Josh Kendall

You can look it up: Recruiting rankings do matter

South Carolina finished inside the Rivals Top 25 of team recruiting rankings in every class under Steve Spurrier from 2005 through 2015.
South Carolina finished inside the Rivals Top 25 of team recruiting rankings in every class under Steve Spurrier from 2005 through 2015. dmclemore@thestate.com

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.)

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:

2. LSU

Biggest catch: RB Devin White

5. Florida

Biggest catch: QB Feleipe Franks

6. Ole Miss

Biggest catch: QB Shea Patterson

7. Georgia

Biggest catch: QB Jacob Eason

10. Alabama

Biggest catch: OT Jonah Williams

11. Auburn

Biggest catch: WR Kyle Davis

19. Texas A&M

Biggest catch: RB Trayveon Williams

22. Tennessee

Biggest catch: QB Jarrett Guarantano

25. Arkansas

Biggest catch: DE McTelvin Agim

29. USC

Biggest catch: QB Brandon McIlwain

30. Kentucky

Biggest catch: C Drake Jackson

41. Miss. State

Biggest catch: DT Raekwon Davis

48. Vanderbilt

Biggest catch: CB Joejuan Williams

58. Missouri

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

2. LSU

3. Michigan

4. Florida State

5. Florida

6. Ole Miss

7. Georgia

8. Clemson

9. Notre Dame

10. Alabama

11. Auburn

12. Penn State

13. Michigan State

14. Baylor

15. Southern Cal

16. UCLA

17. Stanford

18. Miami

19. Texas A&M

20. TCU

21. Arizona State

22. Tennessee

23. Oklahoma

24. Oregon

25. Arkansas

26. Houston

27. Duke

28. Wisconsin

29. South Carolina

30. Kentucky

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