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College Football Recruiting Rankings 2012: Which Classes Are Championship Quality?

Update: Here are the latest 2012 college football recruiting rankings. Having a big class with a lot of athletes is one thing, but which 2012 programs are setting themselves up best for future championships by recruiting efficiently?

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What is this? This is an index showing how many high school recruits are committed to a school, not including kickers and punters (see below), and what percentage of those recruits are rated four-stars or higher. The data comes from the four major recruiting services (247 Sports, Rivals, Scout and ESPN).

Why does this matter? Recruits are rated by the four major recruiting services on a on a scale of one to five stars. The facts have shown that recruits rated as five stars are much more likely to be top players than the recruits rated as four stars, and so on. The stars-don't-matter argument is for holdouts in the face of the mountain of data compiled on the subject. If you want to get deeper into the data, please see: Why Stars Matter, Do Recruiting Rankings Matter?, and What's a five-star really worth?

Recruiting rankings are not a guarantee of success. But a team that recruits poorly is pretty much guaranteed not to have sustained success unless its rivals are really poorly coached, its schedule is much easier than the rest of the country, or both. Recruiting well is necessary, but not sufficient.

Non-kicker/punter HS commitments
Team Conf # % Rated 4+ stars
Florida State ACC 12 85%
Florida SEC 16 77%
Texas BIG XII 21 76%
USC Pac-12 10 75%
Alabama SEC 24 64%
Oklahoma BIG XII 15 60%
Auburn SEC 16 59%
Notre Dame Ind 17 56%
Ohio State Big Ten 20 55%
Georgia SEC 14 52%
Michigan Big Ten 24 48%
Wisconsin Big Ten 12 48%
Texas A&M SEC 20 48%
Clemson ACC 17 47%
LSU SEC 19 46%
Cal Pac-12 16 45%
Stanford Pac-12 17 44%
Tennessee SEC 16 42%
Oregon Pac-12 17 41%
Nebraska Big Ten 9 39%
South Carolina SEC 22 36%
Miami ACC 28 33%
Penn State Big Ten 14 29%
TCU BIG XII 15 28%
Iowa Big Ten 14 27%
Texas Tech BIG XII 15 22%
Rutgers Big East 14 21%
Baylor BIG XII 18 21%
Mississippi SEC 10 20%
Arkansas SEC 20 19%
Virginia ACC 24 19%
UCLA Pac-12 26 18%
Pittsburgh Big East 17 18%
Vanderbilt SEC 19 14%
Oklahoma State BIG XII 14 14%
Michigan State Big Ten 14 14%
Louisville Big East 20 14%
Virginia Tech ACC 26 13%
Missouri SEC 16 13%
Maryland ACC 21 12%
Georgia Tech ACC 15 12%
Mississippi State SEC 20 11%
Washington Pac-12 18 11%
Utah Pac-12 19 11%
Oregon State Pac-12 20 10%
West Virginia BIG XII 27 8%
Arizona Pac-12 14 7%
N.C. State ACC 20 6%
Cincinnati Big East 31 4%
Purdue Big Ten 21 4%
Updated January 19th, 2011
For the full data set, see this Google doc

Why show this as a percentage? Why not just count them up and say that the team with the most wins? In the old days, this would have been a great idea. In modern day college football, however, it doesn't work that way. Teams are limited to rosters of 85 scholarships. If a team gives a scholarship to a two- or three-star player, that is a scholarship that cannot be allocated to a four- or five-star player, either in the current recruiting cycle or in a future recruiting cycle.

Having ten four-star recruits is impressive, but much less so if the class also includes 20+ commitments rated three stars or fewer. Sure, a team could just cut all of the longshots that don't work out, but all but a very few teams are unwilling to trim all the fat every year. It should be noted that two of the most aggressive practitioners of oversigning played in the BCS National Championship Game this year, but this column is about rankings, not ethics, and that is a topic for another day.

Why aren't kickers or punters included? While they are technically eligible to be rated as four-stars or better, in practice, this never happens. We only want to look at recruits who are actually and practically eligible to receive the rating we are measuring.

Why aren't junior college and prep school recruits included? Some services don't bother to rate them at all, and among the services that do rate them, the number and method varies wildly. Certainly, JUCO prospects can make an enormous impact on the game. Some teams even make a living on JUCO recruits. Heck, Auburn won the national title with two JUCOs and a bunch of role players. But we want to compare like things, using as much data as possible. Looking only at high school recruits allows us to do just that.

Why wasn't my team included? Only the top 50 scoring teams were included. If your team isn't any good, this is likely why. If your team is good and didn't make the list, it probably plays a cakewalk schedule and snatches up a lot of talented recruits who are downgraded by the major recruiting services because they couldn't make it in academically to the vast majority of schools on the list.

"There's no way Florida State has the best class in the country!" I agree.

Total numbers matter as well, and FSU has only 12 commitments from non-kicker/punter high school players. Still, the 'Noles are making sure they don't take a bunch of lesser-talented players that would eat up roster spots for when FSU wants to take a bigger class (next cycle).

Who has the best class of high schoolers? Texas. And I don't think it's all that close at this point. The Longhorns are bringing in 21 non-kicker/punter high school commitments, and a very impressive 16 of them are rated four-stars or better! The Longhorns are showing that it is very possible to take a big class without sacrificing quality. It doesn't hurt to have unlimited resources and be the flagship university of one of the most talent-rich states in the country.

Which schools have a chance to end up with a better crop of high school recruits than Texas?

The Florida Gators (16 at 77 percent), Alabama Crimson Tide (24 at 64 percent), Auburn Tigers (16 at 59 percent) and Ohio State Buckeyes (20 at 55) are the prime candidates. Look for Auburn and Florida here, as both are still in the running to land a number of top prospects between now and National Signing Day (February 1st).

Two Big XII BCS Winners Aren't Doing So Hot. Fresh off a Orange Bowl win in which the Mountaineers scored 70 points against Clemson, you'd think their recruiting would heat up. You'd be wrong.

West Virginia is taking in a huge class (27 non-kicker/punter high schoolers) that is lacking in talent (only 8 percent are rated four-stars or better). Oklahoma State is bringing in 14 non-kicker/punter high schoolers, and only two of those are rated four-stars or better. Fans of the Mountaineers and Cowboys would like to see better recruiting out of these two.

Will West Virginia struggle to win the BIG XII if it doesn't increase its talent level? Probably. But Mountaineer fans shouldn't panic. WVU does a great job of getting academically questionable recruits into school. They're probably the BCS-conference team that does this the best.

And Oklahoma State fans shouldn't worry that much, either. OK State is one of the teams that consistently brings in top talent from the junior college ranks.

Still, Texas and Oklahoma are bringing in much better talent and should quickly return to the top of the conference.

With Two Notable Exceptions, The ACC Is The SEC's Little Brother. It wasn't like this a half-decade ago. But the SEC got smart and realized it could leverage its immense resources into better facilities, coaches, and so forth. Recruits care about all of that stuff, and it shows. Seven of the top nine recruiting classes between these two conferences belong to the SEC. Only Florida State and Clemson are recruiting at the level of a SEC champion. These two conferences share much of the same geographic footprint, meaning that most ACC schools get the scraps after the SEC picks.

It would really help the ACC if Miami could recruit at an elite level, but the 'Canes are bringing in a staggering 19 non-kickers rated three-stars or lower. There's a method to the madness, however, as Miami realizes major NCAA sanctions are coming. It needs to load up now with a massive class, even if that class lacks talent, because it won't be able to take a full class for a number of years when the sanctions are handed down. Basically, the 'Canes are recruiting out of an emergency preparedness playbook. As noted in the comment section, this is similar to what Lane Kiffin did at USC last year, while the Trojans appealed their NCAA penalty.

Also, while I'm on the topic of the SEC, Arkansas is not bringing in elite defensive talent. Until that happens, the Razorbacks should not be expected to win the SEC West.

The Big Ten Is Returning To Normal. And that means Ohio State and Michigan are way, way out in front of everyone else. Both are taking big classes (by Big Ten standards), and neither are loading up on filler. Wisconsin is close on a percentage basis, but the Badgers don't have a real shot of maintaining that level of talent as their class increases in size. Penn State sits at 29 percent and is expected to lose one or two of its top recruits by signing day.

The Big Ten has not seen talent like this in some time. Major credit is due to Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer.

See: Ohio State Raiding Rest Of Big Ten and Michigan Aims For Top Offensive Line Class.

Comments, questions, concerns? I'd love to hear them. I'll update this after signing day.