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Don't confuse early recruiting rankings quantity for blue-chip quality

College football team recruiting rankings change wildly between the offseason and National Signing Day in February. One way to tell which teams are in line for high-finishing classes is to focus on only the top players.

James Franklin's Penn State has nearly tripled its previous Blue-Chip Ratio while also bringing in a lot of early commitments.
James Franklin's Penn State has nearly tripled its previous Blue-Chip Ratio while also bringing in a lot of early commitments.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, we link up the piece I wrote in 2012 cautioning college football fans to take early recruit rankings with a grain of salt.

But there is another sort of early recruiting ranking of which you should be skeptical at this point in the season: team rankings. Like recruit ratings in the summer, these are highly misleading. Why?

Numbers. The earlier in the year, the greater the variance of the size of the classes. Team recruiting formulas are designed to compare teams with reasonably similar numbers of players. Yet every summer, we see fan bases and media outlets alike making a huge deal out of the teams in the recruiting rankings that common sense and historical data indicate will not finish where they are at that moment.

Case in point: Kentucky. Last year, Mark Stoops' Wildcats reached the top of the rankings on June 19, and members of Big Blue Nation went wild. However, when all was said and done, 21 programs signed more four- and five-star recruits than the Wildcats, according to the 247Sports Composite.

It is important to think of recruiting as a stagger-start race. All teams have roughly the same number of scholarships to give, but they fill them at different times in the season. As of mid-June, some teams have 20 verbal commitments, while other power programs (like Oregon, for instance) have far fewer.

Instead of looking at a formula not designed to evaluate classes so early in the process, instead focus on the percentage of four- and five-star commitments a team has at a given point, something I've dubbed the Blue-Chip Ratio. I've included a chart at right, showing Power 5 teams with at least 10 commitments.

Hopefully, the chart will allow us to answer the question: Are these teams off to good starts relative to their normal hauls, or just fast ones?

Come National Signing Day, top-10 classes almost always have at least 24 commitments with half or more being rated as blue chips. Top-20 classes typically have at least 35 percent blue chips.

Keep in mind that as the year goes on, more stars are typically added, as recruiting analysts are able to see more and more prospects. So there is a good chance that the percentages for all teams will rise a bit.

This June, three teams are being overrated due to class size by the rankings formulas.

Clemson: The Tigers have 20 commitments, according to 247Sports, but just seven are rated four-stars or better. Clemson's start is good, but 35 percent is not an elite mark, and is actually below the 42 percent clip the Tigers have maintained over the last four classes. Clemson is rated third nationally in the 247Sports rating, but almost certainly will not finish that high if its current percentage does not increase significantly.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have an impressive 18 commitments, but only three are rated four-stars or better. In fact, Mississippi State's clip does not represent an improvement over its recruiting from the last four years at all, as the Bulldogs have maintained about that exact percentage in that time frame. Even if the percentage improves slightly, a class with a 17 percent blue chip ratio has no chance of finishing 12th, which is where the Bulldogs currently rank in the overall rankings.

Notre Dame: The Irish have been hot on the recruiting trail of late, adding over half of their class in the last 30 days, but that 14-member class sits at just 29 percent blue chips, which is way below their four-year mark of 63 percent.

Looking at the chart, you'll probably note a few major schools off to a slower, or more selective start, and without the 10 commitments needed to be listed. Keep in mind that major schools, including USC, Florida, Oklahoma, UCLA, Michigan and Oregon, are often chasing players who won't be deciding until after their senior years, with many declaring at a high school all-star game on national TV or on National Signing Day.