Want a National Title? Sign Top Ten Classes

Since 1996 every team that has won a national title except for Oklahoma in 2000 has had at least two top ten national signing classes in the four years before a title. So while signing a top ten recruiting class doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win a national title — indeed, there are plenty of teams that don’t — for 19 of the past 20 years, you can’t win a title without at least two top ten recruiting classes. More interestingly, every champion from the past ten years with the exception of Auburn in 2010 has had at least three top ten recruiting classes in the four years before it won a title.

Every year there are tons of Tweets about how “stars don’t matter,” and random social media examples of two and three star athletes who have become stars in the NFL. Sure, stars may not matter for individual players — that is, being a five star doesn’t guarantee that a specific player will be a high draft pick — but the teams that sign the most four and five stars are typically the best in the country. That’s because recruiting is essentially a game of probability. the more top players you get into your program the more chances you have to develop elite first round talent. Nearly half of all five stars will be drafted. Around one percent of all two stars will be drafted. All things being equal, the more four and five stars your team signs, the better they’ll be. (If you want an in depth analysis of why recruiting matters, check out what Stu Mandel wrote this week.)

With all the recruiting competition and the focus being brought to bear on top players, arguably recruiting analysis is becoming even better. Each of the last five champions, Alabama three times, Florida State, and Ohio State have had four consecutive top ten classes (Ohio State’s 2009 class was a composite top ten) in the year before they won a national title.

So how have the national title teams recruited since 1996, here’s the data (A reader provided me with the recruiting data prior to 2002 based on spreadsheets he kept. Gotta love the South):

1996 Florida (#6 in 1993, #2 in 1995)

1997 Nebraska/Michigan (Nebraska #5 in 1995 and number #9 in 1996 Michigan: #4 in 1994, #7 in 1995, #8 in 1996, #4 in 1997)

1998 Tennessee (#7 in 1998, #5 in 1997, #3 in 1996)

1999 Florida State (#5 in 1998, #1 in 1997, #5 in 1996)

2000 Oklahoma (#13 in 2000, and #25 in both 1997 and 1998 Rivals) *OU is the only program without a top ten class to win the title in Rivals history. But it did have 3 top 25 classes

2001 Miami (#2 in 2001, #9 in 2000, #8 in 1999)

2002 Ohio State (#7 in 2002, #4 in 2000, #2 in 1999)

2003 LSU/USC (LSU #1 class in 2003, #4 in 2001 USC #3 in 2003, #14 in 2000, #21 in 2001)

2004 USC (#3 class in 2003, #1 class in 2004)

2005 Texas (#1 class in 2002, #15 class in 2003 with only 18 recruits, which averaged the highest star rating in country, #18 class in 2004 — only signed 15 players.) If Texas had signed 20 players in either of these classes, they would have ranked in the top five. The #1 class in 2002 was simply too large, with over 30 players).

2006 Florida (#2 in 2003, #10 in 2004, #2 in 2006)

2007 LSU (#1 in 2003, #1 in 2004, #7 in 2006, #4 in 2007)

2008 Florida (#2 in 2006, #1 in 2007, #3 in 2008)

2009 Alabama (#10 in 2007, #1 in 2008, #1 in 2009)

2010 Auburn (#10 in 2006, #7 in 2007, #4 in 2010) Auburn was #20 in 2008 and #19 in 2009

2011 Alabama (#1 in 2008, #1 in 2009, #5 in 2010, #1 in 2011)

2012 Alabama (#1 in 2009, #5 in 2010, #1 in 2011, #1 in 2012)

2013 Florida State (#7 in 2009, #10 in 2010, #2 in 2011, #6 in 2012, #10 in 2013)

2014 Ohio State (#11 in 2011, #4 in 2012, #2 in 2013, #3 in 2014)

2015 Alabama (#1 in 2012, #1 in 2013, #1 in 2014, #1 in 2015)

Add all this up and the past twenty national champions have averaged 2.9 top ten classes in the four years before they won a title.

So now that the 2016 recruiting classes are complete, which teams have two or more top ten recruiting classes in the four years before the start of the 2016 season? The past twenty years of recruiting data suggests your national champion will be one of these 14 teams:

4 top ten classes: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Auburn, and LSU

3 top ten classes: Georgia

2 top ten classes: Tennessee, Michigan, Texas A&M, USC, Florida, Clemson, Ole Miss, Notre Dame

(The Golden Domers also came in 11th in 2014 and 2015 so they’re close to having four straight top ten classes.)

So if you want to place some wagers on who is going to win the 2016 national title, it will almost certaintly be one of these 13 schools. 

Vegas certaintly agrees, here are the preseason odds for the top 22 teams to win the title. Every team but Texas A&M is ranked in the top 22 most likely to win the title, including eight of the top ten and 11 of the top 16:

1. Alabama 5-1

2. Clemson +825

2. Oklahoma +825

4. Ohio State 12-1

5. LSU 14-1

6. Baylor 14.5-1

7. Michigan 16-1

8. Tennessee 17-1

8. Notre Dame 17-1

8. Florida State 17-1

11. Stanford 23-1

12. Michigan State 24-1

13. Ole Miss 26-1

14. UCLA 33-1

14. Georgia 33-1

14. Auburn 33-1

14. TCU 33-1

18. Washington 44-1

18. Oregon 44-1

20. Oklahoma State 50-1

20. USC 50-1

22. Florida 55-1

The next time someone tells you recruiting classes don’t matter, just reply: You’re right, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that all but one team that’s won a national title since 1996 has had at least two top ten classes in the four years before its title. 

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