Visit any national sports site during the college football offseason, and you’ll be inundated by recruiting headlines.
“Florida makes a huge recruiting push.”
“Notre Dame adds a key player from Oklahoma.”
“Michigan lands an in-state star.”
The recruiting coverage focuses heavily – almost entirely, actually – on Power Five programs. That’s no surprise, as those programs often bring in the “best” recruits and have a large audience.
While it’s not a surprise that Power Five programs generate most recruiting coverage, Group of Five recruiting coverage from those major sites is borderline abysmal. The flawed rankings are harmless on paper, but those recruiting metrics are used by writers and analysts to project results. Those rankings impact how a team is viewed entering the preseason, which can be critical for Group of Five teams looking to gain national respect.
Group of Five recruits deserve respect
National recruiting sites have a tough job. It’s nearly impossible to parse through thousands of high school football players and share accurate predictions of their value. As a result, much of the coverage focuses on obvious five-star caliber players with dozens of offers from Big Ten and SEC schools.
Group of Five and even FCS offers aren’t viewed as favorably as offers from teams like Alabama or even teams like Missouri, Arkansas, and South Carolina, making it easy for fans and media members to assume the players being targeted by Group of Five teams simply aren’t as good as Power Five prospects. As a result, many Group of Five and FCS commits fly way under the radar.
Take Trey Lance for example. The athletic quarterback was considered a 3-star recruit by 24/7 Sports and other sites, yet it was evident almost immediately upon his arrival at North Dakota State that he was a special talent. Lance developed into an FCS superstar, using a cannon of an arm and elite running ability to guide the Bison effectively.
Lance was then selected third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was viewed by NFL teams as a five-star talent, and it’s fair to say he was largely overlooked as a recruit.
Plenty of other examples exist. JMU’s Isaac Ukwu was a zero-star recruit in 2017. This offseason, he left the Sun Belt to join Ole Miss as one of the most coveted transfers this spring.
Recruiting rankings almost always undersell Group of Five players and teams.
System needs work
Again, it’s really hard to properly rank every player in the country. Even with the difficulty, something needs to be done to better assess Group of Five recruits.
There’s a disconnect between the recruiting rankings and on-field results, as numerous Group of Five teams well outperform recruiting expectations annually. One Group of Five team was in the top 60 of 24/7 Sports’ 2023 recruiting class rankings. Yet 10 Group of Five teams finished in ESPN’s SP+ top 60 at the end of the 2022 season.
Appalachian State had the 83rd-best 2022 recruiting class, per 24/7 Sports. The Mountaineers never broke into the top 70 of the rankings from 2019-22. Last fall, the Mountaineers defeated Texas A&M, which ended 2022 with the nation’s No. 1 class. Texas A&M boasted a top-10 class from 2019-22.
On paper, the Aggies were loaded with talent. On the field, they missed a bowl game. App State’s Sun Belt peers, Troy and South Alabama, each won more than 10 games in 2022 despite minimal recruiting attention over the last five years. Each roster was stacked with quality players.
Tulane’s 2020 recruiting class, which includes current quarterback Michael Pratt, was ranked 68th nationally. The Green Wave defeated USC in last year’s Sugar Bowl to go 12-2. Tulane was every bit the part of a top-15 team nationally, also earning a win over Kansas State.
Maybe the gap between the Power Five and Group of Five is widening, and on-field results will align with recruiting rankings in future years, but that seems unlikely with playoff expansion on the horizon. Playoff access should only bolster recruiting at the Group of Five level.
It’s time we all agree recruiting rankings need more work, and we should be cautious to discuss them like they’re obvious facts. Doing so discredits Group of Five talent.