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Nebraska Football Recruiting

How Much Talent Does it Take to Win a Conference Title?

January 25, 2017
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Between 2008 and 2016, 48 teams won at least a share (for those conferences without a conference-championship game) of a Power 5 conference title. How much talent did those teams need to win those titles?

There are a couple of different ways you could attempt to measure that, but with signing day a week away, let us look at this in pure talent accumulation terms using a simple method that for the purposes of this article we'll call blue-chip percentage. That is simply the number of 4- and 5-star recruits divided by the total number of signees (based on Scout's rankings) over the four-year span leading up to the championship season.

On average between 2008 and 2016, 12.8 percent of the signees were 4- or 5-star recruits. If you just distributed the talent equally among all teams, that's what they'd get.


The average conference champion, however, had a blue-chip percentage of 39.6 percent. The median was 36.6 percent, which tells you that some of those schools that sign mostly blue-chip talent -- the USCs, Alabamas, and Ohio States of the word -- are skewing things upward a bit. Median is probably the more accurate number here.

But don't view that as a cutoff point. It's more of a target because for every 2008 USC (80.5%) and 2015 Alabama (74.3%) there are teams that have won conference titles with far less.

Kansas State in 2012, for example, had zero 4- or 5-star recruits (and thus a blue-chip percentage of zero) in the four classes leading up to its Big 12 title.

Wisconsin won at least a share of the Big Ten title in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with blue-chip percentages of 8.0, 5.5 and 10.1 respectively. Michigan State shared the 2010 title (11.6) and then won outright titles in 2013 (22.1) and 2015 (29.1) with better talent, but that was still below average for conference champions over that span.

Part of this, perhaps most of it, of course is dependent upon overall conference strength and proximity to talent. The SEC might have eight teams that are "talented enough" to win a conference title based on blue-chip percentage, but only one of those teams can win the conference. That's part of the reason you see a handful of Big Ten teams on the lower end of the spectrum.

That's good news for Nebraska. So is the cluster of teams right around the median between 2008 and 2016. Those are teams like 2016 Penn State, Oklahoma in 2015 and 2016, Oregon in 2011 and Stanford (which tends to sign small, high-quality classes) in 2012, 2013 and 2015. All of those teams had a four-year blue-chip percentages between 33.3 and 38.8.

Can Nebraska recruit like the most talented teams in the country, signing three blue chips for every non-blue chip? No. Can it recruit like Oklahoma or Oregon and land one blue-chip player for every 2 non-blue chips? Maybe.

The Huskers aren't there yet. Nebraska entered the 2016 season with a blue-chip percentage of 26.4. That was up from 25.3 in 2015, which was the Huskers' lowest blue-chip percentage since 2012. Between 2008 and 2016, Nebraska's best blue-chip percentage was in 2013 (32.5), which means that in the last nine cycles (using a four-year calculation) Nebraska has yet to top the median for past conference champions over that span.

It won't get there in 2017, either. Assuming the Huskers sign a class of 22 to 25 players, Nebraska would need 17 or 18 blue-chip players total in this class. It currently has eight per Scout's ratings, which, if you capped the class today, would be enough to boost the Huskers' blue-chip percentage up to 27.7 headed into the 2017 season. Only 14 of the past 48 conference champions won with a blue-chip percentage lower than that, but it's trending in the right direction under Mike Riley and with a strong close to the 2017 class could climb closer to 30.

(Note about the data: I made no attempt to account for defections with the above numbers, so it is a measure of the maximum talent available for those schools. The good news is now that I have all that data compiled, it's much easier to hone. This was intended as a very cursory way to look at talent and conference champions, so if it spurred any specific questions let me know and I'll do my best to answer them as I already have a few ideas for future articles.)
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