Preseason prognosticators like Athlon Sports — the most accurate college football preview magazine on newsstands — use many things to attempt to predict what the coming football season will look like. Returning starters, scheduling, historic trends, coaching, pending off-the-field issues and, of course, recruiting rankings all help Athlon editors predict the future of college football.
Recruiting rankings have their detractors. Yes, evaluating 16- and 17-year-old kids is an inexact science. No, star rankings aren’t the only thing that matters. Yes, leadership (e.g., Nick Saban) is more important than national recruiting rankings (See Auburn).
But using national team recruiting rankings to attempt to pinpoint how “talented” any given roster is an interesting and illuminating practice.
For the sake of this discussion, the 2013 conference alignment was used to calculate, rank and organize teams and leagues. Rivals.com national team rankings over a five-year span (2008-12) were used for the sake of consistency. And the 72 “BCS” conference teams as well as Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU were used to form the 75-team ranking.
Therefore, in the Big 12 rankings below fans will find where TCU and West Virginia have been ranked in the team rankings while Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri are not included.
So what do the team recruiting rankings teach us about the Big 12:
Mack Brown is doing something wrong
There are two rosters in the nation that are better than Mack Brown’s according to the team composite recruiting rankings. Alabama and USC are the only two teams to have recruited better than Texas since 2008. Yet, the Longhorns are 26-16 in the last five years in Big 12 play, and what’s worse, are just 11-15 in the last three years (Texas went 15-1 in 2008-09). Yes, he took Texas to two BCS title games in a four-year span, but after multiple changes on his staff, Brown’s teams have massively underachieved for three straight seasons. Once again, Brown will enter this season with new coaches on his sideline, and once again, the pressure will be on his team to achieve. Especially, considering what Art Briles, Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy have done with much lesser talent.
Bill Snyder is the greatest coach on the planet
Of the 75 teams ranked in this study, the Wildcats claim the 60th best roster in the nation. Iowa State is the only team with a “worse” roster in the Big 12. Kansas State ranks well behind a number of struggling programs like Maryland (33rd) and Colorado (49th) nationally and is looking up at in-state rival Kansas (44th) in terms of overall talent. Yet, the Jayhawks have won just two of their last 32 Big 12 games while Snyder’s squad is 22-12 over that span. The ageless wonder hasn’t had a losing season in his second stint in Manhattan and is proving in remarkable — and championship — fashion why his name is atop the stadium in the Little Apple. No coach has done more with less nationally than Bill Snyder.
Oklahoma State better keep Mike Gundy happy
After Gundy flirted with the SEC this offseason, the powers that be in Stillwater locked him up for the long term. And rightly so. His team is 49-16 overall and 30-12 in the Big 12 over the last five years and Gundy has done it without one Top 25 recruiting class. His best class was 26th in 2008 and the Cowboys sit at an average national ranking of 30.6 over the last five years. Yet, he continues to produce huge numbers — Okie State had three 1,000-yard passers in 2012 — and win games. Only the Sooners (32-10) and Bob Stoops have a better Big 12 record over the last five years than Oklahoma State. There is no reason for Gundy to leave his alma mater, so imagine what he could do if he has enough time to build his brand to a point where he is landing top 10 classes?
This isn’t the Mountain West… or Big East
West Virginia was 20-8 and never lost more than two games in conference play the four years prior to joining the Big 12. TCU was 30-1 in the Mountain West over that same span. But in year one of Big 12 play, these two combined for 10 league losses in 2012 and will be facing the Big 12 big boys from now on. There is good news, however, as Gary Patterson appears to be growing the Horned Frogs’ brand on the recruiting trail, going from 96th to 26th in the recruiting rankings from 2008 to 2011. West Virginia is currently ranked fifth in the Big 12 in terms of talent, meaning, they were recruiting at a comparable level to most of the Big 12 prior to entering the league. Good things will come, but clearly an adjustment period is to be expected.
Underachieve doesn’t even begin to describe Kansas
Want some perspective on how poorly Kansas has played the last five seasons? The Jayhawks rank ahead of Wisconsin, Louisville, Boise State, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, TCU and, most importantly, Kansas State in terms of talent. But they have won a total of six league games — four of which came in 2008 — over the last five years. The Jayhawks are 2-32 in their last four Big 12 seasons and have out-recruited the likes of Baylor, TCU and Kansas State. These rankings don’t even include landing two of the best QB prospects in the nation the last few seasons in transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps. Where is Mark Mangino’s tough love now?
Big 12's National Team Recruiting Rankings Breakdown:
Avg Nat'l Rank