With National Signing Day having come and gone, analysis has shifted from who is going where to which teams can make the most of what they’ve got.
Tom VanHaaren of ESPN delved into how recruiting success has translated into playoff and championship success over the last decade, specifically in the College Football Playoff era.
The key metric VanHaaren highlights is,”each of the past seven national champions have averaged a top-10 recruiting class the four years prior to winning the national championship, and all seven have landed at least one recruiting class ranked in the top four in the two years prior to their title win.”
Therefore, he projects the usual top dog Alabama Crimson Tide as the highest title contender, with its average recruiting class rank at 2.5. Alabama is followed by Georgia with an average rank of 4.75.
Despite falling back to the pack with a sixth-ranked class this season, Alabama is buoyed by top classes in the rest of the collected years. And Georgia is boosted by its No. 3 class in 2017 and 5-star loaded No. 1 2018 class it just wrapped up.
Where the ESPN projections get interesting is when it broadens the scope from national championship contenders to playoff contenders. The criteria is as follows: “Since the playoff’s inception, almost every team that has played in a CFP semifinal has averaged a recruiting class ranking of 15 or better for the four years prior to their playoff berth. The only exceptions to that rule have been Michigan State, Washington and Oregon.”
Three other SEC teams fall into this category: LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee.
A couple of those teams are surprising projections for title contention given their current states beyond just the numbers, but here’s how they shake out according to VanHaaren.
LSU’s average rank is 8.25, Auburn’s is 9.25, and Tennessee’s is 14.75, just squeaking in under the threshold of 15.
In recent seasons, when Alabama hasn’t won the SEC West, Auburn has, making the Tigers a reasonable bet here.
Unable to leapfrog either team from the state of Alabama of late, LSU fired longtime coach Les Miles and had an up-and-down season in Ed Orgeron’s first year. The Tigers from the Bayou making the playoff next season would require a bigger jump than those from the Plains.
And while a playoff spot for the Volunteers seems like a long shot after a 4-8 season that included going winless in the SEC, Vols fans have to be looking at this data and thinking ‘you’re telling me there’s a chance.’ With Butch Jones firmly out of the picture in Knoxville (unless you happened to pass by Neyland Stadium) Jeremy Pruitt has a big turnaround on his hands, but national title expectations may not be fair to him or the program in Year 1.