A public service announcement as the first week of February approaches: Don’t be the fan who says “recruiting rankings don’t matter.”
They do. A lot. More than all the other stuff put together, in fact.
Alabama has won four of the last seven national titles in college football. The Crimson Tide has finished No. 1 in composite recruiting rankings (compiled by 247Sports) in each of the last five seasons and was No. 5 the year before that and No. 2 the year before that.
To argue that there is not a direct correlation between these two facts would make you look foolish at dinner parties. (Also, if you’re talking a lot of recruiting at the dinner parties you go to, you need to find new dinner parties.)
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Save the Michigan State argument. The Michigan State argument, if you’re not familiar, goes like this: The Spartans have finished between No. 22 and No. 35 in national recruiting rankings in the last five years and have finished in the nation’s top 11 in four of those years as well, so you can win at a high level as a recruiting outlier.
The recruiting rankings rebuttal to that argument is as easy as it is accurate. The Spartans, who haven’t won a national title since 1966, lost 38-0 to the Crimson Tide on Dec. 31. Alabama picks its teeth with outliers.
Missouri is the SEC’s version of Michigan State. The Tigers have averaged a 36th place national finish in recruiting the last three years, but have appeared in two SEC title games in that time. You can cling to that if you like, but it’s hard to survive very long with that kind of dichotomy. The Tigers finished 5-7 overall and 1-7 in the SEC this year, by the way.
Individually, recruiting rankings can and often are flawed or at least incomplete. A three-star play can go on to be an NFL All-Pro. A five-star player can be a bust.
Cumulatively, though, there is no greater predictor of success in college football than recruiting rankings, which is why South Carolina must recruit better if it’s going to compete for an SEC title, which is a big reason why Will Muschamp is the Gamecocks’ new head coach.
The Gamecocks are currently 29th in the nation in the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings, which means they have some work to do just to catch up with the last five years, when their average finish was 18.4 in the country. A top 20 ranking sounds downright respectable, but it’s not nearly enough to compete in the SEC. At No. 29 in the country so far, South Carolina sits 10th in the SEC.
The SEC East continues to fill with acolytes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, with the Gamecocks adding Muschamp and Georgia adding Kirby Smart to go along with Florida’s hire of Jim McElwain last year. That means recruiting in the league will only get more competitive.
Muschamp first won over South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner with his devotion to recruiting, but even he has made a point since taking the job that he’s no slave to stars in the recruiting process.
“It’s not about winning in February,” he said. “It’s about winning in the fall.”
The truth is you have to do the first before you can do the second, and there’s no sense arguing the point any other way.
Ranking the SEC classes
Where the SEC recruiting classes are on the 247 composite ranking:
Biggest catch: RB Devin White
Biggest catch: QB Feleipe Franks
6. Ole Miss
Biggest catch: QB Shea Patterson
Biggest catch: QB Jacob Eason
Biggest catch: OT Jonah Williams
Biggest catch: WR Kyle Davis
19. Texas A&M
Biggest catch: RB Trayveon Williams
Biggest catch: QB Jarrett Guarantano
Biggest catch: DE McTelvin Agim
Biggest catch: QB Brandon McIlwain
Biggest catch: C Drake Jackson
41. Miss. State
Biggest catch: DT Raekwon Davis
Biggest catch: CB Joejuan Williams
Biggest catch: RB Nutereace Strong
Recruiting Top 30
The latest team recruiting rankings according to 247Sports Composite, which factors in all networks.
1. Ohio State
4. Florida State
6. Ole Miss
9. Notre Dame
12. Penn State
13. Michigan State
15. Southern Cal
19. Texas A&M
21. Arizona State
29. South Carolina