StatTiger: SEC's Talent Arms (and legs) Race

Stuart Carter looks at how Auburn, and other SEC football teams, are signing highly-rated prospects in his StatTiger column.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will have plenty of bluechip recruits to worth with this year.

Entering the 2006 football season only 27.8 percent of Auburn’s scholarship personnel were rated as 4-star or 5-star recruits. Nine years later, Coach Gus Malzahn will enter his third season in charge of the Auburn team with a scholarship roster featuring 54.6 percent of his scholarship players being 4-star or 5-star recruits.

The 2006 Auburn Tigers had a total of 22 players rated as 4-star or 5-star players. In 2015 Malzahn will have 21 such players to work with on the offensive side of the football and Will Muschamp, Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, will have 26 to coach.

In terms of potential talent, times have changed for the Auburn Tigers and the change was needed to compete with the growing competition within the Southeastern Conference.

Despite failing to win the national championship the past two seasons, the SEC continues to dominate the nation in recruiting. During the past four recruiting classes only 14 programs were able to fill their rosters with more than 40 percent 4-star and 5-star recruits. Six of those 14 teams came from the Southeastern Conference.

The following is a breakdown of the four-star and five-stars in the signing classes by league from 2002-2005.

Southeastern Conference: 23.6 percent
Big 12: 18.5 percent
Pac-10: 17.4 percent
ACC: 13.7 percent
Big Ten: 13.0 percent

The following are the numbers from 2012-15:

Percentage of 4-star and 5-star recruits signed by conference from 2012-2015:

Southeastern Conference: 34.7 percent
Pac-12: 17.0 percent
Big Ten: 16.3 percent
ACC: 13.1 percent
Big 12: 11.4 percent

As the SEC continued to grow in talent, it was a must for the Tigers to improve their talent pool to keep up in the “arms race.” From 2002-2005, 25.7 percent of Auburn’s recruits were 4-star and 5-star players. From 2006-2008 it rose to 38.5 percent. From 2009-2011 it improved to 45.2 percent and from 2012-2015 it is at an all time high of 54.8 percent.

Auburn’s primary concern when it comes to recruiting is how the Tigers measure up within the conference. Of the 14 teams fortunate to load their roster with at least 40 percent 4-star and 5-star talent, Auburn must face four of them annually.

These are the top five SEC teams in percentage of 4-star and 5-star recruits (2002-2005):

Florida ................. 54.9 percent
Tennessee ............ 51.5 percent
LSU ..................... 47.9 percent
Georgia ............... 38.5 percent
Auburn ................ 25.7 percent

Here are those numbers from 2012-15:

Alabama .............. 75.0 percent
LSU ..................... 61.5 percent
Auburn ................ 54.8 percent
Texas A&M ........ 53.6 percent
Georgia ............... 49.5 percent

With a sizable percentage of the nation’s top high school talent gravitating towards the Southeastern Conference, it became essential for Auburn to sign a higher number of the most heavily recruited players. Though Auburn has moved from No. 5 in the conference to No. 3 in signing 4-star and 5-star recruits, the Tigers face the remaining top five most talented SEC rosters every year. This is why player development, schemes and conditioning are just as important as recruiting.

Every team within the SEC West has improved its recruiting from 2002-2005 to 2012-2015. The Auburn offense established school records under Malzahn. Muschamp was hired to bring back the defensive play Auburn was recognized for a decade ago.

With the goal of improving the defense, nearly 58 percent of the 4-star and 5-star recruits signed during Auburn’s last three classes have been on that side of the football. Muschamp will soon find out which players are able to raise their performance levels to be the best player possible. Regardless of star ratings, Muschamp will initially focus more on effort than talent.

Player development is essential in the long run, but talent remains the lifeblood of college football. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and Clemson are the top five teams from Power-5 conferences with the highest winning percentage from 2011-2014. Their combined percentage of 4-star and 5-star recruits from 2009-2012 was 51.5 percent.

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