Who’s been the top recruiting team of the entire internet rankings era? The answer will probably surprise you.
The list of current FBS teams, going back to 2002, or the oldest year before the recorded rankings start getting pretty weird (recruiting ratings have been around forever, but only became a casually accessible thing around the turn of the millennium):
Average recruiting ranking, 2002-2018
|Overall||Team||Current conference||Average ranking|
|Overall||Team||Current conference||Average ranking|
|7||Ohio State||Big Ten||10.2|
|19||Penn State||Big Ten||22.7|
|30||Oklahoma State||Big 12||31.9|
|33||Michigan State||Big Ten||33.4|
|36||West Virginia||Big 12||40.4|
|41||Texas Tech||Big 12||42.8|
|52||Kansas State||Big 12||51.1|
|58||Iowa State||Big 12||55.7|
|70||San Diego State||MWC||69.0|
|90||San Jose State||MWC||91.6|
|97||Arkansas State||Sun Belt||95.5|
|102||UL Lafayette||Sun Belt||100.4|
|105||Texas State||Sun Belt||101.8|
|111||South Alabama||Sun Belt||105.8|
|118||New Mexico State||Sun Belt||111.3|
|119||Georgia State||Sun Belt||113.2|
|126||Georgia Southern||Sun Belt||127.0|
|127||Appalachian State||Sun Belt||127.6|
|129||Coastal Carolina||Sun Belt||143.0|
Let’s ponder this.
1. Nick Saban has not coached at Alabama forever, actually.
It’s harder and harder to remember, but the Tide were a joke around the early 2000s, with scandals, constant coaching changes, two losing records in four years, and losses to three mid-majors. Old Bama recruiting classes ranked as low as No. 47, meaning Saban’s 11 straight top 10s and seven straight No. 1s were a drastic course correction.
2. USC’s starting 22 can almost always hang with anybody. The other stuff, however ...
The Trojans rank No. 1 here because they were in the top five in 12 of 17 years measured, never falling below 2013’s No. 12 ... and even that class, which was limited by NCAA sanctions, was literally nothing but blue-chips.
That’s despite those depth-crippling sanctions and constant coaching turmoil for something like four years. USC had nine AP top-six finishes in this span anyway, mostly before and after the mayhem.
3. The Georgia thing was even more complicated than most people realized.
A pile of narratives:
- Mark Richt wasted all that Peach State talent. Did he? His Dawgs very nearly played in three BCS title games and would’ve made the Playoff a few times, if it’d existed. Change a handful of plays, and UGA might’ve had a minor dynasty.
- But that didn’t happen. Waste. OK.
- Richt let all that Peach State talent leave the state. Basically never ranking outside the top 10 in recruiting suggests otherwise. It’s easy to remember Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson leaving, but Richt’s Dawgs held up their borders comparably to other major powers, at one point ranking among the top five teams in top-25 locals signed.
- Kirby Smart has taken Richt’s program to a whole new level. That one is pretty hard to argue against, after UGA nearly finished No. 1 on the field and then did so in recruiting, taking full advantage of the No. 1 dual-threat QB living in Metro Atlanta.
- Seeing all those national titles won by the top eight teams on this list, while seeing Georgia with zero in this span, is really awkward. Really awkward.
4. Look at all the national title games in that top group.
The top nine teams here are 13-10 in title games in this span, with most of those games against each other. (No. 10, Michigan, is another team that’s come brutally close.)
The lower programs in title games — Auburn, Clemson, and Oregon — are still near-annual top-20 recruiters who’ve brought in top-10 classes. Each of their title-run teams either had Heisman-worthy quarterbacks, elite talent accumulation in a short period, and/or world-ending wackiness.
5. Conference rankings show something like four tiers.
Average rankings, based on current membership (that’s imperfect, since teams have changed conferences, but it’s what’s happening here):
- SEC, 23.2
- Pac-12, 34.7
- Big 12, 38.7
- Big Ten, 38.8
- ACC, 39.4
- American, 77.9
- Mountain West, 90.2
- Conference USA, 99
- MAC, 101.4
- Sun Belt, 111.8
The SEC stands alone, which makes sense. It dominates the most talented region and doesn’t depend on just a couple teams to bring in all its five-stars, like most other power leagues usually do. For all the talk about the SEC being top-heavy in the Alabama era (which is sometimes true in individual seasons), the league’s had four different schools win titles since 2002. The Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 have one title-winning school each in that span.
The AAC and MWC stand apart from the Group of 5, and not just because their numbers include lots of rankings by once and future Power 5 teams.
6. Your top non-power recruiters:
- San Diego State
- Southern Miss
- Boise State
Makes sense, right? Add in power-conference jumpers TCU and Utah, and that’s almost every non-power BCS/NY6 rep ever, though Cincinnati technically was a power at the time. (NIU is your outlier.)
USF’s never made a big bowl, but can console itself with memories of hitting No. 2 in the country that one time. USF’s so high here partly because of its 29-man 2009 class, which included four-stars like Jason Pierre-Paul and ranked an amazing No. 26.
7. Your hardest power-conference jobs, more or less:
- Wake Forest
Northwestern’s had a handful of 10-win seasons, but S&P+ has Indiana as the best recent program in this group. The numbers evidently prefer a team that nearly beats elite teams to a team whose games are always 17-10, no matter the opponent.
Please never forget that time Wake Forest won the ACC.