We have now had a couple years to process the effects of realignment. We've had time to get used to the idea of Nebraska playing Iowa instead of Kansas, Colorado's and Utah's new placement on the Pacific Ocean, and the SEC putting the Confederacy back together by adding Texas.
If (1) realignment is about increasing athletic department revenue, (2) football is the major driver of revenue, and (3) recruiting is the biggest determinant of football success, then this is a good time to examine an important question: how are the teams who switched conferences doing in recruiting?
As with our discussion of Michigan's and Ohio State's recruiting relative to the rest of the Big Ten, we are going to use the Rivals database as our source and we are going to use Very Highly Touted players (four- and five-stars) as a measure. We will also use overall class rankings.
Thus, the following chart looks at the seven programs that have joined one of the five major conferences in the last two years: Missouri, Texas A&M, West Virginia, TCU, Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah. We are comparing their recruiting classes since joining their new conferences against their five-year averages prior to changing horses in midstream. The chart consists of two numbers, the first of which is the ranking of that particular recruiting class and the second is the number of VHTs in the class. The post-move classes are in bold.
You want numbers? I give you numbers:
|2013 class ranking/VHTs||2012||2011||2010||2009||2008||2007||Pre-move 5-yr avg|
To figure out what, if anything we can glean from these numbers, it makes sense to look at each of our seven transient programs:
Missouri - Rather than seeing a bounce from joining the preeminent college football conference, the Tigers have seen a slight regression in their recruiting fortunes this year. Gary Pinkel's incoming class is clearly worse than four of his last six in the Big XII. One way to view this slight decline is to state simply that going 5-7 will do that to a program. The Tigers took their lumps in their first year in the SEC, which makes recruiting harder. Texas A&M illustrates the converse.
Another way to view the decline is that this was not a great year for talent in the Show Me State, as Rivals only gave three players four-star status. The state produced 26 VHTs in the six prior classes, an average of 4.3 per year. At a minimum, we can say that the first batch of evidence shows that joining the SEC has not led to a recruiting bounce for the Tigers. In contrast...
Texas A&M - The Aggies are killing it. Their class is not just their best in years, but it's better than the classes pulled in by any of the seven relocated programs since 2007. It turns out that going 11-2, handing Alabama its only loss, clobbering Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, and producing a Heisman-winning freshman quarterback who runs a fun, aggressive offense, all in a year in which Texas had four losses and relatively few scholarships, is good for recruiting. Who knew?
How much of this recruiting bounce is due to joining the SEC as opposed to all of the other factors going in the Aggies' favor right now? Your guess is as good as mine. It is worth noting that A&M's recruiting bounce is much bigger than that experienced by Missouri after the Tigers went 12-2 and almost played for the national title in 2007. It helps being in a talent-rich state, and it probably also helps being able to sell SEC football to recruits.
West Virginia - In terms of its ranking, the Mountaineers' class is as good as any since the last full Rich Rodriguez class, although it is a little lighter on VHTs than its five-year average. At a minimum, the class shows that Dana Holgorsen will be a reasonably good recruiter and will not suffer the fate of Rodriguez at Michigan (offensive guru who doesn't do enough on the recruiting trail to build or maintain success).
Is the class the net result of the 2011 Orange Bowl-winning campaign? Is there a slight bounce from joining the Big XII? Feel free to guess. One thing we can say confidently is that there is no evidence that joining the Big XII has given West Virginia a bounce in its new league's recruiting base. There is only one recruit from Texas in the Mountaineers' class: a three-star offensive lineman.
For more on WVU football, visit West Virginia blog The Smoking Musket.
TCU - As with West Virginia, TCU's first Big XII class is roughly consistent with its last several classes in terms of ranking (especially if you drop off its lower-rated 2007 and 2008 classes, both of which played a significant role in the Horned Frogs' unbeaten 2010 teams for those who like an example of a team succeeding without approval from Rivals). No major bounce from joining a major conference, but no regression either despite a sub-par season by Gary Patterson's standards.
For more on Horned Frogs football, visit TCU blog Frogs O' War.
Nebraska - Arguably the most interesting case of the seven. The Huskers' recruiting has taken a step back since joining the Big Ten, despite the fact that their results on the field have been fairly good. Their Big Ten classes have had, on average, two fewer VHTs and and marginally lower rank than their last five classes in the Big XII. Texas and Kansas, two Big XII states, were first and second on the lists of states from which Nebraska pulled VHTs in their last five years in the Big XII.
In the two classes since joining the Big Ten, those two states have dried up as sources for Nebraska, without being replaced by any Big Ten states:
|VHTs 2007-11||VHTs 2012-13|
Ohio would be the most logical replacement, since it is the most talent-rich state in the Big Ten and Bo Pelini is from Youngstown, but that has not played out over Nebraska's first two Big Ten classes. Ohio State and Michigan have been dominating Ohio recruiting for the last two classes. Perhaps Brady Hoke - an Ohio native - taking the Michigan job and re-focusing the program on its traditional recruiting grounds has been a bad development for Nebraska? Also, losing a four-star safety from Youngstown to Kentucky is a discouraging development, as is the Vince Marrow situation.
Two caveats bear mentioning. First, we are dealing with a small sample size here, and it's dangerous to draw too many conclusions. Second, Nebraska signed an excellent class in 2011 after its move to the Big Ten had been announced, so if you add that class into the Big Ten fold, then its post-move recruiting looks better.
Colorado - This is a train wreck that has little to do with joining the Pac-12. Colorado's teams were bad during the Dan Hawkins era and got worse under Jon Embree. Both this year's class and the Hawkins-Embree transition class have been poor. There have been 15 VHTs in the state of Colorado in the last four classes, and the Buffs have not signed one of them.
In theory, Colorado's move to the Pac-12 should work because it links the Buffs to California, the state that acted as the program's recruiting base during its heyday under Bill McCartney. However, this program has to crawl before it can walk, which means improving results on the field and doing a better job of keeping the middling levels of top talent in the state at home.
Utah - The Utes have been recruiting at a fairly steady, respectable level since the January 2010 class, the first full class following Utah's 13-0 season in 2008 that culminated with a destruction of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. (Seems like ages ago when that was possible, doesn't it?) Utah's first two classes in the Pac-12 have been roughly equivalent to its last two classes in the Mountain West, but by the same token, its classes have not taken a hit despite going 7-11 in conference games in their first two years.
On the whole, we can say that Utah's recruiting has been fairly good in recent years, but the question is whether that is the result of the conference move or a sustained bounce from their 2008 season (and the pair and 10-3 seasons that followed it).
As with the other six migrants, the sample size is small and there are a number of different factors at play. The answer for the majority of programs will simply be: it depends.
How do you foresee the affects of conference realignment playing out on the recruiting trail for these programs and others?
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