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Is football recruiting getting better at Kentucky?

In the many times we have discussed football here at A Sea of Blue, I can't think of a single time the need to upgrade our recruiting efforts in football wasn't raised as a major component of increasing the success of our football program.  So I began wondering, "Is the coaching staff upgrading our recruiting efforts?"  So I gathered data using the Rivals recruiting service and analyzed it in aggregate.

First off, a discussion about recruiting service "star" ratings.  Debate has raged for years about how viable and accurate recruiting "star" rankings are as a qualitative measure of player skill.  There have been many analysis done, and there is evidence to support both sides of the debate.  Instead of recreating that debate for you, I'll summarize some recent work done by excellent bloggers on this point.

First of all, we have a blog post done just yesterday by Messenger at Wildcats Thunder blog analyzing football recruiting services star rating.  Messenger looks at the "star" ratings of some recent UK players since about 2002, and demonstrates that a number of players rated 2-star and below have gone on to All-SEC careers here at UK.  Messenger takes the position that the people doing the rating of the recruits often are echoing the work of others, and have never actually seen these recruits in action:

In fact, many of their "star" ratings may simply reflect what they have read about the kids on the internet! IMO, that is the "dirty little secret" behind internet ratings. For that reason, their evaluations of HS prospects are not as fundamentally sound as evaluations done by UK's coaches (who have actually seen these kids play football).

Messenger may well be right about this, and based on the evidence he provides, his argument seems pretty defensible.  But there is another side to the coin.

Outside the Sidelines, an Alabama blog who's owner has now joined our SB Nation sister site Roll 'Bama Roll did this analysis on whether or not recruiting rankings matter.  In it, he does an empirical analysis of the subject, looking at how each team performed versus its rank on the recruiting services.  His conclusion:

It's quickly obvious that there is a very high correlation between good recruiting classes and future wins. If you run the numbers, there is a .8 correlation between average recruiting finish rankings and future winning percentage rankings. And there's actually a little higher correlation for Rivals, Inc. as it crunches out at a robust .818.

In addition, OTS did yet another analysis, specifically looking at 4 and 5 "star" recruits.  Once again, he crunched the numbers in his spreadsheet, and came up with this conclusion:

Much like with recruiting rankings, as you can see, where you rank in terms of how many four and five star recruits you sign, compared to the rest of the conference, strongly correlates with overall winning percentage on down the road.

To be specific, the correlation between recruiting rank and winning percentage rank was a robust .7202. That's not quite as strong as the .8 that we saw between overall team recruiting rankings and winning percentage, but it's still very strong.

So there you have two points of view about the value of recruiting rankings as a measure of player quality.  Where you shake out on this kind of depends on how you look at the world in general -- those who prefer an analytical approach are likely to feel drawn to what OTS did, and those who operate more on "feel" will probably prefer Messenger's take.  I am not going to say that one is better than the other, just that I think it's wise to take both into consideration.  Messenger makes a good case that lower ranked players can become high-quality SEC players, and OTS demonstrates a statistical correlation essentially between "star" ratings and success on the field.

Now that we have disposed of that, let's take a look at how all this applies to UK's current recruiting, and my question "are we upgrading our recruiting?"  What I have done for my first spreadsheet is look at 4 SEC schools, including Kentucky, that I consider "peer" institutions when it comes to football.  Some may make an argument that I haven't chosen well, and I'll try to defend that as best I can, but first, let's look at 2008's data:

School Total recruits offered Rivals "star" rating

5* 4* 3* 2* 1* NR AVG
Ole Miss 203 3 42 92 46 0 20
Points 15 168 276 92 0 10 2.76
South Carolina 114 6 37 63 6 0 2
Points 30 148 189 12 0 1 3.33
Kentucky 54 0 9 22 19 0 4
Points 0 36 66 38 0 2 2.63
Arkansas 87 0 19 47 17 0 4
Points 0 76 141 34 0 2 2.91

Points - 1 point for each "star". NR players get 0.5 points each

As you can clearly see based on offers so far, Kentucky lags the other schools in overall "star" value.  Now, whether or not you buy Messenger's argument or that of OTS, it is obvious to me that the coaches DO care about the star rating based on this data.  Note that Spurrier, in particular, is very averse to recruiting players under 3 stars.  Only Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss is anywhere near as willing to go after sub-3 star recruits as Kentucky, 33% to 42% for UK.  Please do note that these are "offered" recruits only, and some of them have accepted scholarships from teams other than the ones above.  I included them because, as we all know, football revolves heavily around one signing period, and lots of minds get changed between now and then, so verbals are not even considered.  But I should point out that most of the verbals that have been given to schools other than above have been by highly ranked players, and my guess is that these are somewhat more likely to hold up.

So let's look at UK actual recruiting over the last 6 years.  I included the two Morriss years just for reference, but we do have to keep in mind that he was badly hampered by sanctions visited upon the program by the NCAA due to violations discovered under the Mumme regime:

Coach Year Total 5* 4* 3* 2* 1* NR Avg
Brooks 2007 29 0 1 9 18 0 1
Points 0 4 27 36 0 0.5 2.33
Brooks 2006 30 0 3 10 17 0 0
Points 0 12 30 34 0 0 2.53
Brooks 2005 26 0 0 4 22 0 0
Points 0 0 12 44 0 0 2.15
Brooks 2004 28 0 1 10 16 0 1
Points 0 4 30 32 0 0.5 2.38
Morriss 2003 22 0 1 9 12 0 0
Points 0 4 27 24 0 0 2.5
Morriss 2002 15 0 1 1 12 1 0
Points 0 4 3 24 1 0 2.13

Points - 1 point for each "star". NR players get 0.5 points each

So there it is, the numbers according to the Gospel of Rivals.  I think I can make an argument that our recruiting, at least by using Rivals star rankings, has not improved significantly under Brooks' stewardship.  Kentucky manages to get very few 4-star recruits, and virtually no 5-star recruits in the last six years.  When we take it all into consideration, it really isn't a surprise that we often find ourselves the doormat of the SEC, or that we have rarely won more than one or two conference games in recent years.  In order for us to truly move up from the lower tier, I would argue that our recruiting success has to show a star ranking average of at least 2.5 or higher, year in and year out.  We have only accomplished this two years out of the last six.

Is Brooks going to be able to get the job done?  I don't know.  It looks to me like he is rather behind right now, as we don't even have one 3-star commitment for 2008.  I'm sure we will get some, but by all appearances, Brooks hasn't really upgraded our recruiting at all.  Maybe he has upgraded our coaching -- we'll have to wait and see about that, but from a recruiting standpoint, it looks to me like things haven't changed.