Recruiting for Beginners Part II: How Are Classes Ranked?

C.W. O'BrienCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2009

As we discussed in the previous installment of "Recruiting For Beginners," different services rank players differently.  They evaluate differently and emphasise different aspects of potential recruits. 

It only stands to reason that different services would rank classes differently as well. 

Having a highly ranked recruiting class does not necessarily guarantee success on the field.  I will repeat that one more time just to let it sink in a little more...having a highly ranked recruiting class does not necessarily guarantee success on the field. 

If it did, Nebraska and Tennessee would have played for a national championship sometime in the last four years.  They had the top two classes in 2005. 

USC would probably have three or four more crystal footballs in its trophy case.  Ohio State would have won back-to-back national titles.  You get the idea. 

There are a lot of outside factors to consider.  Injuries, transfers, and coaching changes can all have a major impact on the success of a particular recruiting class.  

Recruiting class rankings are more like indicators than guarantees.  That is important to remember.  It is hard to ask for perfection out of an imperfect system.

While each service has their own unique grading criteria, all three main outlets have two principles:

  1. Talent:  Talent is rewarded to varying degrees.  The more talent a team is able to sign, the higher their class will be ranked. 
  2. Limiting the total number of counted recruits:  Regardless of the total number of recruits a school signs, only the top 25 recruits are counted towards a team ranking.  This prevents over-signed classes from having a major impact on the rankings. 

There is a lot of room for fluctuation among team rankings.  It is not uncommon for a team to be ranked highly on one service and lower in another.  Each service has its own unique formula for ranking classes.

Here is the abridged version of how Rivals, Scout, and ESPN rank classes:



Rivals has developed a scoring system to rank teams.  It awards points based on the number of commits and the quality of those prospects. 

Teams are awarded points for the number of stars each recruit has, a recruit's positional rankings, and a recruit's position on the Rivals 100 list.   

To simplify:

  • A 5-Star prospect is given more points than a 4-star prospect.
  • A prospect ranked 5th at his position is given more points than a person ranked 15th at the same position. 
  • A prospect on the Rivals100 list is given points, but a prospect not on the list is not given points for it. 
  • A prospect ranked third on the Rivals100 list is given more points than a prospect ranked 20th. 

Rivals counts JuCo and prep players in their team rankings or level. 

Another thing to consider is that teams are only awarded points for the amount of prospects in their class (up to 25).  A recruiting class of 21 does not have as much point earning potential as a class with 25. 

This rewards teams for signing quality prospects, regardless of eligibility. Rivals does not factor in immediate team needs.  They ignore immediate needs because the prevailing theory is that most teams will have addressed those needs years in advance. 

Many teams will load up on prospects from a particular position knowing that players will red-shirt or change position.  Rivals does not punish them for doing so. 

This is a double-edged sword that can have a negative effect on the rankings.  While those talented players will count, balance is not considered.   

Hypothetical Example:

Team A signs 25 prospects, all of them 4- and 5-Star recruits.  BUT they only signed LB's, DB's, and DE's. 

It is theoretically possible for Team A to have an extremely highly ranked class based on the level of talent that they signed, despite the fact that they didn't sign a single offensive player and that most positions on the team were completely ignored.  


Scout ranks a team's class using three main points of emphasis:  talent, need, and balance.  High school, prep, and JuCo recruits count toward this ranking. 

Talent:  The overall quality of players is emphasized in this category.  The better the recruit the higher the score.

Need:  Team needs are emphasized.  If a team recruits to meet its specific needs, it will be rewarded.  If doesn't, it will be punished.  There is a limit set on recruits that are counted at a given position.  This prevents teams from overloading at a position and being rewarded for it. 

Balance:  There is an emphasis on signing players at every position to create depth for the future.

All three factors hold equal weight.  This is one of the main differences between Scout and other services.  Teams are neither rewarded, nor punished for the size of their class.  It rewards classes for being "complete."

This can lead to teams being ranked inaccurately. A team can sign a class with a lot of talent, but if they don't recruit at every position or they load up at a specific position, it can drag their class ranking down.

A team can meet their needs and get a lot of talent, but be punished for not balancing their class.

Hypothetical Example:

Team A signs a class of 18 recruits.  The team is built primarily of 4-Star recruits, but they also have three 5-Star recruits.  11 of the recruits were on defense and 4 of those defensive recruits were linebackers. 

If Team A was only trying to replace a single linebacker, they would not get credit for two of those prospects.  In this case, Team A was focused primarily on defense and did not balance out it's class offensively. 

Team B signs a class of 22 recruits.  While it is built mostly of 4-Star recruits, 6 of the recruits have 3-Star and not a single 5-Star recruit signed with them. 

Team B was able to fill all of it's recruiting needs and was able to land 11 recruits on both offense and defense, without overloading a specific position.

It is theoretically possible for Team A to be ranked lower than Team B because of the fact that Team B was able to fill its needs without overloading, and had more balance among it's recruits.   



ESPN ranks teams based off of two categories:  talent level and immediate need. 

Talent level:  An emphasis is placed on prospects from the ESPN 150 list.  The more prospects on the list, the better the class.  Recruits positional rankings are also factored in.

Immediate need:  Teams are rewarded for signing recruits that will fill an immediate need on their depth charts.

Only high school players count towards the ESPN team ranking.  Prep and JuCo recruits are listed, but they are not factored into the actual recruiting ranking.  They are noted, in that they provide depth, but the actual ranking is not based off of anything other than high school players.

Tom Luginbill heads ESPN's recruiting service.  He has modeled his ranking system off of ESPN's NFL Draft ranking system.  It sounds good in theory, but it leads to a very misguided set of rankings. 

College football is not the NFL.  The draft is not the same as recruiting.  It is almost impossible to accurately predict the two in the same way. 

Most freshman can't step into a college program and start.  It is also very difficult to depend on recruiting to fill an immediate team need.  Players like Terrelle Pryor and Julio Jones are exceptions, not the rule.



As before, it comes down to preference.  All three have their good sides and their bad.  There is no perfect way to rank the classes. 

Very seldom do all of the services agree on anything...not even the teams ranked in the top five.  A quick inspection of the current rankings shows three different top fives made up of seven different teams.  They emphasise different aspects of recruiting classes and their rankings reflect that. 

In the words of my father, "Pick your poison."


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