National signing day came and went Wednesday, proving again the myth that parity exists in college football. The same programs that dominate the recruiting rankings are the same ones who have controlled the game's power for what seems like forever.
Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio State, Penn State, Southern California, Georgia, LSU. Those schools - and a few others - annually haul in the most talented players, and those programs annually find their names in the final football polls.
For programs such as South Carolina and Clemson, it is difficult to crack the inner circle of success. Occasionally one of the fraternity's elite drops out and an outsider jumps in, but for the most part the same programs win year-in and year-out in recruiting and on the field.
"Obviously, the rich get richer," USC coach Steve Spurrier says. "The big, highly recruited guys go to the big schools."
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Outsiders face an uphill battle. They can occasionally field a top-level recruiting class as USC did in cracking the top 10 in 2003 and 2007. For the most part, they must strive to keep the best talent in state and find athletes who want to be trailblazers.
As it should be, USC was proud of its recent recruiting class, mostly because it met its needs by signing six offensive linemen and also because it landed two instate Parade All-Americans. Marcus Lattimore of Duncan was considered by many to be the top running back in the country, and defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles of Hodges was a four-star recruit.
Unfortunately, the class pales in comparison to many of those in the SEC. USC's class generally was considered among the top 20 to 30 in the country, but anywhere from sixth to eighth in the SEC.
That is because the recruiting classes of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn and LSU annually rank among the nation's best. Recruiting against those programs involves much head-banging for USC.
Spurrier's pitch to recruits over the past five years has been about helping USC make history. Come help USC win its first SEC championship, he tells recruits. But that is a tough sell against schools that can promise top 10 finishes and possible national championships.
For the most part, Spurrier has recruited well. But until USC and many other programs consistently land top 10 recruiting classes and finish in the top 10 in the rankings, parity will not have arrived.
If you do not believe there is a power play at the top, consider that of the 120 FBS programs, only 36 managed a final top 10 ranking in the past decade - and only 25 programs had a top 10 recruiting class.
Talk of parity in college football has become fashionable with the emergence on the national scene of non-traditional powers Boise State, Utah and TCU. The success of those programs in landing top 10 final rankings can be attributed mostly to competing in non-BCS conferences.
None of the three schools has had a top-10 recruiting class over the past decade. So, it stands to reason that those schools do not possess the same level of talent as the big boys. Put those programs in a BCS conference and their names would not appear in the top 10.
An examination of the past decade's recruiting classes and final AP rankings reveals a pretty simple formula to success: Recruit the best players and win the most games.
Over the past decade, six programs have landed five or more top-10 recruiting classes and finished in the final AP top 10 at least five times. Southern Cal had eight top 10 recruiting classes and seven top 10 finishes. Texas and Oklahoma had seven and seven. Florida, Georgia and LSU all had at least five top 10 recruiting classes and five top 10 finishes.
The recruiting and rankings lists also reveal a little about which programs were the poorest coached over the past decade. Florida State had eight top 10 recruiting classes, but only one top 10 finish. Tennessee had six top 10 recruiting classes and only two top 10 finishes.
Flipping the charts, Ohio State and Virginia Tech seemed to have over-achieved in the past decade. Ohio State turned four top 10 recruiting classes into seven top 10 finishes. Virginia Tech did not have a single top 10 recruiting class, but boasted of five top 10 finishes. My guess is Ohio State and Virginia Tech probably benefited more from playing in the Big Ten and ACC.
The beauty of college football is there are occasional upsets like Appalachian State winning at Michigan in 2007, and a program can emerge from the middle of the pack to garner national headlines such as Cincinnati did this past season.
None of that means parity exists. As long as the NCAA allows 85 scholarships for football, the power programs will continue to stockpile talent. Those same programs will continue to win national championships and dominate the final top 10 polls.
If you think there is soon to be a shakeup of the programs at the top, think again. This year's top-10 recruiting classes, according to Rivals.com, included Florida, Southern Cal, Texas, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, UCLA, Tennessee and Florida State.
Maybe it is just me, but that does not look anything like parity in college football.