College Football Recruiting Rankings: The Bigger The Size, The Better It Is?

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Come February of every year, college football fans focus their energy on which highly touted recruits will sign with their favorite team. Consistent national powerhouses like Texas, Ohio State, Alabama, etc. find themselves atop the recruiting ranking list each year. The combination of tradition, success on the field, brand name, and opportunity to make it to the NFL are what ultimately attracts the top recruits to those schools.

The Wisconsin Badgers are an interesting story when it comes to recruiting. Their rankings are never high and will usually only get one or two so-called 4-star or 5-star recruits to sign each season, but have become an elite team by most standards. According to Scout.com, here are the national rankings for the Badgers’ past 5 recruiting classes:

Class

Nat'l Rank

# Commits

# Top 100

# 5-Star

# 4-Star

# 3-Star

Average

2008

26

24

0

0

1

18

2.83

2009

51

21

0

0

2

11

2.71

2010

33

26

0

0

1

17

2.73

2011

38

21

0

0

1

17

2.90

2012

63

12

1

0

5

4

3.17

The biggest takeaway in my opinion is that teams receive lower national rankings based mainly on class size. Case in point, if you look at Wisconsin’s 2012 class, they were ranked 63rd, but the average was 3.17 stars. Their best ranking in the last 5 years was in 2008 coming in at 26th. However, class size was fairly big at 24 recruits but the average was 2.83 stars. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

The reason class size was small in 2012 and will be again for 2013 (currently 13 verbal commits) is due to the number of scholarships Wisconsin has left to offer. It shows that current scholarship players are going through the program and progressing into future stars. Several players choose to redshirt each year for varying reasons – injuries, too much depth at their respective position, not physically and/or mentally ready to play at the BCS level, desire to play a 5th year. Due to the fact that very few freshmen see the field at Wisconsin, they typically redshirt and stay on scholarship, therefore reducing the number of scholarships left to offer incoming recruits.

Often times, you’ll see other schools over-sign the number of recruits and wonder how they are getting away with that if there’s an 85-man scholarship limit per NCAA rules. This is why I believe class sizes are trivial when it comes to recruiting rankings. Head coaches around the country have been known to cut scholarships from players or over-sign for allegedly harsh reasons, sometimes to make room for other recruits coming in. This has happened at Alabama, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Florida State just to name a few.

Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema has said that Wisconsin only recruits players of high character and intelligence. Bielema and his staff do not focus on what ranking a player may have, but instead focus on the potential and other intangibles a player could bring to Wisconsin on and off the field. With all of the NCAA sanctions and off-the-field issues with star players getting kicked off teams (Honey Badger anyone??), it’s rare that Wisconsin has to deal with anything significant, alluding to the high character of the players Wisconsin recruits.

Antonio Fenelus. Brad Nortman. Jacob Pedersen. Travis Frederick. Chris Borland. What do they all have in common? They were all 2-star recruits when they signed with Wisconsin. Now look at them. Fenelus was a lock-down corner that opposing QBs avoided. Punter Brad Nortman was a 4-year starter and a 6th round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers. Pedersen is a preseason candidate for the John Mackey award that goes to the nation’s best Tight End. Frederick is arguably the best offensive lineman on the team this year and is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington and Outland Trophies. Borland is the captain of the defense at middle linebacker and was second on the team last season with 143 tackles.

Potential is one of the biggest factors in recruiting when it comes to Wisconsin. Many people have dubbed Wisconsin as a "developmental program." It’s true as the Badgers have consistently churned out 2-star players into top players and NFL prospects.

So what do these national recruiting rankings mean? Pretty much nothing. The rankings are partially trivial for class size reasons and partially for fans to get excited about which highly touted recruits are signing with your favorite team. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this as well. I was extremely excited when players like Bart Houston, Darius Latham and Alec James committed to Wisconsin. But I have to take that with a grain of salt as it completely depends on how Wisconsin can develop those players into future stars.

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