Deadspin put together a neat chart comparing college football recruiting rankings to on-field performance.
Here are six thoughts.
1. The chart's on-field success was determined using a composite index, which "averages dozens of rankings including the six computers used in the BCS." The BCS did not allow rankings formulas to use margin of victory, a factor that several advanced-stats analysts said made their polls more accurate when included. There's no note as to whether the full versions of the computer ranking formulas were included in the analysis, but the on-field success rankings do seem reasonable.
Recruiting was measured by Rivals' class ranking, as in the No. 1 class, No. 2 class, etc., and not by an average star-ranking method, which I think is probably a better measure of tracking recruiting over a number of years. The recruiting rankings also seem reasonable, though.
2. By this measure, it's almost impossible for an elite recruiting team to live up to its recruiting ranking. Alabama, winner of three national titles in the time frame measured, is simply matching expectations. In fact, all of the national champions in the sample period are as good or "better at recruiting," and so are four of five national championship game losers.
3. Benes found a real correlation (r=0.77) between recruiting rankings and on-field success. I bring this up because though it is 2014, some still doubt the rankings, despite the teams winning national championships being the ones that bring in more blue-chip talent than non-blue-chip talent, better recruiting rankings meaning better head-to-head success, and elite recruits being much more likely to be drafted than lesser-rated recruits.
Benes' article is yet another good reference piece to point to when fans, typically those of teams that don't recruit at a high level, claim on message boards that rankings don't mean much.
Understanding that the best recruiting teams are more likely to be elite takes some of the drama out of college football, but people know pro wrestling is fake and continue to watch it, too.
4. How much better could overachievers Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin be if they were able to get just slightly better talent?
Clearly, all four programs have done a great job of scouting and talent development. But what if Wisconsin and Oregon weren't in states lacking in top talent? What if Stanford's admission standards weren't what they are? What if Oklahoma State, from a tradition and reputation standpoint, wasn't the fifth or sixth program in its region? These teams have all come close to playing for or winning a national title in the last half-decade, and I wonder if they would have achieved the next level of success with just a few more recruited difference-makers.
5. It's no accident the service academies are outliers on the chart. Rarely do they land commitments from elite recruits, due to a variety of reasons that SB Nation found when talking with the head coaches of Navy, Army, and Air Force. Seriously, that's a great read.
6. Want to lose your job? Recruit at a high level and then fail to win games. See, over the last five years: Tennessee, Florida State, Michigan, UCLA, Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas, USC, and, perhaps soon, Michigan and Florida. Boosters follow recruiting, and recruiting creates expectations.