Stars Matter

Stars Matter, or a discourse on the efficacy of recruiting rankings related to winning percentage


One of our regular Auburn readers asked a couple of good questions, and it was on a topic I’ve wanted to write about. Here goes:
By the way, do you think that Bammer will have another top 5 class next year? Do you think that Bammer will win the head-to-head recruiting battle with Auburn next year? Why?

I expect Alabama to have at least a top ten class, and a very strong shot at a top 5. Last year, Alabama signed three five-star recruits, according to Scout.com (Julio Jones, Mark Barron and Tyler Love).

That’s a good crop of talent the state produced in the 2008 signing class. What’s interesting is that the 2009 crop of athletes could be even more talented. Right now, Scout.com has four state residents listed as five-stars.

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These players are listed as FIVE-STARs by Scout.com:
Kendall Kelly WR Gadsden High School
Dre Kirckpatrick CB Gadsden High School
Nico Johnson LB Andalusia
Tana Patrick LB Stevensen
I’m not saying they all sign with one school. I’m just saying the state could be even deeper than last season if some of these young players pan out. We’ll know more once the high school season gets underway.

But I’d look for both Alabama and Auburn to stand a chance for top 15 rankings—even if Auburn repeated its poor performance last season and missed on every real target in the state.

And that’s a worst case scenario for the Tigers. I doubt Tuberville and his staff would ever miss like they did last year. Of course, much of Tuberville’s failure was a simple abdication of the recruiting field. He didn’t get out there and work; therefore, Saban cleaned up.

I think it is evident by the media spin, and announcements Tuberville and his staff are out there recruiting harder this year than last.

We’ll have to see how things pan out, but I feel good about Alabama landing a strong majority of the top players in the state again this season. And with another bumper crop of athletes, that should equate to a top class in 2009.

QUESTION: On another note, didn’t Tennessee have the #1 recruiting class per Scout in 2005? Think they will win the NC this year?

This is a good question about the efficacy of recruiting rankings. Put another way, it is the oft-asked question of whether stars matter?!?!

The most common attack on Rivals or Scout is the anecdotal variety, perhaps best personified by this gem of wishful thinking from Phillip Marshall:

As I watch Philip Rivers, playing hurt, give the unbeaten New England Patriots all they can handle, I am reminded why I find recruiting rankings to be so overblown.

I saw Rivers play one game for Athens High School. I thought he looked like a guy who could be a good college player, but not as a quarterback. Auburn coaches apparently agreed, offering him an opportunity to play tight end. Alabama coaches didn’t offer him at all. North Carolina State coaches saw something entirely different, and they had it right.

With that in mind, I took a look at the rosters of the Patriots and the Chargers. The Patriots have 15 active players (not counting Randy Moss) who are from lower division schools or schools with little or no ability to recruit against the likes of Southeastern Conference schools. The Chargers have 10. I think it’s safe to say none of those players were lauded by recruiting services.

But anecdotal evidence doesn’t cut it. Yes, sometimes recruiting services miss. But, sometimes Babe Ruth struck out too. However, I bet if you look at the numbers, he’d turn out to have a pretty good slugging percentage despite his strikeouts.

So, we need something hard instead of anecdotal wishful thinking. Let’s turn to math—I hate it, but it can be useful. Sunday Morning Quarterback is a virtuoso with numbers; SMQ took the most recent draft as a yardstick and then measured Rivals.com star rankings for the draftees. What did SMQ find?

Semantics can’t hide the trend: five-star recruits have roughly a one-in-four chance of eventually being drafted, twice as high as four-star recruits, who themselves are about three times more likely to get picked than three-star prospects, and so on. Five-star kids are substantially more likely to get picked at any point in the first five rounds.

That’s emphatic, but there are additional data sources crunching the Rivals.com numbers. Athlonsports.com published this article, which looked at the first three rounds of the draft, and compared Rivals.com recruit rankings.

(only) One-thousandth of one percent of high school senior football players will ever receive a five star rating. Keep that in mind…

…a player has nearly a 50-50 chance of being drafted in the first three rounds if he is ranked as a five star recruit. The chance drops significantly for four stars. It drops even further for three star prospects, as they have less than a four percent chance. Two star recruits basically have no chance of being drafted in the first round — in fact, its less than one percent…

These numbers mean that recruiting ranking really do matter. Are recruiting services 100 percent accurate? Of course not. It is nearly impossible to evaluate motivation, maturity and integrity (See former Florida State WR Fred Rouse). However, recruiting rankings are pretty good indicators of how a prospect will turn out. As the industry grows, fans of college football can only expect that these self-proclaimed talent evaluators to get even better at predicting the future.

I’d say that is pretty good, and debunks Phillip Marshall’s argument that stars don’t matter:

According to Scout.com, of the 31 projected selections (New England doesn’t have a pick), nine were five-star prospects out of high school. Eight were four-stars and eight were three-stars. Six were two-stars. Make of that what you will. What I make of it is that there’s not a significantly better chance of a five-star being a first-round draft pick than there is a four-star, a three-star or even a two-star.

It is apparent Marshall didn’t pass stats in school. Or he is a liar. Idiot or liar…you be the judge.

Let’s go back to SMQ for a moment. SMQ ranked recruiting classes 2002-2007, and then compared the recruiting rank against winning percentage for the same time span.

Another strong correlation showed up as teams like Southern Cal posted the best recruiting classes, and the best winning percentage against BCS schools.

Auburn was also in the same category. They had the 10th best recruiting class on average during the 2002-2007 span, and had the 7th best winning percentage against BCS teams.

While a team might not win a national title, I think getting the best recruits increases your chances of winning—despite what Phillip Marshall might say.

10 Comments

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  1. 1
    finebammer

    see florida state. bowden’s seminoles finished in the top five some fifteen years in a row starting in 1987, as i recall, and won two national titles in that period. they didn’t do that with top twenty recruiting classes. top fives. consistently. nationally.

    you’re not going to hit on every recruit. the services can’t measure the most important intangible, heart.

    but the fact remains unchanged. to contend for national titles, you must field blue-chippers.

  2. 2
    Kevin

    Wow. That’s quite the dissertation to publish in the attempt to find relevance.

    The fact remains that you are living in a hypothetical world. Try beating, say Miss. State, a couple of times and then talk to the rest of the SEC about how great you are.

  3. 3
    API_Downfall_Countdown

    How many times do we have to over-stress this for the brain-dead Barnies: you’re recent success WILL NOT continue to repeat itself.

    I’ll break this down in “moronic terms” for you guys.

    1) Are you too caught up in your current success that you’ve completely forgotten what you’re up against? If so, do you honestly believe a few penalizations and more than a few coaching changes have completely and permanently turned our program upside down? Have you forgotten who we are? Have you forgotten what you were up against and heavily defeated by up until the year 2002? Simply put: we out-recruited you throughout the course of OUR dominance from 1990-2002, I’m talking about the years in which you guys only won a grand total of 4 Iron Bowls during that 12 year period. Just because we endured a near death experience, doesn’t mean having the luxury of the top recruiting class in the nation, isn’t going to turn us back into what we were.

    2) From 2002-2006, you guys simply put, won the overall head-to-head recruiting battle (and just for the record, during our first official season off of probation, we anal rapped you guys in recruiting). From 2002-2007 you’ve won every Iron Bowl throughout that period; keep in mind you’ve also won the recruiting battle throughout that period as well. Throughout those six* wins, you only won by an average of 8 points or less. Now, seeing how we’re FINALLY back on the right track and are handing your your asses in recruiting, do you think you’ll continue to barely defeat talent that you NO LONGER are out-recruiting, but is out-recruiting you?

    3) Regardless as to what you say, Nick Saban will win at Alabama. He may not win National Championships, however, he WILL win the Iron Bowl. This isn’t doormat Shula we’re talking about here; the guy who basically lost the Iron Bowls all by his lonesome self… BUT ONLY BY A HAIR!

    The facts are the facts. Alabama HASN’T thrown in the towel yet, and we WILL NOT!

    API had a nice run all throughout our period of decline, and it’s a proven fact: their success came courtesy of our downfall. You may say Alabama’s misfortunes had nothing to do with API defeating UF in 2006, but isn’t it ironic the worse off we got, the better API got? While we performed under a mediocre coach who was limited as to how many prospects he could recruit, Tuberville simply cleaned house and took advantage of our broken mess.

    We’re in a different boat now, and trust me when I say after Tubby loses his first two Iron Bowls, he will resign and retire, making Barnies believe he was a legend who transformed API’s football program into gold, AND ALABAMA’S WEAKENED STATE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!

    It’s coming, rather sooner than later.

  4. 4
    CJackson

    Spot on analysis. Anecdotal evidence and the intuitions of a fan or biased reporter are one thing, statistics are another.

    The numbers don’t lie. Not only are highly rated recruits more likely to be drafted, but their teams are more likely to win at the college level. Look at the teams that have succeeded in the BCS: USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Flordia, even Auburn in 2004. Their success correlated with highly ranked recruiting classes.

    All Auburn fans like Kevin can do is make petulant jabs and avoid the subject.
    FYI: Auburn also lost to MSU last year.

  5. 5
    BamaFanInNYC

    CJackson, I think Kevin is misunderstood and misinterpreted at certain times.

    He makes every petulant jab he possibly can because he’s an overly jealous and inferior 19 year old who wasn’t accepted into The University of Alabama, and now he’s suffering miserably at Alabama Tech. His sole purpose in life is, not to follow his very own program, but to thoroughly follow UA in hopes that our program burns–even worse than before.

    There in lies Kevin’s sad but true life story. I pity your jealousy, little brother.

  6. 6
    Coach Tony Franklin

    Of course stars matter! Unless your Tony Franklin that is! I could coach up a team of parapeligics with my spread system! I’m Tony Franklin Damnit!!!
    Matter of fact Tony Franklin is a star! Yeah thats right and I’ll be coming to a theatre near you soon! Yeah …. me and Brad Pitt and George Clooney in Ocean’s 14…..Dont tell Borges!!! I found his old play book and sold to a soccer team in Mexico…. I ‘m Tony Franklin Damnit!!!

  7. 7
    mike

    Cap-

    1) I would not base the state’s overall talent level ONLY off of the # of 5 star prospects. However, I do agree that this class is very talented and possibly as good or better than last years(will have to wait and see how they improve as sr’s).

    2) I agree that both UA and AU will have top 15 classes, if not top 10. I also agree that Bammer will probably win the in-state recruiting battle, much like they have nearly every year. In all actuality, 2 years ago was the only time that I can remember when Auburn beat Bammer badly in the in-state recruiting battle.

    3) As for the recruiting rankings…

    I found it interesting that some of the big name football schools have still recruited well over the past 5 years, but haven’t done nearly as good on the field…

    FSU -12
    Tenn -10
    ND -13
    Neb -15
    Bammer -20

    And some of the lesser schools have not recruited as well, yet have done more with less on the field:

    L’ville +40
    WVU +34
    VT +19
    Wisc +31

    What does this mean? IMO it shows that coaching it just as important as recruiting!!!

    As for what the SMQ recruiting rankings mean for Bammer (since this is a Bammer site)….IMO it shows that there is a good possibilty the future will be much better for Bammer. Especially, IF Saban is the coach most Bammers think he is!!!

  8. 8
    mike

    BamaFanInNYC-

    Just wanted to point that IF Kevin couldn’t get into THE University of Alabammer…then he certainly could NOT get into AUBURN UNIVERSITY.

    Why?

    Well, that simple New York….AUBURN UNIVERSITY has stricter academic requirements.

  9. 9
    tmc1

    Mike

    Auburn has the finest correspondence courses this side of the University of Phoenix. 3 easy payments of $39.99 will get you a Phd in Sociology.
    Seriouly Mike, I am glad you think Auburn U, is the MIT of the SEC. Because to the rest of us Auburn looks like a diploma mill.

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