College football recruiting rankings: Teams with the best classes over a five-year average entering 2021

National Signing Day is in the books, and outside of a few exceptions, the 2021 recruiting cycle has come to a close. Many of the top programs in the country will hold a scholarship for whenever No. 1 overall prospect J.T. Tuimoloau decides to sign — currently it’s believed the five-star defensive lineman from Washington could stretch the process into April — but most coaching staffs have already turned their attention to 2022 and beyond. 

It’s that importance of stacking strong recruiting classes in successive years that sparks our annual exercise breaking down the average class rankings over a five-year period. There are plenty of ways to build a roster in the modern college football world, and in 2021, the addition of “super seniors” with another year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic joins a robust transfer portal in making roster management more fluid than its ever been. 

So over the last five years, what programs have been recruiting at a top-25 level? 

These ratings are not a pure reflection of the talent on the roster. Our partners at 247Sports offer the Team Talent Composite each August, which takes transfers, NFL Draft exits and other attrition into consideration to produce a talent score based on the prospects on each roster heading into the upcoming season. This analysis focuses exclusively on the player acquisition portion of program building, using five years of data from the 247Sports Composite Rankings to identify some trends on the recruiting trail. 

This year, the best five-year average comes from Athens, Georgia, with Kirby Smart and his staff edging out Alabama with a 2.0 compared to a 2.4 for the Crimson Tide. There’s no way to apply bonus points for “highest-rated class in recruiting service history,” so Alabama falls behind the Bulldogs here due to that No. 7 ranking in 2018. From there, we see some more definitive separation among the usual suspects at the top with Ohio State (5.0), LSU (7.0), Clemson (8.0), Oklahoma (9.0), Texas A&M (9.2) and Florida (10.8) all averaging a top-10 class ranking since 2017. The next tier includes Texas, Michigan, Oregon and Notre Dame, all programs that have signed top-10 classes in recent years but not consistently enough to have a top-10 average. 

Things start to get a little more tight as you move towards the programs that have been averaging top-15 and top-20 classes, and then there’s a separation in the group. We’ve spotlighted the 22 programs who are averaging a top-25 class over the last five years with Mississippi State, carrying a 25.4 average class ranking, as the last one listed. The next schools on the list are nearly three spots down and trending in varying directions with Ole Miss (28), UCLA (28.8), Stanford (29) and Wisconsin (30.2) carrying a five-year average just outside the top 25. 

We’ve collected all the data that you can view in the table below, and then we’ll spotlight a few programs that have stood out for the way things have been trending in recent years. 

Georgia

SEC

2

3

1

2

1

3

Alabama

SEC

2.4

1

7

1

2

1

Ohio State

Big Ten

5

2

2

14

5

2

LSU

SEC

7

7

15

5

4

4

Clemson

ACC

8

16

6

10

3

5

Oklahoma

Big 12

9

8

9

6

11

11

Texas A&M

SEC

9.2

12

17

4

6

7

Florida

SEC

10.8

10

14

9

8

13

Texas

Big 12

11.6

26

3

3

9

17

Michigan

Big Ten

11.6

5

21

8

14

10

Oregon

Pac-12

12

19

17

7

12

6

Notre Dame

Independent

12.4

11

10

15

17

9

Auburn

SEC

13.2

9

12

11

7

27

Penn State

Big Ten

13.8

15

5

13

15

21

Miami

ACC

14.8

13

8

28

13

12

Tennessee

SEC

15

17

20

12

10

16

Florida State

ACC

15.6

6

11

17

22

22

USC

Pac-12

18.2

4

4

20

55

8

Washington

Pac-12

20.4

22

13

16

16

35

Nebraska

Big Ten

20.8

23

22

19

20

20

North Carolina

ACC

23

27

23

32

19

14

Mississippi State

SEC

25.4

24

27

24

27

25

Signing day rankings are not as closely tied to on-field success as the Total Team Composite or the Blue-Chip Ratio — coined by 247Sports’ Bud Elliott to point out that the base level of talent for winning a national championship is to have more four-star and five-star players on your roster — but they still say a lot about the health of a program and the battles that are being won or lost on the recruiting trail. With that in mind, here are a few teams trending in both the right and wrong directions over the past three-to-five-years. 

Trending up

Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher is a terrific closer on the recruiting trail, and since he’s arrived in College Station, he’s quickly leveled up the talent on the roster. Much of the success of the 2020 season was thanks stellar play by sophomores from the 2019 recruiting class that ranked No. 4 in the country. Kevin Sumlin was able to land some five-star talent and high-ranking classes in the wake of Johnny Football, but he never got to No. 4, while Fisher did after his first full season as coach of the Aggies. Fisher and his staff have followed by bringing in the No. 6 and No. 7 classes in the country and consistently being in the mix for some of the top players on both signing days. If he can continue the pace of the last three cycles, averaging a 5.67 class ranking, the talent will give Texas A&M as much of an argument as Georgia into being the No. 1 threat to Alabama in the SEC. 

Oregon: The Ducks have successfully crashed the top 10 and appear to be setting up shop with no plans to be replaced as long as Mario Cristobal is running the recruiting efforts. The three straight top-12 classes that are powering this upward trend include some of the most highly-rated prospects in program history. Kayvon Thibodeaux (Class of 2019), Justin Flowe (Class of 2020) and Noah Sewell (Class of 2020) are three of the top five players on 247Sports’ all-time commit list, joined only by Duck greats Haloti Ngata and Jonathan Stewart. The 2021 class doesn’t have any five-stars to add to that list, but it’s loaded with quality and quantity thanks to 19 four-star prospects. No one in the country signed more four-stars than Oregon, and the class’s per-player rating (92.35) is comparable to an LSU class that included two five-stars among its 22 commits (92.61). 

LSU: A No. 7 ranking in 2017 and a No. 15 ranking in 2018 now appear as outliers thanks three-straight top-five classes from coach Ed Orgeron. Any notion that the on-field struggles of 2020 would impact recruiting success proved to be wrong, at least in the 2021 cycle, as the Tigers once again cleaned up in Louisiana — five of the top eight players in the state signed, including five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith (No. 19 overall prospect) and five-star safety Sage Ryan (No. 29 overall prospect) — and landed top-100 prospects from Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and even Pennsylvania on the way to securing the No. 4 class in the country. When the Total Team Composite is released in August, the Tigers will be knocked by the exit of Arik Gilbert, the top-rated player from the 2020 class, but that group is still worth its ranking with players like wide receiver Kayshon Boutte making the most of early playing time.  

Trending down 

USC: It’s important to include USC here not because it fits the criteria as much as it also is an example of a bounce-back in progress. Statistically, this is still a downward trend in our five-year sample with back-to-back No. 4 classes in 2017 and 2018 followed by No. 20 in 2019 and No. 55 in 2020. But that historically-low ranking for USC is clearly the depths of the recruiting struggles, and Clay Helton was able to make it a blip by signing a top-10 class in 2021. Not only have the additions of players like Korey Foreman and Raesjon Davis helped solidify where USC stands in battles for California’s top talent, but they’ve created some momentum that has given the Trojans a good start on the 2022 class as well. 

Florida State: The Early Signing Period has made life difficult for coaches who are hired in December and immediately tasked with trying to lock down the core of a class in just a few days or weeks. Well those “Year 0” classes for coaches hired in the 2019-20 offseason were then followed by a group that had to be evaluated and recruited in the midst of a pandemic. Mike Norvell is among those Year 1 coaches who would have liked to use the 2021 cycle to get out to high schools and establish relationships that would lead to success on the recruiting trail. But he, like many others, was left trying to do his best with virtual contact and evaluations throughout the still-ongoing NCAA dead period. A second-straight top-25 class is not only a steadying of the ship in difficult circumstances, but also another year recruiting a step down from that top-10 level we’re used to seeing in Tallahassee. However, and this is something that has come up in several spots across the country including Penn State (below), the Seminoles are hurt in the rankings by having a smaller class.  

Penn State: When compared to how Penn State ranked among its peers from 2012-16, the recent run of recruiting success under James Franklin is a major step up. The 2021 class, at No. 21 nationally, is the lowest-ranked class in our five-year window used here, but that group would have the Nittany Lions trending up if it arrived a few years earlier. Running off four-straight top-15 classes with a No. 5 ranking in 2018 provided a new base line for expectations when it comes to how Penn State performs on the recruiting trail. While the 2021 class, statistically, falls short of those expectations, it’s worth pointing out that the group only includes 16 commits and the per-player rating (89.07) compares more favorably to those teams around the top 15. So while the rankings indicate a downward trend, some context reveals Penn State is still recruiting at the level we’ve come to expect under James Franklin — just without the kind of splash commitments that helped a run into the top-five a few years ago.  

Published: 2021-02-09 21:36:44

Tags: #College #football #recruiting #rankings #Teams #classes #fiveyear #average #entering

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