Recruiting rankings are based on the quality of the players in the class, as well as the size of the class. They are pretty accurate at the end of the year when all classes are finished, but with several months left before signing day, some classes are only half-full. Right now, it's like a stagger-start race, tough to tell who is really in front until the home stretch. Granted, the rankings sites don't claim that their team rankings are perfect at this point in the year, but many arguments pop up on message boards rooted in these rankings.
We'll use Rivals.com for this analysis, because the data is easily sortable. This allows us to see how well a team is doing without being influenced by the size of the class.
These teams look good in the traditional ratings because they have so many players, but will slide as signing day approaches and other teams sign more players. They don't have a high quality of player, on average, than classes ranked far below them.
The Miami Hurricanes currently have the 10th-rated class by Rivals, but they rank just 22nd in player quality. 19 of the Canes' 25 commitments rate as three stars or fewer. This is a good class, but is not among the elites so far, and it is difficult to see this class staying in the top 10.
The Arizona State Sun Devils come in with a top-30 class (29th) per the traditional rankings, but are just 42nd in player quality. The Sun Devils do have three unranked players (see disclaimers, below), but of the 21 that have been rated, 18 are rated as three stars or fewer. With 24 commitments, this class is almost finished and is unlikely to rise in the rankings as other teams continue to add players.
Purdue has almost the exact same profile as Arizona State (top-30 class without being top-40 in the player quality rankings). With 22 commitments, Purdue is just about done, and has yet to land a single 4-star player.
Our final two come from the state of Virginia. The Virginia Tech Hokies and the Virginia Cavaliers both have top-20 classes (12th and 18th, respectively). Yet both will likely struggle to remain in the top 20 because of the lack of quality, as Virginia Tech ranks just 31st in player quality and Virginia places 45th. These aren't bad classes, but they aren't worthy of the hype being given to them as this point, as the high rankings result mostly from class size and not elite talent. The Hokies, however, seem better positioned to add elite talent down the stretch than the 'Hoos, with tackle Korren Kirven and athlete Joel Caleb giving serious consideration to playing in Blacksburg.
Quality Over Quantity
How about teams doing an excellent job on a per-player basis, but which aren't receiving much ranking love so far because of small class size? These teams should continue to improve as they sign more prospects, assuming they keep up the level of quality.
With an eight-man class, the California Golden Bears are just 37th in Rivals' rankings. But they are seventh on a per-player basis, as half of those eight are rated as four stars or better. If Cal keeps this level of quality and closes strong, the Bears will rocket up the rankings.
Staying in the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks rate just 35th with an 11-player class. Oregon is 14th in player-quality, however, with 5 of its 11 commitments rated as four stars or better. The Ducks traditionally finish strong and it would be a shock if they don't finish in the top 25 when the ink is dry.
The Wisconsin Badgers' 12-man class comes in 28th. But there are some excellent players on this list, and six of the 12 are rated as four stars or better. On a per-player basis, Wisconsin is 10th nationally, which is much better than that to which Badger fans are accustomed. Plus, new commitment Reggie Love is currently unranked and should receive at least a three-star rating. if Wisconsin keeps this up, it could push for one of the 20 best classes in the country.
Houston Nutt is out, and coaching the Ole Miss Rebels is not an easy task with Bama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas in the same division, but the new coach will have some talent to work with. Nutt's 2011 class was already showing promise on the field, and this current crop is underrated as well, coming in at 40th. On a per-player basis, however, the Rebs come in at 24th. This 11-player class is extremely small by Mississippi standards, but if Ole Miss can maintain the level of quality while adding quantity, this class could sneak into the top-30. Can Ole Miss quickly make a hire and keep its small, but talented class together?
You wouldn't know it by its 50th ranking, but the jump to the Pac 12 seems to be paying off for the Utah Utes, as they rank 36th on a per-player basis. Utah doesn't plan to take a huge class this year, and sits at just 12 commitments, but if they can get to 18 prospects while maintaining the currently level of quality, they should rise considerably in the final ranks.
The USC Trojans are limited by NCAA sanctions, but they are doing a great job filling the limited spots they do have. Sitting at 15th with an 11-man class, USC ranks second on a per-player basis. Nine of 11 commitments rate as four stars or higher. They can add at least four more players and should be able to maintain that top-15 ranking.
The Louisville Cardinals aren't making as much of a splash this cycle as they did last season, but Charlie Strong is still just that - strong in the recruiting game. Louisville's class comes in at 47th in the traditional rankings, but on a per-player basis, it is 37th. And while only 2 of the 14 commitments rate as four stars or better, this is arguably the best class in the Big East. Strong closed well on signing day last season, and picked up commitments from several talented kids who stubbornly thought they would receive committable offers from top BCS programs that never materialized.
- Specialists (kickers, punters and long snappers) rarely receive a high ranking. Thus, taking multiple specialists in a single class could negatively impact the rating. Yet as we saw with Alabama the other night, they are oh so necessary.
- Some players are still yet to be ranked. There are relatively few at this point, but they do exist and a player still needing evaluation will drag down the average a bit.
- Offensive linemen are sometimes not as highly rated as their skill-position counterparts. They are often difficult to evaluate and don't sell subscriptions. A class could be slightly underrated if it takes significantly more linemen than the other teams on the list. That's rare, however, as all teams need linemen.
- Many kids will not make it into school due to grades, test scores, etc. It is way too early to speculate on matters of this nature and I have not removed certain kids who I believe (but do not know for certain) will struggle to make the grades.