Well, we're about a week away from National Signing Day, when hopes springs eternal for diehard college football fans everywhere. This year, as the mudslinging and unfulfillable promises heat up, the college football wonks are trying to look beneath the lid.
from a group of economists in the Southeast has generated quite a stir, and it's pretty fascinating. The creators based the model on recruiting data culled between 2002 and 2004, and they note that it accurately predicted 68 percent of the final choices of the recruits included in their sample. The economists sum up their conclusions thusly: "So, in a nutshell, high school athletes prefer winning programs that are close to home, are in possession of good physical facilities, and are in good graces with the NCAA."
Interestingly, the economists found that recruits in the South and Midwest prefer to stay close to home, but recruits from the West and Northeast have less compunction about going to school farther away. (Homerism suspects this is a function of the lack of strong programs in those regions compared to the number of South and Midwest.)
SI.com's Andy Staples has done a series of interesting articles on the issue in the past week. Here
, he competes with the prediction model to guess where major recruits will end up. (Bad news, Sooner fans: both say Rueben Randle
ends up at LSU.) His "State of Recruiting" package
analyzes the recruiting data in a number of ways, and he takes a special interest in the impact of different states and coaches protecting their home turf.
*ESPN's Bruce Feldman breaks down the top recruiting battles
currently playing out for uncommitted prospects. Feldman's book Meat Market
is a great snapshot of the modern-day recruiting derby.
*With the growing popularity of the different recruiting information and ranking services, The Wizard of Odds warned consumers
last year, beware the "snake oil salesmen." Staples' SI.com colleague Stewart Mandel seems to take an equally skeptical view
of the alleged recruiting gurus, based on his review of the 2005 quarterback crop.
*Dr. Saturday of Yahoo!-Rivals has a more complimentary opinion
, based on Rivals recruiting data from the past five years. Doc S finds a pretty strong relationship between Rivals rankings and success:
So the rankings are definitely not precise enough to predict the national championship (or, unless you're talking about USC, even most conference championships). But they are especially good at grouping programs into classes that tend to hold up over time. They establish the ceiling and floor of a program's potential: If your team isn't a top-10 recruiter over at least a three or four-year period, it's not going to be carrying off any crystal footballs, either.
(Note: Doc S is a Rivals employee, so it could be argued that he has an interest in promoting Rivals' services. However, his statistics-based approach lends a definite sense of credibility to his conclusions. On top of that, I've never seen any reason to believe he's anything less than a straight shooter.)
One thing to consider in all of this: Services like Rivals and Scout evaluate and rank these recruits, but the schools and coaching staffs choose whom to pursue. Separating the true wheat from the chaff may be the real skill in recruiting. That doesn't even account for picking players who fit different schemes and systems, as well as putting players in position to succeed.
Likewise, there's the matter of actually developing talent. It could be that the top programs are simply better at turning prospects into elite players.
(Ask Ron Zook how all that talent he has accumulated in his two coaching stops has worked out for him.)