There are 65 “big six” teams, plus Notre Dame, in major college football. This means that any mid-major which can finish in the top 66 can be considered to have had a good recruiting class. Conversely, any “big six” program that finishes anywhere below that figure could be said to have had a down year.
Looking at the rankings for the national recruiting classes (based on Rivals.com's rankings for the last five years), several things stand out.
It is difficult for any mid-major to consistently recruit in the top 66, and almost equally unlikely for teams from the major conferences to continuously have down years.
Here are the mid-majors that have finished on average in the top 66 for the past five years.
1. Southern Miss: 56.6
2. Utah: 58
3. BYU: 63.8
4. Central Florida: 65.2
Noticeably absent from the above list is Boise State, which, despite having the highest winning percentage in Bowl Subdivision Football the past 10 years, has only managed to pull its average recruiting ranking up to 72.
TCU, with an average rank of 68, also just missed out. TCU is the ninth winningest Division I team of the past 10 seasons.
Surprisingly, Troy State Univ. just missed being put on the list. Its average ranking, for a team from a conference considered the weakest in the country and that has yet to put itself in the national spotlight, is a very respectable 68.8.
Tulsa also did not make the list but seems to be on an upward trend in recruiting
Overall, the teams making the list played well the past four years, with BYU and Utah having a combined winning percentage of about 73 percent. Southern Miss, with a winning percentage of 67 percent, is doing well also. However, UCF, with a winning percentage of only slightly over 50 percent, would seem to be underperforming.
Southern Miss and UCF, though, are in a much more competitive conference than the Mountain West couple. Their non-conference schedules are also extremely tough, so this may account partly for their relatively lower performances.
In general the mid-majors had a very good recruiting year in 2009, with the nine teams listed below all making it into the top 66.
Here are the big six teams that have averaged recruiting finishes lower than 66.
1. Cincinnati: 82.4
2. Indiana: 78
3. Vanderbilt: 76.4
4. Connecticut: 75
5. Wake Forest: 70.2
Looking at the above list, Wake Forest and Cincinnati appear to be huge overachievers. Wake has won almost 63 percent of its contests, while the Bearcats have won almost 65 percent. Both teams have undoubtedly benefited from playing in conferences that have been relatively weak the past four years.
It may be a bit of a surprise to not see perennial doormats Duke (59.2), Baylor (59.4), or Northwestern (63.4) on the list of poor recruiters. These three teams consistently recruit in the top 66 and rarely have terrible recruiting classes. The worst showing among them is an 81 ranking by Northwestern in 2006. Baylor has not fallen outside the first 66 at all in the past five years.
Still, these three teams have only won a combined 33 percent of their games over the last four seasons.
Not on the list but definitely on downward trends are Purdue, Louisville, and Syracuse.
South Florida continues on an upward trend, which for the most part began when they started playing Division I football in 2001.
There has been a lot of bleating about whether the Mountain West should get an automatic bid to the BCS and whether or not the automatic bid should be taken away from the Big East. Personally, I think the fewer automatic bids the better. However, if one is considering giving an automatic bid to another conference, then Conference USA would probably be a better choice than the Mountain West.
The Mountain West is top heavy with a large gap between the quality of the big three and the rest of the conference. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Wyoming or the Air Force Academy can ever be competitive against good Division I competition.
Conference USA is a competitive conference from top to bottom and put five teams in the top 66. That is the same number the Big East managed. Conference USA overall plays a very tough non-conference schedule with many games against the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12.
With one school in Florida, three in Texas, and the rest located mostly in the South, the conference has great potential. In addition, the conference has a championship game.
One recruiting year is not going to make or break a team or a conference, but it is clear that Conference USA is on an uptrend and the Big East is on a downtrend.