Do recruiting rankings matter? The answer is a resounding "Yes!"
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the old, stodgy curmudgeon who refuses to acknowledge that society moves forward.
Don’t ignore facts, research and statistical data because of some longing for the days of the Wing-T and leather helmets. Don’t let an anecdotal stat about the Super Bowl starting lineups, lazy reporting on the NFL Draft or an undefeated season from Boise State blind you to the truth.
Recruiting matters and so do the rankings. More importantly, this isn’t an opinion.
It’s a fact.
Does it take great coaching, quality development, a conglomerate of hard-working support staffers and even a bit of luck to win a championship? Are recruiting rankings an inexact science filled with busts?
Of course, but to win championships in college football, it takes great players. In general, teams with better players according to the recruiting rankings win more games and players who have more stars are more likely to get drafted.
Again, those aren’t opinions.
The 2014 College Football Playoff featured three of the top four rosters according to the recruiting rankings. Based on the last five classes, Alabama had the No. 1 roster in the nation in ‘14, Florida State was No. 2 and Ohio State was No. 4 nationally. Oregon wasn’t far behind with the 14th-ranked roster in America.
Both Florida State (No. 5) and Auburn (No. 10) had two of the top 10 rosters in the nation a year earlier based on the same criteria and they met in the ’13 BCS title game. In 2011, Alabama and LSU were two of the top three rosters in the nation based on the previous five recruiting classes. They met in the BCS title game that year and only lost to each other. Notre Dame vs. Alabama? Yup, both top-10 rosters.
Additionally, signing the No. 1 class in the nation has historically produced national titles.
Since 2002 (as far back as Rivals.com team rankings go), nearly every team that landed a No. 1 class in the nation eventually won a national championship. Texas signed the top class in 2002 and won a title three years later. LSU signed the top class in 2003 and won two titles with those players. USC inked the top class in 2004 and played in back-to-back title games. Florida won the recruiting championship in 2007 and the BCS championship in '08. Alabama claimed three national championships after winning four recruiting titles in between 2008-12.
Further, every single BCS national champion had at least two top-10 classes in the four years leading up to its championship season.
Still need more?
The good folks at SB Nation — Matt Hinton and Bud Elliott — have done marvelous work breaking down the statistics as it relates to recruiting rankings. I suggest reading the articles, but the gist of their research reveals two telling and undeniable truths: 1) Teams with better recruiting classes win more games and 2) players with more stars are more likely to be drafted.
Working with the top 75 teams in the nation — the six “BCS” leagues, Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU — Hinton plotted out where those teams ranked in recruiting and what happened when they played each other. In nearly 1,500 matchups between 2010-13, the “higher-ranked team according to the recruiting rankings won roughly two-thirds of the time” and the larger the talent differential, the easier it was to predict wins and losses. To quote the author, "it's a landslide."
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:
Essentially, in a world where it’s nearly impossible to predict outcomes, picking games based purely on star rankings is actually your best bet.
There are roughly 4,500 scholarships signed each National Signing Day with about 30 prospects receiving the heralded five-star ranking. An additional 400 will get four stars while the other 4,000 check in as three- or two-star prospects. So when a stat says only 16 five-stars were drafted against 71 two-stars (like in 2014), it’s utterly lazy reporting.
Elliott provides the real data. The ratios indicate that four- and five-star recruits are 995 percent more likely to be drafted in the first round than a three- or two-star prospect. Additionally, based on the 2014 NFL Draft, a five-star recruit has a 60 percent chance of getting drafted (16 of 27) and a four-star has a 20 percent opportunity (77 of 395). Meanwhile, three-star recruits have just a 5.5 percent chance (92 of 1644) and two-stars/unranked players have less than a three-percent likelihood of getting drafted (71 of 2,434).
I’m no mathematician but 60 is significantly larger than 2.9.
Three of the best four rosters in the sport, according to the rankings, eventually filled playoff spots this year. Landing the top class has led directly to competing for a national title over the last 10 years. Higher ranked recruiting classes regularly defeat lower ranked classes at nearly a 70 percent clip. And higher ranked prospects are significantly more likely to get drafted by the NFL than lower ranked ones.
Recruiting at an elite level doesn’t guarantee success. Bad coaches underachieve with great players all the time. But no one has won a national title without elite talent.
So if you don’t like glorifying teenagers or pompous announcement ceremonies, that’s fair and totally acceptable. But don’t lie to yourself about the value of the rankings.
Remember, facts not opinions.