Most coaches will tell you up front that talent is a necessity to be successful, which is why there is a great emphasis placed on recruiting at the collegiate level. One great or bad class isn't enough to make or break a program, but consistency in recruiting is the foundation to building a championship team.
Building stability with multiple recruiting classes…
Looking back over the last seven seasons at the FBS level of college football, recruiting has been the common denominator of the six consecutive BCS National Championships won by SEC teams.
A close examination of the four consecutive recruiting classes leading up to a championship season illustrates the significance of recruiting. The last 14 participants appearing in the BCS National Championship game have had an average ranking of No. 9 in recruiting over a four-year period leading up to the championship game. The seven winners of the BCS Championship game had a four-year average ranking of No. 8 in recruiting.
Over the past seven seasons, SEC teams with 10 or 11 victories during the season had a four-year recruiting ranking of No. 10 nationally. The primary reason why the SEC has been so dominant at the national level is because a significant portion of the top high school talent is signing with SEC in the conference.
From 2002-2012, 28.3 percent of the nation's Top100 players as rated by Scout.com have signed with SEC schools. This includes 26 percent of the nation's four-star and five-star recruits who signed with SEC programs. This translates to more than a fourth of the nation's top talent finding homes in the Southeastern Conference.
Once again the key to success is sustaining consistency in recruiting over a four-year period to better position your team into making a championship run. This was the primary reason why Auburn coach Gene Chizik assembled a staff of strong recruiters because he knew the importance of being able to compete with the top programs in the conference.
Chizik is shown with the BCS Trophy.
This is not to say coaching is not part of the equation, but you simply cannot coach talent and speed. Of course there is a "catch-22" when it comes to stockpiling talent. You need talent to win, but you need to win to attract talent. This is the very reason why championship teams are not built overnight in the SEC.
Level of competition…
During the 2011 season Auburn faced six teams that finished in the Top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. Four of those teams finished in the Top 10 and were SEC teams. Three of those four teams finished in the Top 5. Scout.com currently has eight SEC teams ranked in the Top 25 for its 2012 recruitment rankings.
Fortunately the Tigers, Auburn has finished in the Top 16 of the same rankings for four consecutive seasons. Only the University of Alabama (49) has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than Auburn (42) from 2010-2012. Even though Auburn has been in the thick of the arms race for talent, it doesn't change the fact of just how competitive it is within the conference.
Of the six BCS conferences at the FBS level, no other conference requires the same talent level the Southeastern Conference demands to win its league. If you look back at the last seven teams to win the Big East, those conference winners had an average recruit ranking of No. 50 over a four-year period before winning the conference.
The last seven ACC conference winners had a four-year average of No. 31 in recruiting. The Big 10 conference winners were next with an average ranking of No. 19, followed by the Big 12 with a four-year average of No. 13. The Pac 12 was second among the six major conferences with a four-year average of No.11 in recruiting for its championship teams. The Southeastern Conference was No. 1 with a four-year average of No.8 in recruiting.
In recent years there have been no flukes when it comes to winning the Southeastern Conference. The lowest four-year recruiting average by a SEC champion was No.11. Cincinnati won the Big East in 2010 with a four-year average of No. 68 in recruiting. Wake Forest won the ACC in 2006 with a four-year recruiting average of No. 57. Wisconsin won the Big 10 in 2011 with a four-year recruiting average of No. 35. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 in 2011 with a four-year recruiting average of No. 30 and Oregon won the Pac-10 in 2009 with a No. 28 average.
When it comes to the SEC, you are either that good or you don't win the conference. This is evident by the six consecutive BCS championships from 2006-2011. This doesn't include the 2003 LSU Tigers, who won the BCS championship and the undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers.
Looking towards 2012…
Based on the above numbers, it's obvious what four consecutive quality classes can do for any team. Looking at only the teams from the six major conferences that compiled at least an 11-2 record over the past seven seasons, those teams had an average four-year run of No. 17 in recruiting leading up to their big seasons. Some of those teams had continued success in recruiting after four years, which enabled those teams to reload the following year for another great season.
With this in mind, examining the success level of recruiting from 2009-2012 might reveal the contenders for the 2012 season. The last seven teams to win the BCS national championship all had at least an average of No.11 ranking in recruiting during the four seasons leading up to a championship season. If this trend continues, there are nine teams in the driver's seat to win it all in 2012. This list includes the following teams based on their four-year recruitment ranking.
There were seven other programs that were able to field four consecutive classes of No. 30 or better. This includes Florida (13.3), Michigan (14.8), Tennessee (15.0), Oregon (16.3), Notre Dame (17.0), Stanford (17.0) and Texas A&M (21.8). It should be noted that South Carolina (18.0) and UCLA (20.0) fall short of the list with 1 of 4 classes ranked below No. 30.
Odds are one of the top nine teams ranked at No. 11 or better will win the BCS national title in 2012, which includes Auburn sitting at No. 5 with an average recruiting class of 8.3 over the past four years. The primary stumbling block for Auburn is the majority of its top talent has come during the last three classes, which means they are likely one more season away from competing for a national title. Though talented, Auburn will field a very young offensive line and will also be inexperienced at the quarterback position in 2012. Coach Scot Loeffler must face this reality as he constructs his first offense at Auburn.
The good news for the Auburn Tigers and their fan base is knowing Chizik's rebuilding process is in its final stage. Auburn is much closer to being able to reload than any time during the Chizik Era. Last season Auburn lacked experience on both sides of the line, which is why the Tigers struggled against such a difficult schedule. If you are not competitive up front, everything you accomplish behind the lines won't matter as much against the elite teams in the SEC.
Auburn has recruited very well at the national level so now it comes down to maintaining an acceptable attrition rate and developing the talent to play at a very efficient level. If Auburn's coaching staff can complete the final step in the process, they will return to the national stage of competing for another crystal ball.