Strength in Numbers: Recruiting Rankings Analysis

A 4- and 5-star analysis of the team recruiting rankings for the Signing Day '03 class.

They don’t give out trophies for recruiting titles. If so, TexasMack Brown would be filling what still is an empty case in his office. But "Coach February," for his supposed lack of on-field accolades, possesses one of the top records in the nation the past several seasons due in large part to those winter hauls. His last two autumns’ #5 and #6 final AP rankings place him only behind Miami's Larry Coker nationally.

Interestingly, this season’s returns reveal LSU, Texas’ Cotton Bowl victim, as the likely signing day champion. The Tigers (8-5) failed to finish in the AP top 25, yet claimed the top class from TheInsiders, Rivals, and the College Sports Network. Texas, after its second-straight 11-2 campaign, found itself in unfamiliar recruiting territory, missing out on several blue-chippers at the end. Though the College Sports Network rated UT’s class #8, both TheInsiders and Rivals placed it at #15.

If the Longhorns had only lost that New Years’ Day contest, just think of the possibilities! Seriously, many factors go into where a high school senior chooses to go to school, and logic frequently becomes a foggy notion.

One thing is clear: teams that sign the blues rather than sing them in early February tend to reap more favorable results in the fall. No one factor perfectly predicts success for the following seasons, but any serious study on recruiting shows the correlation is strong. Texas’ top-rated class of 1999 may not have won the titles most expected (and it takes more than one or two crops of talented kids to do it), but it did graduate with more wins than any group in the school’s rich history.

The classes this year of several schools may provide the foundation for volumes of victories. Most recruitniks rate Oklahoma (#5 rating combining TheInsiders and Rivals) and Texas A&M (#7) with top ten talent and uncharacteristically ahead of Texas (#15), which finished third in the Big 12. Colorado (#18) and Oklahoma State (#21) followed closely behind.

Rather than look only at the "gurus’" calculations for determining team rankings, let’s consider a unique approach. Since very few players from one class end up truly impacting a team’s success, we’ll take into account only the four- and five-star recruits as rated by TheInsiders and Rivals. [Both have approximately the same number of players assigned these ratings overall.]

History tells us several of these highly esteemed high schoolers will never pan out, and a number of "sleepers" will rise to the top. But without the benefit of a time machine or crystal football, let’s stick to playing the solid odds.

If assigning a team five points for each five-star recruit and four for a four-star, with a one-point penalty for JUCO’s (in light of their shorter time with the program), some team’s results mirror those when ranking the whole class, others are altered significantly.

LSU, Florida, and USC remain 1-2-3, as their high-impact personnel are so plentiful, they catapult the classes as a whole. Oklahoma, the best of the Big 12 (now on the field and on Signing Day), has the fourth-rated group of star-studded talent, but Texas gets a bump to #8, up fairly significantly from the #15 average when considering the whole class.

Why the disparity? Because the Horns only signed 18 kids, and the regular team ratings are based on total points more than on average per player. Zeroing in on only four- and five-star personnel focuses much more on the latter. Mack Brown, on the strength of signing national top 100 talent like tight end Tony Hills (7th rated player by Rivals), cornerback Tarell Brown (21st by TheInsiders), linebacker Robert Killebrew (46th by TheInsiders), defensive end Tim Crowder, defensive back Michael Griffin, and running back Erik Hardeman, has the kind of quality to complement the vast amount of multi-star talent already on the Forty Acres.

In fact, recruiting experts in the know readily acknowledge the blue-chip bulge on hand drove several highly pursued players to other campuses. Opposing coaches grabbed hold of (or created) UT depth charts, blew them up, hammered and preached on them, until a few kids figured they would never play at Texas without a congressional amendment. They must have been coerced into believing NCAA scholarship limitations don’t apply to Texas, considering each position apparently was filled with an endless supply of Hall of Fame personnel.

If the prospects had only taken the words of the current players to heart, they’d realize UT’s coaching staff is grade A in terms of being "real" with the student-athletes. If Mack and Co. tell a kid he has an excellent shot at playing time (even if not always as soon as he sets foot on campus), then they’re probably shooting straight with him.

Another sticking point is one that the staff took advantage of the first few years but cannot now as easily, and that’s the "we’re on the rise" theme. Something new and exciting of course catches attention, and Mack moved mountains with that leverage until recently. For the first season, the perception is that Texas may have already plateaued. The shiny new object has gotten a bit of rust on it, has become a bit boring even.

One or more things can cure a lot of that–a win over OU, a conference title and a BCS bowl berth.

What of upstart Texas A&M, with its new million-dollar man in charge? Remember the all-player average from TheInsiders and Rivals gave it a #7 ranking, or eight places ahead of Texas. But, as recalled, the Longhorns signed only 18, or six less than Coach Franchione’s bunch. When the standard is only the cream, A&M’s group rates only 25th-best in the nation. Texas signed five of TheInsiders’ top 100 compared to Texas A&M’s two and had a higher per player average.

Multitude of last-moment disappointments aside, Mack Brown and Texas fans should be happy with this group. After all, since opposing coaches are so quick to point out the supposedly infinite quantity of scholarship athletes in Austin, how could the Horns add anything more than a few quality parts?

Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears regularly on InsideTexas.com.


Horns Digest Top Stories