Photo by John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: With This Type of Recruiting, NU Can Get There from Here

February 8, 2019
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The 2019 recruiting cycle is in the books. Nebraska did well, finishing with the 19th-ranked class in the 247 Composite rankings. That's a few spots higher than the past three classes, but when you weight the four-class sample in an attempt to project its impact on the 2019 team that No. 19 ranking comes out just ahead of average.

That's what I learned from the release of Bill Connelly and SB Nation's four-year recruiting rankings. This is the third and final component of his preseason S&P+ rankings, which will be out next Monday, and Nebraska ranks better here than it does in returning production or recent performance just as expected.

Before we look at these rankings, note that the formula here is a look at the past four classes and they're weighted to produce a percentile performance.

Using previous years of data as the testing ground, I found the projections work best when they are weighted as follows: this year’s recruiting class accounts for about 67 percent of the projection, last year’s accounts for 15 percent, the class from two years ago accounts for 15 percent, and the class from three years out accounts for about 3 percent. So I guess we call it a weighted four-year average now.

If that seems heavy on the most recent class, remember that the previous three classes (i.e. the existing roster for the most part) are being measured by the other components (returning production, recent performance) in a way the new signees are not. Because these are predictive rankings, you have to get the new blood in there somehow and this is the way.

Based on that type of calculation, Nebraska ranked 20th nationally with its four-year weighted recruiting falling in the 86th percentile. To put it another way, Nebraska's recruiting over the past four years, as it relates to the season ahead, was better than 86 percent of teams in college football.

I have a lot of thoughts on this, but first here's where the rest of the Big Ten falls:

TEAM PERCENTILE NAT RANK
Ohio St 96.5 5
Penn St 95.2 11
Michigan 95.0 12
Nebraska 86.9 20
Michigan St 75.9 27
Wisconsin 75.2 28
Purdue 69.4 35
Iowa 65.1 39
Indiana 62.5 41
Minnesota 62.1 42
Maryland 59.5 47
Northwestern 58.2 50
Illinois 53.2 56
Rutgers 51.0 59

The aforementioned thoughts . . .

>>The big thought? Nebraska can get there from here.

Let's assume that Husker fans want to see, in some order, Nebraska a) snap a frightfully long conference-title streak, b) return to national prominence and c) contend for a Playoff spot. That seems like a safe assumption. C likely isn't possible without A. B could be, but it would only underscore the need for A eventually.

I think all three wants are achievable as the 20th-best recruiter over a four-year span. People talk all the time about the talent needed to contend for titles, and the correlations there (based on the teams that do) almost always show a level of recruiting that's higher than Nebraska's typical average. I'm not disputing those historical markers.

But there can be a lot of randomness if a team just gets in the hunt, and if Nebraska continues to recruit like it did in 2019 it can get in the hunt with that level of talent. Yes, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma––the teams with multiple Playoff appearances––are still far out ahead of Nebraska. But the group of teams who have simply made the Playoff once and given themselves a chance to play for a national title, minus Georgia, is closer to Nebraska in this year's rankings. Oregon, Notre Dame, Florida State and Washington all rank between 13th and 18th. Michigan State checks in at No. 27.

That's this year, of course. Those teams' four-year averages when they made the Playoff may have been, and in Florida State's cases certainly was, higher. But will Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington at least be given a Playoff shot in 2019? The Irish definitely will, while the Ducks' and Huskies' national-title odds (which are basically a sham) are already similar to Nebraska's in 2019.

How much talent does it take to win a national title? Typically a team has to be a top-12 (or so) recruiter.

How much talent does it take to get a shot at a national title? I would say Nebraska has already hit that threshold. It's in the group, but . . . 

>>. . . Nebraska is still on the fringes of that group. It's important for the Huskers that they build on the 2019 class. If Nebraska is higher in these rankings a year from now, that should be viewed as a significant gain.

>>You want to see the impact of geography on recruiting? Look at the team one spot ahead of Nebraska.

South Carolina is slightly more talented than Nebraska based on this calculation and I fully believe that's true. The majority of the highly rated high school football players in the world live in the SEC footprint and the majority of those in the footprint stay in the SEC. There's no way around that, but from Nebraska's perspective I don't think it matters all that much.

The natural talent level available to a team like South Carolina (or Tennessee or Mississippi State) is impressive--maybe even envy inducing--but the Gamecocks (or Vols or Bolldogs) are sort of screwed as the seventh-, eighth- or ninth-best recruiter in their conference. Based on recruiting rankings, South Carolina is significantly more talented than Iowa, the eighth-best recruiter in the Big Ten.

But in the grand scheme of college football, when does that ever come into play? Sure, if South Carolina and Iowa meet in, say, the Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks will likely be favored by a little and I'd probably take less-talented Iowa to win because it has a well-established program identity. No matter the result, does that game drastically change anything for either program? Does it impact the power structure of college football?

No, and no. In case your forgot, and for this construction to working I’m betting at least some of you have, Iowa played something close to its SEC equivalent in terms of relative talent in the Outback Bowl this year. Mississippi State was favored by a touchdown and lost by five.

That's what Mississippi State's top-25 talent gets it––an Outback Bowl. It's nice from a national point of view, but it's devalued by the fact that 60 to 70 percent of its games each year will be against teams with a higher talent level in the SEC. We can talk about how the SEC dominates the talent market all we want, but there's a point of diminishing returns there.

This common talking point really doesn't impact most of the teams in the country aside from the fact that it keeps talent away from those teams. But it's talent those teams were probably never going to get anyway.

>>With a heavy weight on this most recent class, Wisconsin's best class in some time, I was impressed with, if not surprised by, the Badgers' rank here (28th). Wisconsin scores pretty highly in all three components that go into S&P+. Some will want to fade the Badgers after a pedestrian 2018 season, but I think they'll be highly ranked when these rankings come out next week. Wisconsin's still the team to beat in the West.

>>I am once again adjusting a prediction I'm sure nobody cares about but me. Without knowing exactly how things are weighted, I'm expecting the Huskers to be somewhere between 35 and 45. That's up from the 38-to-48 range after looking at recent performance-plus-returning production, which was up from 42-to-52 after looking at just the production returning.

The Grab Bag

  • Stanley Morgan Jr. was the only Husker to receive an invite to the NFL Combine.
  • The latest Varsity Club podcast is here as Derek Peterson and Greg Smith evaluate the Huskers’ 2019 recruiting cycle.
  • There are questions at wide receiver, but Nebraska has options.
  • Jacob Padilla looks at Glynn Watson’s game against Maryland in his latest Run It Back.

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