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2018’s CFB teams whose results most differed from recruiting rankings

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Meet the teams whose performance most differed from where recruiting said they should’ve been.

USA TODAY Sports

This post is a collection of the college football teams whose four-year recruiting ranking (going off the 247Sports Composite) most differed from their 2018 finish in S&P+, the opponent-adjusted advanced stat developed by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly. Recruiting rankings are generally predictive at the overall level, but there will always be lots of variances on a team-by-team basis.

S&P+ isn’t meant to be a stand-in for won/loss record, but we like it as a baseline measurement of a team’s down-to-down performance and true caliber. Here’s who was way better than they were supposed to be, who was way worse, and who was pretty much exactly the same.

The eight biggest underachievers, based strictly on four-year recruiting ranking and S&P+ finish

Why eight? Because that’s a natural cutoff based on the pure rankings differences for all the teams. Context follows below.

  1. Florida State (4th in recruiting, 84th in S&P+, 5-7)
  2. Louisville (32nd in recruiting, 111th in S&P+, 2-10)
  3. UCLA (15th in recruiting, 92nd in S&P+, 3-9)
  4. Tennessee (13th in recruiting, 88th in S&P+, 5-7)
  5. North Carolina (27th in recruiting, 95th in S&P+, 2-9)
  6. Oregon State (60th in recruiting, 124th in S&P+, 2-10)
  7. (tie) Arkansas (31st in recruiting, 94th in S&P+, 2-10), and Rutgers (53rd in recruiting, 116th in S&P+, 1-11)

There’s almost a perfect line in the recruiting world between Power 5 teams and Group of 5 teams. That leads to this list being exclusively Power 5, because those teams have the longest way to fall unless they’re Kansas State Purdue, Boston College, or Kansas.

FSU has declined badly, though Willie Taggart has plenty of pieces in place to make things better soon. Louisville lost Lamar freaking Jackson and couldn’t deal with its other attrition without him. UCLA has had a lot of weird recruiting misses under Chip Kelly, but the Bruins also had a lot of turnover heading into the year, with Josh Rosen being the most impactful loss. Tennessee had fallen apart by the end of Butch Jones’ tenure.

North Carolina had a bunch of players suspended for long stretches, contributing to its badness. Oregon State, Arkansas, and Rutgers were just bad Power 5 teams who got waxed so thoroughly that they fell to near the bottom in S&P+.

The biggest Group of 5 underachievers by these metrics were UTSA (89th in recruiting, 126th in S&P+, 3-9 record), San Jose State (88th, 125th, 3-9), East Carolina (80th, 110th, 3-9), and nation’s-worst-team UConn (101st, 130th, 1-11).

The nine biggest overachievers, based strictly on four-year recruiting ranking and S&P+ finish

Again, let’s start with the numbers and contextualize later.

  1. Appalachian State (119th in recruiting, 11th in S&P+, 11-2)
  2. Utah State (106th, 19th in S&P+, 11-2)
  3. Fresno State (87th in recruiting, 9th in S&P+, 12-2)
  4. Ohio (111th in recruiting, 35th in S&P+, 9-4)
  5. North Texas (107th in recruiting, 34th in S&P+, 9-4)
  6. Buffalo (125th in recruiting, 58th in S&P+, 10-4)
  7. Eastern Michigan (123rd in recruiting, 62nd in S&P+, 7-6)
  8. (tie) Troy (98th in recruiting, 40th in S&P+, 10-3), and UCF (66th in recruiting, 8th in S&P+, 12-1)

This whole list is comprised of awesome Group of 5 teams, which is again owed to the vast recruiting gulf between the powers and the non-powers. Obviously, it’s more than fair to consider UCF a bigger overachiever for almost going undefeated the second year in a row than Ohio was for putting together a nice MAC season. But in terms of punching above their weight classes, nobody did a better job in 2018 than this group.

The biggest Power 5 overachievers were Syracuse (59th in recruiting, 36th in S&P+, a 10-3 record), Iowa (44th, 22nd, 9-4), Virginia (58th, 37th, 8-5), and Utah (36th, 16th, 9-5).

The 10 teams that were pretty much exactly what they were supposed to be, at least per S&P+

Arbitrarily, this means teams whose four-year recruiting rank and S&P+ finish were within three spots of each other. I’m not putting them in any particular order:

  • Alabama (1st in recruiting, 1st in S&P+, 14-1)
  • Minnesota (49th in recruiting, 49th in S&P+, 7-6)
  • Florida (14th in recruiting, 13th in S&P+, 10-3)
  • FIU (86th in recruiting, 85th in S&P+, 9-4)
  • Georgia (5th in recruiting, 3rd in S&P+, 11-3)
  • Kent State (118th in recruiting, 120th in S&P+, 2-10)
  • Penn State (12th in recruiting, 14th in S&P+, 9-4)
  • Texas A&M (16th in recruiting, 18th in S&P+, 9-4)
  • Tulane (84th in recruiting, 86th in S&P+, 7-6)
  • UTEP (126th in recruiting, 128th in S&P+, 1-11)

Congrats to these programs for being relentlessly themselves. To answer one question I had myself, Clemson’s not here because the Tigers are No. 6 in four-year recruiting and No. 2 in S&P+. The computers like Alabama by a smidgen in a hypothetical rematch at a neutral site.

The 130-team breakdown in one big table, in case your team didn’t show up on one of those lists

How every FBS team’s performance compared to its recruiting

School 4-year recruiting rank S&P+ rank Difference
School 4-year recruiting rank S&P+ rank Difference
Appalachian State 119 11 108
Utah State 106 19 87
Fresno State 87 9 78
Ohio 111 35 76
North Texas 107 34 73
Buffalo 125 58 67
Eastern Michigan 123 62 61
UCF 66 8 58
Troy 98 40 58
Memphis 72 24 48
UAB 91 44 47
Arkansas State 92 48 44
Wyoming 121 77 44
Army 115 75 40
Miami (Ohio) 97 61 36
Boise State 62 27 35
Cincinnati 63 31 32
Temple 78 47 31
Marshall 73 43 30
Air Force 120 91 29
Toledo 76 50 26
Middle Tennessee 93 67 26
UL Lafayette 113 87 26
Syracuse 59 36 23
Northern Illinois 99 76 23
Nevada 104 81 23
Iowa 44 22 22
Virginia 58 37 21
San Diego State 74 53 21
Utah 36 16 20
Missouri 40 20 20
Florida Atlantic 79 59 20
Georgia Southern 83 63 20
West Virginia 41 23 18
BYU 64 46 18
Washington State 46 29 17
UL Monroe 114 97 17
Wisconsin 37 21 16
Purdue 67 52 15
Houston 68 54 14
Coastal Carolina 128 114 14
Old Dominion 112 99 13
New Mexico 117 104 13
Michigan 18 6 12
Washington 22 10 12
Oklahoma State 38 26 12
Iowa State 57 45 12
Liberty 130 118 12
Southern Miss 82 72 10
Charlotte 122 112 10
Akron 129 119 10
Mississippi State 24 15 9
Texas Tech 50 42 8
Oklahoma 11 4 7
NC State 39 32 7
Clemson 8 2 6
Hawaii 108 102 6
New Mexico State 127 123 4
Notre Dame 10 7 3
Georgia 5 3 2
Florida 14 13 1
FIU 86 85 1
Alabama 1 1 0
Minnesota 49 49 0
Boston College 69 70 -1
Penn State 12 14 -2
Texas A&M 16 18 -2
Tulane 84 86 -2
Kent State 118 120 -2
UTEP 126 128 -2
Ohio State 2 5 -3
Wake Forest 61 64 -3
Tulsa 96 100 -4
UNLV 105 109 -4
Stanford 23 28 -5
Rice 124 129 -5
LSU 6 12 -6
Georgia State 116 122 -6
Michigan State 26 33 -7
Kentucky 34 41 -7
Navy 94 101 -7
Miami 17 25 -8
USF 70 78 -8
Ball State 109 117 -8
Louisiana Tech 81 90 -9
Auburn 7 17 -10
Duke 45 55 -10
Texas State 95 105 -10
UMass 103 113 -10
Central Michigan 110 121 -11
South Alabama 102 115 -13
Western Kentucky 90 106 -16
South Carolina 21 38 -17
SMU 77 96 -19
Texas 9 30 -21
California 43 65 -22
Vanderbilt 51 73 -22
Colorado State 85 107 -22
Western Michigan 75 98 -23
Pittsburgh 42 69 -27
Arizona 47 74 -27
Northwestern 52 79 -27
Bowling Green 100 127 -27
TCU 29 57 -28
Indiana 55 83 -28
Kansas State 65 93 -28
UConn 101 130 -29
Arizona State 30 60 -30
East Carolina 80 110 -30
Nebraska 25 56 -31
Oregon 19 51 -32
Colorado 56 89 -33
Georgia Tech 48 82 -34
USC 3 39 -36
Kansas 71 108 -37
San Jose State 88 125 -37
UTSA 89 126 -37
Virginia Tech 28 66 -38
Maryland 33 71 -38
Baylor 35 80 -45
Ole Miss 20 68 -48
Illinois 54 103 -49
Arkansas 31 94 -63
Rutgers 53 116 -63
Oregon State 60 124 -64
North Carolina 27 95 -68
Tennessee 13 88 -75
UCLA 15 92 -77
Louisville 32 111 -79
Florida State 4 84 -80