How Much Does Winning a National Championship Help in Recruiting?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2015

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, right, and The Associated Press' east regional director Eva Parziale hold up The Associated Press college football national championship trophy during a celebration of the Buckeye's 2014 College Football Playoff national champion  at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Paul Vernon/Associated Press

If fans of Ohio State, the first College Football Playoff national champion, are looking for a recruiting bump, they're going to be disappointed.

Recruiting is a tricky sport. How a class shapes up depends on a number of things: coaching staff, fit, facilities, playbook and academics, among many other factors. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said as much after winning this year's national title:

I can't wait to go out recruiting. You can't recruit to this now, you're officially a bad recruiter, and not just because of the championship. There's just so much going on in our program right now on the positive side, and it's not theory, it's testimony, and the greatest testimony is right over here (pointing at Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott).

Those are our biggest salesmen, not just football, but the whole life-after-football approach we take, all the leadership training, all the cutting-edge stuff that this program has taken on.

How much does winning a national championship play into success on the recruiting trail? On paper, not as much as you'd think.

Cardale Jones (left) and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cardale Jones (left) and Ezekiel Elliott.Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

Sure, everyone wants to play for a winner. It is a factor. Blue-blood programs get the best recruits for a reason. However, teams that win a national championship haven't consistently fared better on the recruiting trail afterward.

Kevin McGuire at College Football Talk examined the immediate impact that winning a national title had on recruiting using Rivals.com rankings. Because we here at Bleacher Report use 247Sports rankings, the actual numbers are a little different:

National Recruiting Rankings
National Champion (season)Pre-Title Class (247)Post-Title Class (247)Pre-Title Class (Rivals)Post-Title Class (Rivals)
Texas (2005)No. 13No. 5No. 20No. 5
Florida (2006)No. 2No. 1No. 2No.1
LSU (2007)No. 5No. 12No. 4No. 11
Florida (2008)No. 6No. 7No. 3No. 11
Alabama (2009)No. 2No. 5No. 1No. 5
Auburn (2010)No. 6No. 5No. 4No. 7
Alabama (2011)No. 1No. 1No. 1No. 1
Alabama (2012)No. 1No. 1No. 1No. 1
Florida State (2013)No. 10No. 4No. 10No. 4
Ohio State (2014)No. 3No. 7 (incomplete)No. 3No. 7 (incomplete)
247sports.com, Rivals.com

Overall, though, there are two takeaways.

First, look at who's winning the national titles. There are no underdogs like Boise State, nor are there new-money teams like Baylor or Oregon. Argue brand favoritism in the BCS and/or College Football Playoff if you must, but generally, blue bloods are the ones taking home the most sought-after trophy in college football.

Secondly, the recruiting classes for those programs immediately following a national championship don't reflect a huge bump. With the exception of Texas between 2005 and '06, there's no real seismic movement on the table.

Vince Young, in 2005.
Vince Young, in 2005.DAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press

In fact, program-defining classes often come before a national title. A good example of this is the list of the 10 best recruiting classes of the past decade by B/R's Brian Leigh.

Furthermore, recruiting classes are based upon need as much as anything. If Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher got what he needed in a class—for the most part, there's rarely, if ever, such a thing as getting everyone you want—the difference between being ranked No. 4 and No. 10 is nothing to him.

Still, it takes more than one class to build a championship-caliber program. A deeper dive shows that LSU, Florida, Alabama and Auburn—four non-repeat national champs between 2007-10—generally recruited top-15 classes more often than not before and after national titles.

In the table below, those teams' classes from four years before a championship (Year -3 to Year 0) were compared to four years after (Year +1 to +4):

Post-National Title Recruiting Classes (Non-Repeats)
Team (Season)Year -3Year -2Year -1Year 0AverageYear +1Year +2Year +3Year +4AverageDifference
LSU (2007)No. 3No. 15No. 9No. 5No. 8No. 12No. 1No. 8No. 8No. 7+1
Florida (2008)No. 12No. 2No. 1No. 6No. 5No. 7No. 1No. 12No. 4No. 6-1
Alabama (2009)No. 15No. 13No. 3No. 2No. 8No. 5No. 1No. 1No. 1No. 2+6
Auburn (2010)No. 10No. 24No. 23No. 6No. 16No. 5No. 11No. 13No. 6No. 9+7
247Sports.com

To no one's surprise, Auburn was the biggest benefactor on the recruiting trail after winning the 2011 BCS National Championship. The Tigers were also the most erratic team in the sample, with three head coaches (Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn) in an eight-year span.

Alabama's bump can be attributed almost exclusively to the hire of head coach Nick Saban for the 2007 season.

Florida State and Ohio State's post-title recruiting stories have yet to be fully told. Both programs recruited top-10 classes regularly before winning a national championship for the 2013 and '14 seasons, respectively. To say that the Seminoles and the Buckeyes will get a bump from their recent success is premature.

Frankly, it's likely not to be fully accurate, either.

When it comes to recruiting, it's easier to look at the big picture instead of specifics. Otherwise, you'll experience paralysis by analysis and your head might explode. That's why so many outlets use the star system and class rankings to project how good a class will be.

Auburn's Cam Newton.
Auburn's Cam Newton.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Yes, it's an inexact science for evaluating players. For example, most of the participants in this year's Super Bowl were 2- and-3-star recruits, according to the findings of Bud Elliott and Peter Berkes of SB Nation.

But the star system does have its purpose. Matt Hinton of Football Study Hall explains why:

Not to take all the fun out of it, but in practice, drawing conclusions from recruiting rankings is the rough equivalent of selling health insurance. Both industries are in the business of predicting the future on a large scaleof making bets, essentiallyand both have sound, proven criteria for guaranteeing they bet right more often than they bet wrong.

Occasionally, of course, certain individuals will defy that criteria: A lifelong smoker who eats fast food every day may live to be 90 years old. A vegetarian who exercises every day may suddenly drop dead at 50. But when you're dealing with large groups of individuals, say, 1,000 smokers vs. 600 vegetarians, then the results become very, very predictable.

If you're a blue-blood program recruiting at a high level, there may be an initial bump in the following year's class ranking—which could be a result of a number of things. In the long term, though, college football's best programs will haul in top classes more often than not, depending on the circumstances.

It doesn't solely revolve around winning a national title.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com unless noted otherwise.