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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recruiting and Performance

Executive Summary:
  • 4 and 5 star recruits are worth about 1/2 a point per game on average for the next four years. 
    • That's about 25 points total
  • By recruiting, the top 5 in 2014 should be
    • #1 Alabama
    • #2 Ohio State
    • #3 Florida State
    • #4 LSU
    • #5 Florida
  • Consistent over and underperformers

****If you're only interested in results, you can skip this part**** 
A note on methods - I measure the independent variable (recruiting) using 247sports composite rankings. I use both a count for 4 and 5 star signings and "points" - 247sports has a clever method for ranking classes that awards points for each recruit, with diminishing returns as class size increases. I consider the past four recruiting classes (e.g., for the 2013 season, I use the 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 recruiting classes). Unfortunately, there are not enough 5 star recruits to use this as a unique variable, so in most cases I combine 4 and 5 star recruits.

I measure the dependent variable (performance) using an algorithm that converts game scores into a measure of team performance independent of schedule strength and game site (i.e., home/road). I exclude bowl games and games against FCS competition.

I have performance data from 2006 and recruiting data from 2003. From this, I can match 939 teams over that period on recruiting and performance (117 teams per season). I use regression to estimate performance from recruiting metrics.

Results (for the nerds amongst us):
Stars is the count of four and five stars signed in that year, Stars (t-?) is the number of years between that class and the season in question. For example, Stars (t-1) refers to the class signed earlier that year (the 2013 class when talking about performance in 2013) and Stars (t-4) is the class three years earlier (the 2010 class when talking about performance in 2010). The same is true of the second model, where I use points instead of star counts.


****Everyone should start reading here****

First, when we use 247sports points to predict performance, we get an R^2 of .38. This means that this recruiting measure explains about 38% of the total variation in a team's performance. Player evaluation, coaching, and luck (e.g., injuries) should explain most of the remaining 62%.

On average, a team is .68 points better per game for each freshman 4 or 5 star recruit, about .57 points better for each sophomore and junior, and .32 points better for each senior. The big drop from junior to senior is most likely a product of the best juniors leaving early for the draft (or otherwise leaving the program).

Using the coefficients from the second model, I plugged recruiting results from 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 to predict performance in 2014. I list the top 50 below.

The top 10 is a who's who of college football. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Alabama comes out on top with 18 5 stars in the last four classes. Ohio State's position at #2 is mostly a product of 48 4 stars in the last three classes; that is more than the bottom 2/3 of programs combined.

Some teams are over-performing their recruiting this season, others failing to meet expectations. Boston College at #69 beat #9 USC. BYU (#71) manhandled Texas (#10). And we were supposed to believe it was an upset when #27 Virginia beat #38 Louisville. Oklahoma is only one spot ahead of Tennessee by recruiting; the gap on the field is much larger. I don't think we will see Florida at #5 or Michigan at #11 at the end of the season. Oregon (#18) and Baylor (#31), on the other hand, are doing more with less.


  1. Welcome back, Scott!
    Nice article, btw.

    1. Thanks. I'm not going to be able to maintain the site the way I did in the past, but I do hope to add something now and then when I feel particularly inspired (and I feel like procrastinating real work).

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