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 East rankings below fans will find where new additions UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU have been ranked in the team rankings while Pitt and Syracuse won't be included. Louisville and Rutgers are still slated to participate in the Big East in 2013 and therefore are a part of the league.
So what do the team recruiting rankings teach us about the Big East:
Rutgers has the "best" roster in the Big East and their best recruiting class in the last five years was 24th last season. In fact, the Knights' 2012 class was the Big East's only Top 25 recruiting class over the last five cycles. Only South Florida's 2009 class (29th) and Louisville's 2011 haul (29th) were even ranked in the top 30. Temple and UConn are the least talented rosters of the 75 "BCS" conference teams nationally and only Rutgers was better than 50th nationally. The Big East is widely considered the sixth-best league in the nation and the recruiting rankings only further illustrate that fact.
However, you can win with three-stars
The rankings indicate that this is clearly the least talented conference of the power leagues. However, eight of the 10 teams have an overall winning record over the last five seasons. Only Memphis has failed to win at least 30 games since 2008 and seven of the 10 have won either a share of a conference title (Cincinnati, Rutgers, Louisville, UConn, UCF) or, at least, a division championship (Houston, SMU). While none of the teams are nationally elite, all have been competitive on the field. In fact, the Big East has the best bowl record since the advent of the BCS (1998-2012) of any league in America 46-28 (61.2 percent).
Tommy Tuberville has some big shoes to fill
Mark Dantonio. Brian Kelly. Butch Jones. Cincinnati is the winningest team in the league over the last five years due in large part to those three men. They are responsible for building the Bearcats into a perennial Big East power despite ranking 57th nationally in terms of talent. Kelly won 23 games in 2008 and '09 before Jones won a share of two conference titles of his own in 2011 and '12. All three have gone on to coach bigger and better programs after producing the best win total in the league (47-18) over the last five years. Tuberville takes over as an established coach with a long track record at a school that now expects to win conference championships. And he is supposed to do it with less talent than the Kentucky Wildcats (56th).
South Florida needs a coach
The Bulls are third in the Big East in terms of talent and sit in the heart of the richest recruiting state in the nation. So there is absolutely no excuse for USF to be 10-25 in Big East play over the last five years. Ranking 54th nationally in talent doesn’t indicate that the Bulls should be competing with Florida State or Florida for national recognition, but it definitely means more than two Big East wins per year. The only team with a worse conference record over this span is Memphis.
Al Golden is legit
Temple is ranked dead last in the power conferences (75th) in terms of talent. Yet, the Owls are nine games over .500 (35-26) and have the fourth-best conference record of the bunch. Certainly, four of those years were played in the MAC, but Al Golden took a 1-11 team that hadn’t been to a bowl since 1979 and in three years built it into a division champion that won 17 games from 2009-10 and went to just the third bowl game in program history. Golden also deserves credit for building the 2011 bowl team as well as growing the program to a point where it was deemed worthy of (re-)entry into the Big East.
The newbies should be competitive
UCF is the fifth-most talented roster in the league. Houston is sixth, Houston is seventh and SMU is eighth. All four have recruited at a higher level than UConn and Temple — as well as former Big East team Syracuse and the Pac-12’s Washington State. And all but SMU rank ahead of Indiana, Northwestern and Boise State as well. This indicates that with added financial support and brand exposure the new Big East faces should be able to compete rather quickly in Big East recruiting.
Big East's National Team Recruiting Rankings Breakdown:
Avg Nat'l Rank