Success on the field doesn't necessarily equate recruiting success. You would think it does -- after all, Alabama has brought in the best recruiting class four years in a row (despite Nick Saban's complaints that winning national titles costs him recruiting time). But often, teams coming off losing seasons can sell playing time and, for local recruits, the chance to become a hometown hero by being a part of a return to excellence.
TCU head coach Gary Patterson was on the flip-side of Saban's complaint. His Horned Frogs missed a bowl game in 2013, and he said it helped their recruiting effort:
"We had more time in December to go back and evaluate all the kids in the state, and we did a better job of it," Patterson finished.
Tennessee and Florida both brought in top-10 classes in 2014 despite missing bowl games the year before, while Virginia was able to bring in the top safety in the country and the top defensive tackle in the country despite a 2-10 record in 2013.
The teams at the top of the game generally recruit well -- four of the top six teams in the 2014 recruiting rankings played in BCS bowls after the 2013 season, and the other two (LSU and Texas A&M) played in major non-BCS bowls.
But do teams that miss bowls recruit better than teams that make lower-tier ones? Let's take a look, comparing each team's ranking in the consensus as determined by the 247 Sports Composite with its average from the previous five cycles.
We've broken the bowls out not by prestige, but by the calendar, since both Saban and Patterson observed that bowl preparation time cut into recruiting.
|ACC||January bowl||December bowl||No bowl|
|Above five-year average||Florida State**||Miami, Louisville*, Pittsburgh*, Syracuse*, Boston College, Duke||Virginia, NC State, Wake Forest|
|Below five-year average||UNC, Georgia Tech|
|Big Ten||January bowl||December bowl||No bowl|
|Above five-year average||Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin||Penn State***, Northwestern, Indiana|
|Below five-year average||Nebraska*, Iowa||Michigan, Maryland*, Minnesota, Rutgers*||Illinois, Purdue|
|Big 12||January bowl||December bowl||No bowl|
|Above five-year average||Baylor, Oklahoma State||Kansas State||West Virginia*, Iowa State|
|Below five-year average||Oklahoma||Texas, Texas Tech||TCU*, Kansas|
|Pac-12||January bowl||December bowl||No bowl|
|Above five-year average||Stanford||Arizona State, Arizona|
|Below five-year average||USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Washington State||California, Utah*, Colorado*|
|SEC||January bowl||December bowl||No bowl|
|Above five-year average||Alabama, Texas A&M*, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt||Ole Miss||Tennessee, Kentucky|
|Below five-year average||Georgia, Missouri*||Mississippi State||Florida, Arkansas|
*The results for teams that have recently moved conferences are decidedly mixed. Five teams saw improvements on the recruiting trail, while seven actually brought in worse-than-average classes.
**Clemson directly tied its five-year recruiting average this season, so the Tigers are not counted in the final tally.
***Penn State won enough games for a lesser bowl berth, but did not play in a postseason game due to NCAA sanctions.
|Above average||Below average|
What have we learned?
Success on the field goes a long way. The top-ranked recruiting class in every major conference besides the Pac-12 belonged to a team that played in a BCS bowl game. While bowls happen too close to Signing Day to make or break a whole recruiting class, playing in top games and drawing top players go hand in hand.
Teams that make December bowl games could be at a slight disadvantage compared to teams that don't make any at all, backing up the claims of Saban and Patterson. The branding gains of making a January bowl (as Saban did) could make up for lost recruiting time, while the minimal gains from a minor bowl game might not be worth that lost time. If Saban and Patterson are right, then bowls are all-or-nothing affairs.
Ultimately, recruiting is a complex process, and one that can't simply be attributed to one reason or another. It's certainly possible for teams in December bowls to still recruit well -- obviously, 10 of them did it -- but it would appear that the extra time in that month can go a long way towards improving your program for the future.
Obviously, we'd need to look much more in-depth into the data over the course of several years to figure out the actual effects of bowls on recruiting, but this initial look suggests Patterson and Saban might not be bluffing.