Overachievers, Underachievers: Recruiting and Performance in 2008

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Overachievers, Underachievers: Recruiting and Performance in 2008

Every February, we make a big deal about recruiting rankings as the next college football class signs with their prospective schools.  But rarely do we look back in time to see who did the best with the recruits they got.

After all, a slew of five-star signees means nothing without five-star results on the field.

In short, I wanted to know which programs have overachieved this season given their recruiting results and which programs have underachieved.  It's easy to say Northwestern for the former or Notre Dame for the latter, but how about the rest of the Division?

The first step in finding out which programs are most efficient with their recruits is finding a way to gauge recruiting classes that would affect the current roster.  No single year can define a roster that includes players across years, nor can a simple aggregate sum.

For simplicity sake, I derived a simple formula that accounts for two factors: 1) that seniors contribute more than sophomores or freshman and 2) that 5th-year seniors exist, but aren't normally as prominent in a team's success as juniors or seniors.

I opted to weigh recruiting class rankings accordingly: 4th-year players at a multiple of 4, 3rd-year players at a multiple of 3, 2nd-year and 5th-year players (as most of the 5th-year class is gone) at a multiple of 2, and 1st-year players at a multiple of 1.

Using Scout.com's team recruiting rankings, I assigned a value of 100 for the top-ranked recruiting class, 99 for the 2nd class, and so on.  With the formula above, this gives a maximum 1200 points for any team ranked first every year.

To keep matters simply, I only calculated BCS-conference teams.  Though it may seem complicated, it isn't.  In short, here are the top ten recruiting programs affecting 2008 rosters:

  1. USC (1170 points)
  2. Michigan (1141 points)
  3. Georgia (1133 points)
  4. Florida (1132 points)
  5. Texas (1109 points)
  6. LSU (1094 points)
  7. Ohio State (1087 points)
  8. Miami-Florida (1087 points)
  9. Oklahoma (1084 points)
  10. Florida State (1082 points)

Seems fairly accurate when it comes to recruiting, right?

Once I'd figured all these out for all 66 BCS-conference teams (plus Notre Dame), I ranked them compared to the current BCS rankings (using Rich Tellshow's numbers for all 120 teams).  Again, for simplicity sake, I cut the BCS down and considered only BCS-conference teams (so instead of being 117th, Washington is only 66th).

Then, to answer my question about efficiency, I found the difference between the general recruiting ranking for 2004-2008 and the current BCS ranking.

So who is the most " efficient" or "overachieving" college football team?  Cincinnati, and it's not really close.  The Bearcats rank 16th in the current BCS even though their recruiting for this year was 64th out of 66 BCS teams.

The worst should surprise no one.  The Michigan Wolverines, whose recruiting rankings are inflated by guys like Ryan Mallett (as well they should be, if we're looking for program efficiency), had the second-best recruiting numbers and the sixth-worst performance out of BCS schools.

(Full list on the next page)

Here is the entire list, with the differential between their recruiting rank and performance rank in parenthesis:

  1. Cincinnati (+52)
  2. Northwestern (+37)
  3. Oregon State (+34)
  4. UCONN (+34)
  5. Missouri (+33)
  6. Boston College (+33)
  7. Vanderbilt (+30)
  8. Wake Forest (+29)
  9. Oklahoma State (+28)
  10. Texas Tech (+25)
  11. Michigan State (+24)
  12. Georgia Tech (+23)
  13. Kansas (+21)
  14. Kentucky (+16)
  15. Rutgers (+16)
  16. Minnesota (+14)
  17. South Florida (+13)
  18. Alabama (+11)
  19. West Virginia (+11)
  20. Penn State (+10)
  21. Baylor (+9)
  22. Oregon (+7)
  23. Oklahoma (+6)
  24. Duke (+4)
  25. Indiana (+4)
  26. Texas (+3)
  27. North Carolina (+3)
  28. Colorado (+2)
  29. Maryland (+1)
  30. Florida (0)
  31. Ohio State (0)
  32. Pittsburgh (0)
  33. Wisconsin (-2)
  34. Louisville (-2)
  35. Kansas State (-2)
  36. South Carolina (-3)
  37. Virginia Tech (-3)
  38. Florida State (-4)
  39. Virginia (-4)
  40. USC (-5)
  41. Iowa State (-5)
  42. Georgia (-6)
  43. Mississippi (-6)
  44. Iowa (-6)
  45. Stanford (-7)
  46. Nebraska (-8)
  47. Louisiana State (-10)
  48. Purdue (-10)
  49. Syracuse (-10)
  50. NC State (-11)
  51. California (-13)
  52. Clemson (-13)
  53. Illinois (-13)
  54. Miami (-14)
  55. Arizona (-16)
  56. Washington State (-17)
  57. Mississippi State (-18)
  58. Arkansas (-20)
  59. Arizona State (-26)
  60. Notre Dame (-28)
  61. Washington (-29)
  62. UCLA (-38)
  63. Auburn (-39)
  64. Texas A&M (-41)
  65. Tennessee (-45)
  66. Michigan (-59)

Some key points:

  • I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the possibility that recruiting rankings are biased.  If you look at the list, it appears there's a slight southern bias, especially with respect to schools that recruit the  south or California heavily.
  • It's easy for us (fans, media, boosters) to forget a school's actual position in the college football world given success the previous year. Despite having "disappointing" seasons, schools like Missouri, Kansas, Wake Forest, and Rutgers are actually doing better than they "should" be.
  • Yes, Indiana really is outplaying its recruiting relative to BCS conference schools.  This is because Indiana had the worst recruiting score at a paltry 340.  The next lowest were Vanderbilt (353), Cincinnati (361), UCONN (444), Baylor (454), and Wake Forest (462).  If your recruiting is completely inadequate and you take the field in a BCS conference, winning just a few games pushes you past expectations the way the rankings work.
  • Schools like Boston College and Wisconsin traditionally play much better than their recruiting, so it becomes easy to lump them in with their conferences and assume they're recruiting as well as the others.
  • Aggregate conference efficiencies are as follows: Big East 114, Big XII 71, ACC 44, Big Ten -1, SEC -90, Pac-10 -110.  This further suggests a possible recruiting bias towards the west coast and southeast.
  • For the curiosity of the statistics geeks out there, the statistical correlation between the raw recruiting score I calculated and current BCS ranking is 0.35.

For all the fuss the gurus make about recruiting, it's equally important to have a staff that can cultivate that talent into a special football team.  After all, who would you rather have take the field for you, the two-star players at Northwestern or the four-star players at Michigan who lost to them on their home field?

That, to me, is how you determine the merits of one program versus another long after the hoopla surrounding letters of intent is gone.

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