Who Will Win the National Title in 2017: Recruiting Classes Give Us a Good Hint

Since 1996 every team that has won a national title except for Oklahoma in 2000 has had at least two top ten national signing classes in the four years before a title. So while signing a top ten recruiting class doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win a national title — indeed, there are plenty of teams that don’t — for 20 of the past 21 years, you can’t win a title without at least two top ten recruiting classes. More interestingly, every champion from the past ten years with the exception of Auburn in 2010 and Clemson in 2016 has had at least three top ten recruiting classes in the four years before it won a title.

Every year there are tons of Tweets about how “stars don’t matter,” and random social media examples of two and three star athletes who have become stars in the NFL. Sure, stars may not matter for individual players — that is, being a five star doesn’t guarantee that a specific player will be a high draft pick — but the teams that sign the most four and five stars are typically the best in the country. That’s because recruiting is essentially a game of probability. the more top players you get into your program the more chances you have to develop elite first round talent. Nearly half of all five stars will be drafted. Around one percent of all two stars will be drafted. All things being equal, the more four and five stars your team signs, the better they’ll be. (If you want an in depth analysis of why recruiting matters, check out what Stu Mandel wrote last year.)

With all the recruiting competition and the focus being brought to bear on top players, arguably recruiting analysis is becoming even better. Five of the past six champions, Alabama three times, Florida State, and Ohio State have had four consecutive top ten classes (Ohio State’s 2009 class was a composite top ten) in the year before they won a national title. (This year’s champion, Clemson, had four consecutive top 14 classes.)

So how have the national title teams recruited since 1996, here’s the data (A reader provided me with the recruiting data prior to 2002 based on spreadsheets he kept. Gotta love the South. The rest of our rankings are based on the Rivals data to be consistent.):

1996 Florida (#6 in 1993, #2 in 1995)

1997 Nebraska/Michigan (Nebraska #5 in 1995 and number #9 in 1996 Michigan: #4 in 1994, #7 in 1995, #8 in 1996, #4 in 1997)

1998 Tennessee (#7 in 1998, #5 in 1997, #3 in 1996)

1999 Florida State (#5 in 1998, #1 in 1997, #5 in 1996)

2000 Oklahoma (#13 in 2000, and #25 in both 1997 and 1998 Rivals) *OU is the only program without a top ten class to win the title in Rivals history. But it did have 3 top 25 classes

2001 Miami (#2 in 2001, #9 in 2000, #8 in 1999)

2002 Ohio State (#7 in 2002, #4 in 2000, #2 in 1999)

2003 LSU/USC (LSU #1 class in 2003, #4 in 2001 USC #3 in 2003, #14 in 2000, #21 in 2001)

2004 USC (#3 class in 2003, #1 class in 2004)

2005 Texas (#1 class in 2002, #15 class in 2003 with only 18 recruits, which averaged the highest star rating in country, #18 class in 2004 — only signed 15 players.) If Texas had signed 20 players in either of these classes, they would have ranked in the top five. The #1 class in 2002 was simply too large, with over 30 players).

2006 Florida (#2 in 2003, #10 in 2004, #2 in 2006)

2007 LSU (#1 in 2003, #1 in 2004, #7 in 2006, #4 in 2007)

2008 Florida (#2 in 2006, #1 in 2007, #3 in 2008)

2009 Alabama (#10 in 2007, #1 in 2008, #1 in 2009)

2010 Auburn (#10 in 2006, #7 in 2007, #4 in 2010) Auburn was #20 in 2008 and #19 in 2009

2011 Alabama (#1 in 2008, #1 in 2009, #5 in 2010, #1 in 2011)

2012 Alabama (#1 in 2009, #5 in 2010, #1 in 2011, #1 in 2012)

2013 Florida State (#7 in 2009, #10 in 2010, #2 in 2011, #6 in 2012, #10 in 2013)

2014 Ohio State (#11 in 2011, #4 in 2012, #2 in 2013, #3 in 2014)

2015 Alabama (#1 in 2012, #1 in 2013, #1 in 2014, #1 in 2015)

2016 Clemson (#14 in 2013, #13 in 2014, #4 in 2015, #6 in 2016)

Add all this up and the past 21 national champions have averaged 2.9 top ten classes in the four years before they won a title.

So now that the 2017 recruiting classes are complete, which teams have two or more top ten recruiting classes in the four years before the start of the 2016 season? The past twenty years of recruiting data suggests your national champion will be one of these 11 teams:

4 top ten classes: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, LSU

3 top ten classes: Auburn, Georgia, USC, Texas A&M

2 top ten classes: Tennessee, Michigan, Clemson

(Notre Dame has had four straight top 15 classes, but only one top ten class.)

So if you want to place some wagers on who is going to win the 2016 national title, it will almost certaintly be one of these 11 schools. 

Vegas seems to agree with these recruiting class rankings:

Alabama +230

Florida State +650

Ohio State +800

USC +825

Oklahoma +875

LSU +1400

Michigan +1500

Louisville +1825

Auburn +1925

Clemson +2000

Penn State +2100

Texas +2400

Georgia +3300

Washington +3300

Oklahoma State +3400

 

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.