Recruitment rankings are no guarantee of a player’s success. At the very least, though, they’re useful for identifying the level of year-over-year talent present in the school’s recruiting classes.
Evaluating a 12-year recruiting period of classes from 2010 to 2021 and the following year’s results among Power 5 schools should reveal how successful predictive recruiting rankings are in the field. And while the real-life factors are far more complex than just the numbers, some schools live up to the billing.
Theoretically, the school that averaged the top recruiting class in this 12-year period should also lead the nation in wins. Alabama did just that, with 151 to its name. But there are many surprises on the list. Wake Forest, the Power 5 school with the worst recruiting classes, exceeded its expectations by 20 places, finishing at 45th in wins over the period.
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The nation’s biggest underperformer from this period was Tennessee, which ranked 14th in recruiting thanks to four top 10 picks during this period. On the field, though, the Volunteers have lost five seasons and finished 41st in wins among Power 5 schools. California, which recruited well in the early 2010s, finishes second worst followed from Nebraska as the third greatest underachiever in the nation.
One of the most consistent schools in its level of recruiting, Nebraska’s recruiting classes ranked 15th to 25th in 10 of 12 years. Nebraska’s win totals come as no surprise, with the recent decline in losing seasons dropping it to No. 43 in wins, two spots below top underachiever Tennessee.
Three schools with top 10 recruiting classes on average were among the biggest disappointments: Florida (6th), Auburn (7th), and Texas (10th) all fall far short of their expected win totals. All three teams went through the coaches in this period, unable to continue to reach the same heights of their national championship seasons since 2005-10.
Bill Snyder, take a bow. Despite Kansas State’s recruiting at a level that makes them the fourth worst among Power 5 schools, the Wildcats finished 22nd in wins with only two lost seasons in this span. Meanwhile, in-state rival Kansas has the fewest wins among the Power 5 schools (26) despite Kansas State’s drafting six spots.
The other bad news for Nebraska is that four of its competitors in the Big Ten West find themselves among the biggest overachievers. Most of Wisconsin’s recruiting season ended in the 1930s and 1940s, but the Badgers were a top 10 leader in wins during this period in addition to multiple Big Ten West division titles.
Iowa’s level of consistency under Kirk Ferentz is also impressive considering the Hawkeyes averaged only the #1 recruiting class. 42. Pat Fitzgerald’s ability to turn otherwise unrecruited prospects into consistent starters at Northwestern also lands the Wildcats on the roster, and they’d be even higher among overachievers were it not for a recent downturn in success.
The final inclusion from the Big Ten West is Minnesota, whose recruiting classes never got higher than 50th nationally before PJ Fleck’s hiring. Since then, Minnesota has been recruiting at a top-40 level, and an 11-win season in 2019 helps, too.
Along with Alabama at No. 1, there are several other Power 5 schools that have performed exactly as expected with respect to their recruiting rankings. Mississippi State (No. 26), Virginia Tech (No. 29), Texas Tech (No. 48), Georgia Tech (No. 49), Purdue (No. 58), and Illinois (No. 63) all finished with the same recruitment rankings and win totals.
The 2023 Nebraska football schedule
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