Which Teams Out-Perform Their Talent?

Jan. 14 -- We've compiled the recruiting rankings and final rankings for every team in the country over the last 13 years to see where UCLA stacks up...

After writing that recruiting stats analysis from Monday, we've gone full data nerd, diving into the recruiting rankings from the last 13 years to compile data on how each of the 120 some-odd FBS football teams have performed relative to their recruiting rankings. For recruiting rankings, we've obviously used the Scout.com team recruiting rankings. For final season rankings (to determine how well teams have done relative to recruiting), we've used the Massey Composite rankings, which list all FBS teams. The critical period we're analyzing is 2006 to 2014, since we don't have recruiting data prior to 2002 and we need information on all five recruiting classes that make up each team. For each year's final performance, we're using the recruiting data from the five cycles previous, since those should be the five classes contributing players to each team.

Our first priority when looking at the data was to see which teams have dominated that period -- in other words, which teams have the highest median final season ranking from 2006 to 2014. If you were to do an aggregate top 25 of the last 9 years, it would look something like this:

Team06-14 Median Rank
1. Alabama3
2. Ohio St.7
3. Oregon7
4. Florida10
5. Oklahoma10
6. Boise State10
7. LSU 12
8. Missouri16
9. TCU16
10. Florida State17
11. Texas18
12. Auburn18
13. USC18
14. Georgia18
15. Wisconsin18
16. Oklahoma St.19
17. Virginia Tech19
18. Arkansas23
19. Stanford24
20. Nebraska24
21. Clemson25
22. South Carolina26
23. West Virginia26
24. Notre Dame27
25. Michigan State28
......
44. UCLA 45
So, nothing majorly shocking there, except maybe Missouri being weirdly high. Then, in terms of recruiting rankings, here's how the classes have shaped up from 2002 to 2014 (again, the 13 classes that have contributed to the last nine years of teams):

Team02-14 Median Recruiting Rank
1. Texas6
2. USC6
3. Ohio St.6
4. LSU7
5. Alabama7
6. Georgia8
7. Florida St.8
8. Florida8
9. Tennessee9
10. Michigan9
11. Oklahoma9
12. Notre Dame11
13. Auburn11
14. Miami12
15. Texas A&M15
16. UCLA20
17. South Carolina20
18. Oregon22
19. Washington23
20. Clemson23
21. Penn St.25
22. Oklahoma St.25
23. Ole Miss26
24. Arkansas27
25. Nebraska28
This is a little more interesting. UCLA, which was 44th in the overall final ranking list, finds itself at 17th in the recruiting rankings for the relevant period. Miami, Tenneseee, and Washington all show up in the recruiting list without showing up in the final rankings list.

So, those are the top 25 best recruiting programs from the last 13 years and the top 25 best finishing programs from the last nine years. By any measure, Oregon, Boise State, TCU, and Missouri have to consider themselves the big winners of the last decade or so in terms of performance relative to talent. Only Oregon, from that group, factored into the top 25 in recruiting (at No. 18), but each of those four programs finished in the top ten for aggregate final ranking over the last nine years.

Obviously, and this shouldn't come as a shock, UCLA was a disappointment relative to its recruiting rankings from the last 13 years. The Bruins massively underperformed, and were among the most underperforming programs in the country over the last nine years. Here are the bottom 25 programs in terms of performance relative to recruiting ranking.

Team02-14 Median Recruiting Rank06-14 Median Final RankDifferential
128. Tennessee957-48
127. Washington St.4887-39
126. Miami1250-38
125. Colorado4987-38
124. Kansas5795-38
123. Virginia3266-34
122. Michigan942-33
121. Illinois4173-32
120. Washington2352-29
119. Syracuse5180-29
118. Memphis80106-26
117. Idaho92118-26
116. UCLA2045-25
115. NC State3963-24
114. Indiana6385-22
113. Pittsburgh3152-21
112. Kentucky4768-21
111. Iowa State6586-21
110. Tulane90111-21
109. Miami (Ohio)91111-20
108. Maryland3655-19
107. North Carolina2947-18
106. UNLV89107-18
105. Purdue5471-17
104. Notre Dame1127-16
If someone wants to do the work, I think the number of coaching changes for that group of programs from 2006 to 2014 could be staggering. UCLA, for one, has gone through three coaches in that nine-year period, as has Tennessee, and as has Miami, just off the top of my head. Clearly, it's been a lost (most of a) decade for historically good programs like Tennessee, Miami, UCLA, Notre Dame, and Washington, and their performance relative to their recruiting ranking could be seen as a serious indictment of their coaching staffs during that period.

On the flip side, let's look at the programs that have performed the best relative to their median recruiting ranking. NOTE: We're throwing out teams that were not FBS for the entirety of the 13-year period under discussion.
Team02-14 Median Recruiting Rank06-14 Median Final RankDifferential
1. Boise St.6610+56
2. Navy9847+51
3. Northern Illinois10453+51
4. TCU6316+47
5. Air Force9548+47
6. Nevada9761+36
7. Utah6631+35
8. Tulsa8249+33
9. Cincinnati6230+32
10. BYU5532+23
11. Missouri3716+21
12. East Carolina8161+20
13. Wisconsin3718+19
14. Fresno St.7758+19
15. Ohio9778+19
16. Oregon St.4830+18
17. Louisiana Tech9779+18
18. UCF7356+17
19. Rice9679+17
20. Louisiana-Lafayette10689+17
21. Oregon227+15
22. Troy8873+15
23. Arkansas St.10591+14
24. Kent St.11399+14
25. Toledo8471+13
Obviously, mid-major programs represent the vast majority of this list. If I had to guess at a couple of reasons, I'd say it's because performing at a high level is generally a bit easier at that level (most mid-major leagues are pretty bad, or at the very least, very top heavy), and there's a lot of volatility in the performance of lower-ranked players that mid-majors usually recruit. By definition, programs that recruit at a lower level are going to have more positive surprises than teams that recruit at a higher level (e.g. it's more difficult for the 8th-ranked recruiting class to perform well above its ranking since there's only so much room). So, while there's probably something to glean from a few of the mid-majors represented (Boise State and TCU are both clearly doing something right from a program and cultural standpoint), the really interesting thing to me is checking out which high majors are represented here. Cincinnati, Oregon, Oregon State, Missouri, and Wisconsin: each of these programs has performed well above where the recruiting rankings would have slotted them, with Oregon, Wisconsin, and Missouri all performing at an elite level over the last nine years. Each of those five programs have had coaching or system stability in that period, so there's that, but it'd be interesting to take a close look at each of those programs to figure out how they get the most out of their talent.

OK, but this is a UCLA site, and so what we all really want to know is this: just how bad was it before Jim Mora arrived, and just how good has it been since he's been here?

Prior to Mora's arrival, UCLA ranked in the bottom five for performance relative to recruiting ranking. Here's that list of luminaries:
Team02-11 Recruiting Median Rank06-11 Final Season Median RankDifferential
1. Ole Miss27.574-46.5
2. Washington St.47.588.5-41
3. Tennessee847-39
4. UCLA2257.5-35.5
5. Miami1247.5-35.5
First, wow, Tennessee, go home, you're drunk. Second, man that was a crappy bunch of seasons for UCLA. The shocking thing is that we're only judging by the 2006 to 2011 seasons. If we had data from before the 2002 recruiting class, and we could judge how the 2001 to 2005 Bruins did relative to their recruiting prowess, I wouldn't be shocked if UCLA was the worst for that entire period. That's just massive underachievement, and it's no surprise that each of those five programs have undergone significant coaching changes during this period.

Alright, so UCLA was a team that underperformed the recruiting makeup of its teams from 2006 to 2011 by a staggering amount, finishing those seasons an average of 35.5 spots lower than what the recruiting makeup of those teams would suggest. Now, let's take a look at how UCLA has done under Mora:
Team08-14 Recruiting Median Rank12-14 Final Season Median RankDifferential
1. Utah St.10841+67
2. Kansas St.6820+48
3. Louisiana Tech9145+46
4. Boise St.6426+38
5. Louisiana-Lafayette10266+36
............
61. UCLA1313+0
............
64. Alabama23-1
This is actually a monumental stat for UCLA. Of the teams that recruit at a top 15 level, UCLA is one of just three that has performed either perfectly to expectation or exceeded expectation (the other two being Georgia, which is a +2 over that period, and Florida St., which is a +1). Of the top 25 recruiting programs from 2008 to 2014, only nine have matched or exceeded expectations. Here's the entire chart to give you a picture of what it looks like:
Team08-14 Recruiting Median Rank12-14 Final Season Median RankDifferential
1. Alabama23-1
2. Ohio St.49-5
3. Texas628-22
4. LSU715-8
5. Georgia86+2
6. Florida St.87+1
7. Auburn816-8
8. Notre Dame824-16
9. USC921-12
10. Florida931-22
11. Oklahoma1113-2
12. Michigan1142-31
13. Miami1250-38
14. UCLA1313+0
15. Texas A&M1520-5
16. Tennessee1661-45
17. Oregon172+15
18. Clemson1714+3
19. Ole Miss1825-7
20. Washington2243-21
21. Stanford237+16
22. South Carolina248+16
23. Oklahoma St.2419+5
24. Arkansas2666-40
25. Nebraska2828+0
Obviously, there is a flip side. If we accept these results as the general makeup of a Jim Mora-coached team -- that they're going to play to about the level of their talent -- the talent will need to be upgraded if UCLA is going to win a championship (admittedly, though, we're not working with a really big sample size). Over the last seven years (which are the recruiting classes that have contributed to Mora's run here at UCLA) the Bruins have recruited at the level of the No. 13 program in the country, and over the three years that Mora has been here, UCLA has played at about the level of the No. 13 program in the country. As we mentioned in our analysis the other day, the albatross of that 56th-ranked 2011 class does hang on the recruiting average a little bit, but even if you throw that class out, it would only adjust UCLA's median recruiting ranking by .5. Getting recruiting to the point where UCLA is getting top ten classes virtually every year is likely going to be the key for the Bruins, since it doesn't appear that the program has the makeup of an Oregon or a Stanford (at least not yet), which have both been able to massively outperform their recruiting.

So, that's our first shot across the bow for analyzing this recruiting vs. performance data. We'll do another piece later in the week analyzing the makeup of championship teams during the 06-14 period (to give a picture of what kind of profile UCLA will need to have to get to that level), and we'll also do an analysis that throws out the mid-major programs and focuses solely on the Power 5.

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