There was much drama accompanying the announcement of the four College Football Playoff teams Sunday. Could two-loss Georgia really be above one-loss Oklahoma? Or was it just ESPN trying to create intrigue?
But as a recruiting analyst who tracks the Blue-Chip Ratio (BCR) stat, the drama had been gone for weeks.
That’s because the six teams (counting Ohio State) truly in contention on Selection Sunday were all on the exclusive 13-program BCR list from the preseason. Which, of course, means that the national champion of college football will yet again be a Blue-Chip Ratio team, as it’s been for every year of the modern recruiting rankings era.
Every year I release my Blue-Chip Ratio list. It’s a quick and dirty method to determine which teams have met the minimum recruiting threshold to win a national title. It usually churns out between eight to 12 teams, and they do not always match up with the top teams in the preseason poll.
This year the teams were Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Notre Dame. Ten of them rank in the Playoff committee’s final top 15.
This is the first time all four Playoff teams are from the BCR list.
In 2014, 2016, and 2017, the playoff featured three BCR squads, while the 2015 playoff had only one (Alabama, which kept the streak alive by beating Clemson).
But 2018 is the first year in which all four teams are BCR members. So I won’t be sweating the outcome this season.
What happened to the potential usurpers?
There were five teams in the top 15 of the AP preseason poll who were not part of the BCR list. They lost a combined 22 games. This was decidedly not the year of the plucky upstart.
- No. 4 (preseason AP) Wisconsin lost five times, including at home to BYU and Minnesota. Four of its losses were by multiple scores.
- No. 6 Washington lost three times, though all three were by single scores. The Huskies also rarely looked dominant, having four wins by a single score.
- No. 8 Miami lost five times, twice by multiple scores to teams with three or more losses.
- No. 11 Michigan State lost five times as well, failing to score 30-plus points in nine of its 10 games against Power 5 teams.
- No. 13 Stanford lost four times, including being blown out in back-to-back weeks by Notre Dame and Utah.
Four of the five disappointments above shared a clear issue: Substandard to horrendous QB play. Against FBS winning teams, Washington ranked 38th in QB rating, Wisconsin 95th, Michigan State 104th, and Miami 115th.
Stanford was 12th by that measure, but its issue was clear — its defense allowed 38, 40, and 41 points in its losses.
Alabama is a cut above the other playoff teams in recruiting.
From a BCR perspective, Alabama is way ahead of the other three, with 77 percent of signees over the last four years rating as four- or five-stars.
Clemson is at 61 percent, Oklahoma at 53 percent, and Notre Dame at 51 percent.
But that doesn’t guarantee Alabama will win.
All four teams have recruited well enough to win it all.
For instance, Clemson beat Alabama in 2016 despite Alabama having an even greater edge in the Blue-Chip Ratio than it currently does.
Clemson does a tremendous job of scouting, developing, and retaining its talent. Anecdotally, it has one of the lowest rates of player failure among major programs. And this year, it was able to convince elite defensive linemen in Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, and Christian Wilkins to bypass the NFL draft and return for their senior seasons. And since the switch to five-star true freshman Trevor Lawrence, the QB who many scouts believed was the best QB recruit ever, the Tigers have arguably been Alabama’s equal.
Oklahoma’s offensive line is arguably as good as any in the nation, and Alabama’s front seven is not as good as it has been in recent years. It’s not impossible to imagine Oklahoma hanging with Alabama score-for-score, just as it did in 2017 against Georgia, despite having a weak defense. A mobile QB (Kyler Murray) whom the Tide can’t get much pressure on, who has great ball placement, and who has receivers who make plays one-on-one: that’s almost the only way Alabama has lost games over the last decade.
And Notre Dame beat Michigan using its (now) backup quarterback. It destroyed Stanford and Syracuse by a combined score of 74-20. And it has played better and better since switching to QB Ian Book and getting back RB Dexter Williams. Defensively, Notre Dame has one of the best front sevens in the nation. It’s physical, fast, and instinctive.
I don’t use the BCR as a way to pick individual games, only to determine who has the minimum requisite talent to win it all. And this year, the whole field makes the cut.