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Are college football recruiting rankings really that important?

Josh Allen celebrates with UK fans after the South Carolina win. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

National Signing Day for college football is always an interesting time of the year. It’s interesting because, like sending guys to the NBA in college basketball, it is an area that fans, analysts and even some coaches like to brag about. But do recruiting class rankings really have a correlation to how a football team will perform in the future? Let’s take a look.

First of all since UK plays in the SEC East  and the SEC historically has the most teams included in the Top 10 of college football recruiting. Alabama is generally No. 1 or No. 2 in the overall recruiting rankings nationwide and they are generally the No. 1 or No. 2 ranked team by the end of the season so there seems to be a pretty good correlation for the top ranked team between recruiting rankings and actual ranking.

But what about teams that are farther down the food chain. Kentucky Football over the last six years has never had a recruiting class rated higher than 10t in the SEC out of 14 teams. Based on those numbers that means generally UK should never finish higher than 10th in the SEC over that same six year time span. But is that reality? The facts say no.

Kentucky has finished 10th or lower in only two of those six years under Mark Stoops. Both of those 10th or below finishes occurred in the first two years of the Stoops era when he was still cleaning up the mess left by former UK Head Coach Joker Phillips. The Cats average record in the SEC over that time period is 3-5 with an average finish of eighth in the SEC.

So maybe Kentucky’s results are an outlier and don’t represent other teams in the SEC East. Let’s see.

In looking at other teams that have been middle of the pack — two of which have been traditional powers and two that have not been — it seems that they show similar results. Tennessee — a traditional SEC power until recently — has generally always had highly rated recruiting classes. In fact the UT classes over that same six year period – from 2013 to 2018 – have averaged about 6.6 out of 14 teams. During that same time period the Volunteers have finished on average about 10th in the SEC with an average record of 3-5 in the SEC. So those sixth rated recruiting classes in the SEC don’t appear to be paying off in Rocky Top Land.

But what about a couple of the other main competitors for UK — South Carolina and Missouri.  South Carolina was a football power in the SEC during the Steve Spurrier era. Their recruiting classes averaged 8.5 in the SEC and their average finish in the SEC was eighth with an average record of 4-4. So pretty good correlation there.

The last school to be evaluated — Missouri — seems to be a team similar to UK. They are not known as a football power as evidenced by their pretty anemic average recruiting class ranking of thirteenth in the SEC over that six year period and yet over that time period they have won the SEC East title twice and finished fourth in the East two of the other four years. Their average SEC record has been 4-4 over that six year period.

Based on the facts it appears that recruiting class rankings don’t appear to have much correlation with how a team that is not rated No 1 or 2 in recruiting is going to finish in the years that follow. In fact it appears that some teams — like Missouri and UK — are much better at evaluating and developing talent than some of the other more traditional football schools like UT or South Carolina based on their recruiting class rankings versus their actual finishes in the years that followed.

So the next time you see an article that touts this school or that school as moving up in the recruiting rankings or your favorite school not doing so well don’t celebrate and certainly don’t panic. It seems that unless your school is in the top five or the bottom twenty generally it appears that a school will be successful more on how well the coaching staff can evaluate and develop talent to meet their individual needs and scheme rather than what recruiting analysts believe are the top players in the country.

It also appears that teams that can maintain some consistency in the coaching staff — as UK and Missouri have done — do a better job of getting the most out of the players they do recruit.

Either way — as much as I love to see what players sign with which school on National Signing Day — it appears that developing talent in the weight room and on the practice field are equally, if not more important to winning, than how analysts rate the most recent recruiting class.

1 comment

  1. Sell that to Nick Saban, Dalbo Sweeney, Kelly at ND, Smart at Georgia, etc. and the other top football powers in the nation. Year in and year out these same teams appear in the top 10 in recruiting the best players, with heavy 4 star and 5 star talent added to already loaded rosters. These same teams seem to be the ones in the hunt for the national championship every year too. Why is that, because they sign top classes with great talent far above everybody else, and do it every year. Just like Calipari does in signing the best basketball talent. Cal don’t go after many 3 star and 4 star guys, if any. He generally has a roster full of talent that far exceeds other programs.

    Of course it is about developing the good and above average football players in any class. It does start in the weight room, and with coaching, to make and mold them into a good football team. But signing a top 10 recruiting class in football year in and year out is the magic formula that pays great dividends. You will never convince this old boy any different. Stoops is doing OK, but UK needs more football talent than they are signing to challenge the nation’s elite programs.

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