to keep a coaching staff together during the run, save for Chad Morris and now Jeff Scott. Brent Venables is the new Bud Foster; the guy just won’t leave. For the first time, Clemson put together an elite recruiting class in 2020, finishing third in the composite rankings, although the top three classes between Georgia, Alabama and Clemson are nearly interchangeable, not to mention the Tigers got another stud QB. That’s bad news for the rest of the conference, which has no suitable challengers. Florida State had the No. 6 best roster in 2019, but Willie Taggert failed miserably. Recruiting rankings only go so far; player development has to take over at some point.
On the Fringe: Miami (No. 18 in 2019 composite roster talent; No. 13 in 2020 composite recruiting rankings)
Oklahoma (No. 8 roster in 2019; No. 11 in 2020 recruiting) and Texas (No. 7 roster in 2019; No. 9 in 2020 recruiting) have made this a two-horse race in recruiting. Baylor had the 35th ranked roster in 2019, a testament to Matt Rhule, who’s now off to the Carolina Panthers, and the Bears had the 54th ranked recruiting class in 2020. Good luck with that, Dave Aranda. Oklahoma at least makes an appearance in the college football playoffs, thanks to its elite QB play and offensive line recruiting and development. Texas is the anomaly. The Longhorns have built one of the most talented rosters in the country, but Tom Herman has yet to figure it out. Eventually a blind squirrel will find a nut, right?
On the Fringe: TCU (No. 30 roster in 2019; No. 28 recruiting ranking in 2020)
Oregon (No. 17 in 2019 roster rankings) appears to be the class of the current Pac-12, but the team with the most roster talent in 2019 jumps off the page: Southern Cal. USC had the No. 4 ranked composite roster in the country last year and managed to go 8-5. The Trojans didn’t crack the top 50 in recruiting rankings in 2020, meaning Clay Helton may be a dead man walking. Mario Christobal, on the other hand, has found a way to bring five-star talent to Oregon (No. 12-ranked class in 2020). In the past 17 years, Oregon is the only team to play for a national title without a five-star recruit on the roster. Even Chip Kelly has five stars on the roster at UCLA.
On the Fringe: Washington (No. 19 team roster in 2019; No. 16 in 2020 recruiting rankings)
by: Matt Stewart