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College Football Recruiting: Ranking the five Power Conferences

Now that the NCAA has given the Big 5 conferences autonomy, college football is going to change. You can also add the court ruling against the NCAA as another driver of change. Those schools left out in the cold will be knocking on heaven's door to join one of the five conferences. These changes will alter the recruiting landscape in a big way as well, so I thought I'd show how the Big 5 are doing so far this year and compare schools and conferences.

Mike Ehrmann

I want to start off by comparing the recruiting services because changes may be coming in the future after the autonomy ruling by the NCAA.

I don't know how our A Sea of Blue readers feel about the football team recruiting rankings. I'm sure each reader has his or her own preference. There are the Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 247 Sports rankings. 247 Sports goes so far as to post a composite ranking in an attempt to consolidate their own plus the other three. If team rankings are based on player ratings, I'm not sure how 247 Sports can do a composite when they do not rate players in the same manner as the other three. It seems to me that there has to be a conversion problem.

My preference, for now, is the Rivals ratings and rankings, but Rivals has some bias built into their system that I don't like. One is camp and combine attendance. If a recruit doesn't attend a Rivals camp or combine, they claim they can't evaluate a player. That, of course, is pure Bull Snot (like how I cleaned that up?). They can take care of that simply by sending one of their "experts" to The Opening or to Nike's National Training Camps or Combines. They can also send their evaluators to the IMG 7on7 national championships. They might even try to attend some high school games.  But, Rivals runs their own camps and combines and they tend to "punish" recruits if they don't attend. Kentucky's Matt Elam is a prime example from last year. Rivals ranked him as a 3* while 247 Sports ranked him as a 5*. The other two (Scout and ESPN) ranked him as a 4*. That should tell even the most low-information fan that something doesn't jive.

This year, Rivals has dropped some players from their database altogether. This kind of snottiness skews the 247 Sports Composite ratings and rankings and makes them suspect. Also, for team rankings, Rivals looks at each team and ranks the team based on a point system that is, again, biased toward players who attend Rivals events. See for yourself. There has to be another way.

I also have a beef with this:

The main part of the formula is now a point scale reflecting the average Rivals Rating of a team's top 20 signees.

What's with that? Teams who have more than 20 commitments are penalized as are teams with less than 20 commitments. There is a simple solution to that problem. Rank the teams by average star rating. Duh. Who cares how many commitments one team or another has? The average star rating evens things out.

When I began the learning process about football recruiting, I favored Scout until I learned how slow Scout is in updating their information. Since Scout and Rivals use similar methods in rating players, I switched to Rivals because they tend to update commitments within 24 hours. I've been using Rivals since 2009 as my preferred ratings and rankings in spite of the biases listed above. I don't even look at ESPN's ratings and rankings because I get the feeling that their biases are built on their favorite schools. For me, what they have to say is meaningless media garbage. I will give them credit for relative fast updates, however.

So, there has to be a better way and there is, although it has its own imperfections. Let me start off by saying that the major schools in the five power conferences do not use what the "experts" at Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 247 Sports think. First and foremost, they do their own evaluations of players. They have their own camps and combines and they send their recruiters out to scout players and build relationships with high school coaches. They also use services like Hudl, Varsity Sports, Prep Force and many, many other services who leave player evaluations up to the coaches. The coaching staffs make offers based on needs and wants, not evaluations from the four services we all tend to pay attention to the most. Some also look at a player's character and others (cough, cough, up I-64,cough, cough) could care less. Behavior problem? No Problem, come on down! Should we not pay more attention to the coaches? I would think so.

The problem is that no one tracks such stuff except for Rank by Offers. In my opinion, as a fan who has probably more interest than a grown man should in football recruiting, RBO is, by far, the best ranking system except for one very important problem: slow system updating, especially when it comes to offers and, more importantly, commitments. This issue is recognized by owner, founder and operator Paul Nelson and it is a work in progress.

I questioned his methodology in determining his top 25 schools. I was disputing South Carolina as #1 in his top 25. However, I no longer do because of an article I read a while back in May which confirmed the Gamecocks as #1 by using another method. I've searched for the article which was linked through Cats Illustrated. Unfortunately, that link is no longer available. Anyway, I'm convinced Paul has the team weightings right. We've been in discussions since about ranking by top 25 offers as opposed to total offers. I've decided that his system, for the most part, already does this through his team weighting methods.

So, let me give you a comparison of the power conference teams and you can decide which ranking seems to be more logical.  One of the things you'll notice in these conference ranking is just how little consensus there is. It gets even worse with the national rankings. So, let's begin with the RBO Top 30 comparison.

It should be noted that these ranking are from early August. They've not changed enough since to use current numbers. The point being made here is the important issue.

As usual, CLICK on the table to make it a BIGIE, BIGGY or whatever.



It should be noted here that ESPN only ranks their Top 40 for us who refuse to pay for information. You have to subscribe to see the complete rankings. Isn't that special! You'll see just how special when you see the conference team rankings below.

All of these different team rankings are based on some kind of point system for how each service rates and ranks players. All of the team rankings are based on commitments, not offers.

I've already linked how Rivals does it which is pretty straightforward, yet is Rivals-event biased. The other services have their own biases. Rank by Offers is the only one who doesn't rely on paid or volunteer "experts." The offers come from the schools and the recruits are ranked by the offers received from the schools. The points assigned to any given player is based upon which schools have offered, meaning an offer from Alabama carries more weight (and points) than an Appalachian State or a Kentucky. So how is this done? RBO uses, as I pointed out earlier, a team weighting system. For example, Alabama has a weighted average of 95.27, Appalachian State's weighted average is 48.73 and Kentucky's is 61.16 (making the Wildcats #95 in the team weighted rankings).  If there were only the offer from all three, his total points would be 205.16 (95.27+48.73+61.16) points. If he commits to any of the three schools, that school receives 205.16 points and is ranked accordingly.

I asked Paul Nelson a couple of questions to better understand why he does certain things.

Question: Why do you use ESPN and not Scout or 247 Sports?

Response: The short answer is "technical difficulties". I wish I could use 247 Sports' offer data. They seem to be pretty thorough and usually have new offers entered before anyone else. Unfortunately, the format in which they publish the offers is extremely difficult to extract in a way my computer programs can read. If 247 Sports wants to send me their offer data in usable format, I'll be happy to include it.

Question: Do you worry about the delay between offers and commitments while others are posting daily?

Response: I do wish I could update more frequently. I usually update the data once every two weeks for each of the four classes (2015 through 2018). It takes an average of about eight hours to extract, prepare the data, and update the 2015 class (the other classes take less time). RankByOffers has only one employee (yours truly), who is uncompensated. Because I must work a regular full-time job to pay the bills, I don't have time to update more frequently. In this regard, RankByOffers is at a clear disadvantage to the major recruiting sites who can hire armies of data entry clerks. Hopefully, RankByOffers makes up for this shortcoming in other ways.

Ask an honest question and you get an honest answer. Frankly, I'm surprised that no one has yet stepped forward to discuss funding for a bigger operation. Even with the disadvantage of a one man operation, RBO is the way to go, in my opinion, because it cuts out the cottage industry BS.

Moving on to conference rankings will give you an idea of how well each school recruits, but is also shows the disparity between the recruiting services. Here's how the Big Five Power Conferences stack up:


The SEC has the most power of the Big Five falling in the top 40 teams. The only SEC team (Missouri) not in ESPN's Top 40 is Missouri. If you consider that Alabama, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Auburn are all in everyone's top 10, the SEC has to be considered the best conference in recruiting. You can add Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU and Kentucky in the consensus Top 30.

The Big 12 shows only three teams not included in ESPN's Top 40.  Texas and West Virginia are consensus Top 30 teams. I believe that the Big 12 is in dire need of expansion, having only 10 teams. I've heard rumors that the teams in the Big 12 could be absorbed into the other four power conferences if they don't expand.


The other three conferences all have seven teams not included in ESPN's Top 40, but the ACC stands out. Clemson, Florida State, Miami and North Carolina are consensus Top 30 teams.


The Big 10 is top heavy in recruiting. Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan are consensus Top 30 in recruiting. Michigan State is making a move in the right direction and Wisconsin may also be.


In the PAC 12, you have Southern Cal, Oregon and UCLA ranked as consensus Top 30.


Here's how the conferences stack up:

#1 SEC (9 consensus Top 30 teams)

#2 ACC (4 consensus Top 30 teams)

#3 Big 10 (3 consensus Top 30 teams)

# 3 PAC 12 (3 consensus Top 30 teams)

#5 Big 12 (2 consensus Top 30 teams)

Expect Cincinnati to become a member of a power conference soon. When it comes to recruiting Cincinnati's Tommy Tuberville is out-performing a lot of power conference teams.

247 Sports Composite




Rank by Offers







You have to remember that there are some important things to consider in addition to offers and commitments. A player who commits obviously holds a verbal committable offer. Otherwise, the school would not accept the commitment.

1.       A verbal offer can be withdrawn by the school at any time.

2.       A verbal commitment can be withdrawn at any time.

3.       August 1st is the first day a school can make a written offer

4.       A written offer from the school commits the school to the player.

5.       A commitment from a player with a written offer is still a verbal commitment.

6.       A June enrollment or a December enrollment by the player can be construed as a solid commitment even though he has not signed a grant-in-aid. This is overcome by signing a Financial Aid agreement.

7.       National Signing Day is in February. Signing Day means the player is officially committed. Enrollment seals the deal.

8.       A committed player may not be permitted to enroll because he doesn't meet university academic enrollment standards, or

9.        The committed player has been arrested for criminal activity ranging from misdemeanors to high crimes, or

10.   The school will exceed scholarship limits set by the NCAA (85) or the conference. This can cause schools to use a strategy of over-signing players to keep other schools away for as long as possible. It is considered unethical.

11.   Nothing is cast in stone until the player and school is enrolled for the Fall Semester and football practice begins.

12.   The PAC12 has included a little blurb in their written offers stating that if the recruit visits another school, the written offer is automatically withdrawn.

It will be interesting to see how this changes once the power conferences get together to set their own rules.

On a final note which is a little off topic except for the BBN, the job that Stoops & Company has done with recruiting is quite remarkable. From the information above, you can grasp how remarkable. Kentucky has not finished with a winning record since 2009. In 2010, the Cats went 6-6 during the regular season and lost to Pittsburgh 27-10 in the BBVA Compass Bowl to finish off a 6-7 season. The 2012 and 2013 seasons are well ingrained in our brains. Two 2-10 seasons including two losses to Vanderbilt, making it three in a row and three straight losses to Louisville.  Mike Farrell, Rivals Recruiting Analyst, has noticed and has ranked Stoops & Company #7 in his list of elite recruiters. He ranks Stoops just behind #5 Jimbo Fisher (FSU) and #6 Butch Jones (Tennessee), but ahead of #8 Dabo Swinney (Clemson), #9 Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and #10 Al Golden (Miami). Even the most skeptical UK fan has to be impressed. You can see his entire list here on Twitter. With some on the field success this season, I believe you'll see our recruiting improve even more.