Recent recruiting ratings confirm SEC has most talent
Posted: Monday February 4, 2008 4:09PM; Updated: Wednesday February 6, 2008 5:29PM
SEC followers would have you believe that theirs is unquestionably the supreme football conference in the land.
They love to attest how their league is deeper, tougher and more competitive than its inferior counterparts (in particular, the god-awful Big Ten), which is why SEC teams have won three of the past five BCS championships.
They'll happily tell you how the athletes who take the field on fall Saturdays in the South are simply more talented than those in the North, Midwest or West.
They're absolutely right.
That's what the numbers bore out, anyway, when I tabulated Rivals.com's average recruiting-class rankings for every school in each of the six BCS conferences over the past five years, 2003-07. (If by chance you're one of those who believe recruiting rankings are a bunch of bunk, it might interest you to learn that the four teams with the best combined class rankings over the past five years were USC, Florida, LSU and Georgia. The Gators won the 2006 national championship and the Tigers, Bulldogs and Trojans finished 1-2-3 in last season's final AP poll.)
Having grown accustomed to seeing the likes of LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee high on the annual lists, I assumed going in that the SEC would come out on top; what I didn't expect was such a sizeable gap between that league and all the others.
Nor did I expect the oft-criticized Big Ten to come in fifth.
Below is each conference's average Rivals.com class ranking for all its teams over the five-year period. (The lower the number, the better -- i.e. a No. 25 class is better than No. 35).
Average Rivals.com class rankings, 2003-07:
There is admittedly one misleading facet of Rivals' computerized rankings that contributes to the SEC/Big Ten discrepency: Class size. Remember when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wrote that letter blaming the leagues' talent differential on academics? There was at least some truth to it.
"Our system is based on quality and quantity," said Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell. "Over-signing is much more common in the SEC than the Big Ten. The Big Ten for the most part has high academic standards, and they do not encourage their schools to sign kids and [send them to prep schools or junior colleges] like the SEC does."
Indeed, last year eight SEC teams signed more than 25 players, the maximum scholarship allowed per class, presumably knowing not all signees would qualify academically. Meanwhile, no Big Ten team signed more than 24.
But that's hardly the primary reason the SEC tends to rule recruiting.
"The bigger reason is the talent pool area," said Farrell. "We've seen the past couple of years what a bigger percentage of NFL players are coming from the South."
Indeed, according to the Web site NFLHS.com, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana ranked second, fourth and sixth among states in terms of the number of players on NFL rosters in 2005, with South Carolina (10th), Mississippi (11th), North Carolina (14th) and Alabama (15th) all in the top 15. In terms of Midwest states, Ohio was fifth, Michigan eighth and Illinois 12th.
"There's disadvantages for the Northern schools when it comes to year-round training," said Farrell. "With the weather in the South, they can train year round. The speed and athleticism [Southern] schools are pulling from is greater."
By no means are recruiting rankings always spot-on in predicting future success -- two of the top 10 from 2003-07 were Miami and Florida State, which have gone a combined 26-25 the past two seasons -- but in general they're a pretty good indicator of who's reeling in the most talent. And the broader the scope of data, the more complete picture you're able to gauge.
In this case, I wanted to focus not only on the aforementioned recruiting powers but all teams in every conference, to see if not only the SEC's best, but its worst, are more talented than everyone else's. Apparently, they are.