Examining where teams rank in terms of talent heading into the season
Ranking the rosters for the 2021 season provides a unique window into the talent level for all teams and how that compares to win totals, conference championships, and success on a national level. Recruiting is the foundation for winning national championships, competing for CFB Playoff berths or performing at a high level in college football. While recruiting rankings aren’t 100 percent accurate, there is plenty of truth in the rankings and evaluations by the experts. Additionally, with advances in technology to watch more prospects, along with more offseason camps, the rankings for prospects and classes as a whole are more accurate than they were just a few years ago. Since the start of the CFB Playoff era, all six champions have come from teams ranked inside of the top five in overall roster talent. It’s no secret what a program needs in order to win big at this level. Great coaching, support staffs, state-of-the-art training facilities and luck certainly helps, but talent on the roster (and player development) provides a significant head start in the race to win it all each season.
Just how important are recruiting rankings and the overall talent evaluation? Alabama (No. 1) has won six national championships since 2009. Additionally, the Crimson Tide, LSU, Clemson, Georgia, and Ohio State – the top five teams in this metric – have all played for or won a national title in the CFB Playoff era. Three teams from the SEC rank inside of the top four for 2021, with Ohio State (No. 3) and Clemson (No. 5) rounding out the top five.
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for the Power 5 schools, Notre Dame and BYU over the last five classes according to and each team’s record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn’t take into account attrition. However, with a five-year window in place, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
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Ranking College Football’s Rosters for 2021
* Four teams – Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson and LSU – have won the national championship during the CFB Playoff era. None of those four teams rank outside of the top five in roster talent going into 2021.
* The SEC has five of the top 10 rosters in college football. Alabama leads the way with a narrow (2.0 to 2.2) edge over Georgia in the five-year average. LSU, Texas A&M and Florida round out the SEC classes in the top 10.
* 12 of the SEC’s 14 teams rank inside the top 30 in roster talent going into 2021.
* None of Alabama’s classes have ranked outside of the top five since 2010. During that span, only two hauls (2018 and ’18) ranked below No. 2 nationally.
* The lowest team in the roster rankings to make the CFB Playoff was Michigan State. The Spartans rank No. 35 in roster talent going into the 2021 season. Additionally, Washington (tied for No. 20) is the only other team to rank outside of the top 17 in roster talent to make the playoff since 2014.
* Georgia (No. 2) is the only team in the top five of roster talent without a national title during the CFB Playoff era.
* When Athlon Sports posted this article back in 2014, Clemson rated No. 17 nationally in roster talent. Coach Dabo Swinney’s team has climbed to No. 5 going into 2021.
* Notre Dame ranks No. 12 nationally in roster talent. Only six teams – Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma have more wins from 2017-20.
* The Big 12 has just two teams ranked inside of the top 25 in roster talent. Oklahoma ranks No. 6, and Texas is tied for eighth going into 2021. TCU is next in the conference at No. 32.
* While the Big 12 has only two teams in the top 25 of roster talent, the next group is clustered together in a small window. TCU is No. 32, followed by Oklahoma State (37), Baylor (39), West Virginia (tied for 44th) and Iowa State (51).
* Oregon is the only Pac-12 team inside of the top 15 nationally in roster talent. USC is No. 2 in the conference and 18th nationally. The Trojans’ five-year average is weighed down by the No. 64 class signed in 2020.
* When Athlon Sports posted the 2017 version of this article, Florida State ranked No. 1 in the ACC and No. 4 nationally in roster talent. The Seminoles have tumbled to No. 3 within the conference and No. 17 nationally.
* Wisconsin’s classes have trended up since finishing No. 46 in 2018. The Badgers climbed to No. 29 in 2019, No. 26 in ’20, and No. 15 in ’21.
* To illustrate the depth of recruiting within the SEC, take a look at Kentucky. The Wildcats rank No. 12 within the conference but rank No. 30 nationally. Kentucky’s five-yard average ranks higher than eight teams in the Big 12 and would be fifth-best among teams in the ACC.
* Nebraska’s classes have rated between No. 20-24 nationally every year since 2016. However, the Cornhuskers are just 18-26 in the Big Ten from 2017-20.
* Ole Miss’ No. 18 ranked class in 2021 was the program’s highest finish since No. 6 in ’16.
* North Carolina has inked back-to-back top-15 classes after just one top-20 haul from 2010-19.
* Washington’s 2021 haul rated No. 35 nationally. That’s the lowest mark for the Huskies since their 2016 class ranked No. 29.
* Maryland ranked No. 38 nationally in roster rankings in 2017. However, the Terrapins have climbed No. 25 nationally going into ’21.
* UCLA did not finish lower than 20th nationally in a signing class from 2010-18. The Bruins have ranked 30th or lower over their last three classes.
* Oregon State’s 2021 recruiting class ranked No. 109 overall and is the lowest of any Power 5 team over the last 10 years. However, that’s largely due to the Beavers signing only 10 players. Also, the average player rating (85.18) was better than the total at Washington State, Arizona and Colorado.
* From 2013-15, Utah’s classes ranked between No. 45, No. 67 and No. 47, respectively. However, the Utes have just one class below No. 36 nationally since that span.
* Oklahoma State did not have a class rank lower than No. 32 from 2010-14. The Cowboys have not finished higher than No. 34 since 2015.
* Iowa tied for No. 53 nationally in roster talent going into the 2017 season. The Hawkeyes have climbed to No. 34 for the ’21 campaign.
* After recording finishes of No. 26, No. 24, and No. 26 from 2017-19, Virginia Tech‘s most recent class have ranked 76th (2020) and 45th (’21).
* Missouri’s No. 29 haul in 2021 was the program’s first top-30 class since ’15.
* Colorado’s No. 64 class in 2021 was the program’s lowest since a No. 69 class in ’16.
* Virginia’s No. 32 haul for 2021 was the best of coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure.
* Rutgers’ 2021 class (No. 41) was the best for the program since a No. 24 finish in ’12.
* Illinois ranked No. 56 in roster talent in 2017. The Fighting Illini have slipped to No. 63 going into ’21.
* Boston College signed its best recruiting class (No. 36) since its 2011 haul (No. 41).
* Five ACC teams – NC State, Louisville, Pitt, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech – are ranked between No. 36 and No. 43 nationally.
* South Carolina’s No. 78 haul for 2021 is the lowest of any SEC team over the last five seasons.
* Texas Tech’s roster ranked No. 42 nationally going into the 2017 season. The Red Raiders have fallen to No. 60 going into ’21.
Podcast: Ranking the Rosters, Trends and Signing Day Recap