The Georgia Bulldogs and Talent: Defining Recruits and Success
I’ve heard a lot said about “talent,” “potential,” and “recruiting classes” over the past few days. There is a predominant notion that Georgia is not playing up to the team’s potential. I am, in this instance, speaking on a scale much larger than this weekend’s game. I’m speaking on a macro-level. I am wondering if the Bulldogs have been playing as well as they should be.
The first challenge to answering this question is determining how “talent” is defined. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone I’m defining talent as recruiting classes are defined – with a ranking. For all the data present today I relied on the Rivals.com Recruiting Class Rankings. I am using recruiting data because:
- The correlation between recruiting classes and in-college performance is quite undeniable.
- The players deemed talented in high school more often than not go to premier college programs and play for premier coaches. Accordingly the players drafted in the NFL were typically very highly regarded out of high school, so these services (like Rivals, 247Sports, Scout, etc.) have some merit to them beyond merely projecting a teenage athlete’s abilities.
- The relationship between recruiting and winning almost creates a Chicken/Egg scenario in that I don’t know if teams are good because they get great recruits or if they get great recruits because they are a good team.
I chose to use Rivals.com because:
- It was my first love in recruiting sites.
- Its annual rankings as well as a player preview can be viewed by the general public.
- By all accounts the site is every bit as accurate as any other.
The entirety of the Rivals Recruiting Rankings was a bit overwhelming so I used the general question, “Why doesn’t Georgia’s on-field success match the Dawgs’ great recruiting classes?” to narrow the field to “great” recruiting classes. I defined “great” as those finishing in the top 25. I used data dating back to the 2008 class because members of that class would now be redshirted seniors, and thus a five year time period seemed appropriate.
Initial “For What It’s Worth” Observations:
When I had finished compiling my database 38 different teams had been ranked in the top 25 of Rivals.com’s rankings in at least one of the years studied (2008-2012). Interestingly enough, 12 of those programs (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M) reside in the Southeastern Conference. If you wonder why the SEC continues to dominate and has not fallen off the way so many predicted (or at least hoped) I suggest you look at where the top high school ballers are heading year-in and year-out.
Thirteen different programs (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and USC) ranked in Rivals.com’s top 25 in each of the years studied. If that’s not a Who’s Who of college football powers, I don’t know what is. And, if you had doubts about South Carolina’s talent perhaps you might be slightly reconsidering.
For the 38 programs that had at least one top-25 recruiting class I went ahead and analyzed their other non-top-25 classes as well. It didn’t make since, for example, to assign Illinois an average recruiting class ranking of 23 simply because the Illini were ranked 23rd in 2008. Illinois’ actual average over the five years was 46.8, but they are included in all the data by virtue of having a top-25 class at some point. The obvious potential error here is that I probably do not have the 38 best recruiting programs over a five year period as there could be a team that was ranked 26th every single year and would thus have a better average then the Illinois program I just mentioned. I’m aware of this, but my focus was “great” programs so if some “good” teams are included by some “better” teams aren’t it is OK, because again, the focus is “great” recruiters.
Average Class Rankings
Alabama holds a decisive advantage over other programs with an average recruiting class ranking of 1.8 over this time period. USC comes in second at 5, followed by Texas at 5.4, Florida at 6.2 and Florida State at 6.8. LSU (8.6), Georgia (9.0), Ohio State (9.4), Oklahoma (10.2) and Auburn (12.0) round out the top ten.
- Tennessee ranks 14h with an average ranking of 16.8.
- Oregon ranks 15th with an average ranking of 17.8.
- South Carolina comes in at 18 with an average of 19.0.
- A&M ranks 19th at 19.4.
- Ole Miss has surprisingly averaged a top-25 class (24.8) and is the nation’s 24th best recruiting school over this period according to class rankings.
- Arkansas comes in at 26th with an average ranking of 31.8.
- Missouri finished 28th with an average of 33.0.
- Mississippi State comes in at 36.2 (34th in the country).
Of course these rankings mean nothing with no comparison to on-field success. For this I relied on the total number of “BCS Wins” meaning “Wins against opponents from BCS Conferences.” Frankly FCS and Conference USA wins don’t amount to much, so I only counted wins against the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac 12 and SEC. And you can (and I will later) make the argument that even some of those wins should be devalued. I did not consider losses as every team involved played roughly the same number of games from 2008 – present, and I am looking only at successes.
Oregon took the lead with 41 BCS wins and was followed by Alabama (40), USC (37), Oklahoma and Florida (35 each). Virginia Tech (33), Stanford, Ohio State, LSU (32 each) and Penn State and UGA (30 each) rounded out the top 10 with the Nittany Lions and the Bulldogs tied for 10th.
- South Carolina ranked 13th with 28 wins
- Missouri was surprisingly high with 27 wins (ranked 15th)
- Auburn (23), A&M (18), Mississippi State (15), Tennessee (13), and Ole Miss (12) all came in below the average for the 38-team pool which was 24.47.
Here is how the SEC teams in the survey stacked up in a ranking-to-wins comparison:
Click to Enlarge.
The trouble with this type of analysis, however is that class rankings are defined by a mysterious (and possibly arbitrary) combination of both the quality of recruits (5-star, 4-star, 30star, etc.) and the quantity. Accordingly, if a large class is brought in this year then next year’s class may need to be smaller and thus will be less highly regarded.
To combat this I analyzed the total number of 5, 4 and 3-star recruits of each of the 38 programs at hand over a five year period. Here’s what I found:
Only 31 of the 38 schools ever landed a five-star recruit, so I knew from the get-go some of this data would be skewed. Here are those results:
|Florida State||11||Oklahoma||6||Texas A&M||2||Rutgers||1|
|Ohio State||9||Mississippi||3||California||2||North Carolina||1|
|Texas||8||Tennessee||3||South Carolina||2||Michigan State||1|
With a total of 152 Five-Star players recruited to the 38 schools in question, the average came out to a clean 4.00. Of the teams with greater than average success (Every team with 5 or more) only two fell below average in BCS wins (24 or fewer), Notre Dame and Auburn.
Georgia finished tied for 8th in Five-Star success – not too far above their 10th place in BCS Wins.
Here’s is a graphical representation of how the SEC shaped up with a trend line defined by some magical program in excel.
This chart shows the correlation between wins and five-star recruits. Click to Enlarge.
Every team in the survey landed at least 12 four-star recruits, but I’ll spare you all of those details. Here are the highlights:
- Alabama was the pinnacle with 76
- Florida pulled 61
- LSU tagged 55
- Georgia placed 8th with 54
The average number of four-star recruits brought in over the five year period was 37.21. Of the 18 teams with averages above 37.21, only five (Auburn, Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee and UCLA) also had below average win production.
Georgia’s 8th place ranking was again close to its 10th place win production.
Here’s the picture from the SEC again.
Click to Enlarge. The picture that is, Auburn fans. Click to enlarge the picture. Not your win total, or anything else for that matter.
The 38 teams surveyed averaged over 61 three-star recruits during the five year period with USC pulling in the fewest with just 22 (keep in mind how many 5 and 4-star players the Trojans brought in and how many scholarships they lost due to NCAA sanctions).
Interestingly enough three-star recruits begin to track an inverse relationship to winning, most-likely because it is the four and five-star players that truly set apart elite teams (more on that later).
Of the 18 surveyed teams that finished below average in three-star recruiting numbers, only three (UCLA, Michigan and Tennessee) also finished below average in BCS Win production.
Georgia brought in 42 three-star players during this time frame.
The total balance of three, four and five-star players gives a complete look into what Rivals.com considers to be valuable recruits. These figures give insight into the total depth of a roster – especially on a sample size as long as five years.
Below are the SEC’s 12 represented teams accompanied by their total number of 3-5 star recruits and their national rank in that number:
Alabama – 130 Total Recruits – 1
LSU – 121 Total Recruits – T-2
Auburn – 121 Total Recruits – T-2
South Carolina – 117 Total Recruits – T-4
Arkansas – 117 Total Recruits – T-4
Ole Miss – 116 Total Recruits – T-6
Texas A&M – 106 Total Recruits – 15
Florida – 104 Total Recruits – T-16
Georgia – 103 Total Recruits – T-18
Tennessee – 103 Total Recruits – T-18
Mississippi State – 101 Total Recruits – T-22
Missouri – 94 Total Recruits – 29
And here is the SEC trend:
I like Georgia’s continued presence on the same side of the line as Alabama. Click to Enlarge.
So Has Georgia Underperformed?
Oregon has the most BCS Wins per “top” recruit if we define “top” as “three, four or five-star.” At .414 wins per top recruit the Ducks edge out a surprising effort by Penn State who has won 30 games with just 74 top recruits.
Florida is the highest rated SEC team and ranks 5th in the nation with a .337 wins per top recruit ratio followed by Alabama (7th) in the nation with .308. Georgia is third in the SEC at 11th in the nation with a ratio of .291. I’m not sure I’d call that “underperforming.”
Where is the Misconception?
The average person hears about recruiting class rankings without actually digging into them. Accordingly I think the average fan hears a lot more about his team’s class, remembers more about it and in turn inflates it. I would have guessed that Georgia trailed only Alabama in average recruiting class ranking among SEC teams since 2008. But, as soon as I started to look into the matter it became evident that wasn’t the case.
Georgia is 4th in the SEC in average class ranking, 4th in five-star recruits, 4th in four-star recruits, 3rd from the bottom in three-star recruits and 9th in total recruits with 3, 4 or 5 stars. So I’m not quite as sold on Georgia as an “underperforming” team when I see that the Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC in BCS Wins over that same time frame.
Furthermore, I don’t see the underperformance on the national scale either. Georgia ranks 7th in average class ranking, 9th in five-stars, 8th in four-stars, 33rd in three-stars and 18th in total top recruits. Being tied for 10th in BCS Wins seems right on track when you consider the following:
- Alabama, LSU and Florida all rank ahead of UGA in class ranking, five-star players, four-star players and total top recruits. Those teams have combined to deny Georgia “success” in a total of six games. That’s six wins that Georgia could have won against lower ranked opposition. Even if Georgia went 3-3 in those games the Dawgs would move into a tie for 6th in wins – one spot ahead of their raw recruiting class average ranking. Georgia is punished on a wins-basis for playing three teams that continually out-recruit the Dawgs.
- One Big Ten team (Ohio State) leads Georgia. Not only have the Buckeyes violated NCAA rules and had to vacate a number of the wins that I included in this survey, but they also play in a much weaker conference. Consider this: The non-Big Ten teams in the 38-team survey have defeated Big Ten teams 39 times since 2008. The Non-SEC teams in the survey have only defeated the Southeastern Conference 17 times. Ohio State’s conference wins are devalued in my mind.
- The same goes for Stanford and USC whose Pac-12 has been defeated by outsiders 24 times, Virginia Tech whose ACC has been defeated by non-residents 41 times, and Oklahoma whose Big XII has lost to foreign conferences 23 times.
When I think about Georgia’s recruiting classes and the last few years of on-field performance I still think Georgia has underperformed. But maybe I just think wrong. Maybe we don’t need a coach like Alabama, or facilities like Florida or a home crowd like LSU has. There’s a big difference between the 90 four and five-star players Alabama has brought in since 2008 and the 61 that Georgia has. Twenty-nine players can make a big difference. I’d like to find out what that is like.
If you’re looking for teams that underperform look at Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee. Those four schools have brought in 457 “top” recruits but combined to win only 70 BCS Conference games since 2008.
That’s all I got/