College sports, particularly football, have changed tremendously in recent years, from mass conference realignment to playoff expansion to the explosion of the transfer portal. All of this has, of course, had a major impact on the business of recruiting, which has now become essentially an equal mix of courting both high school stars AND experienced transfers. Simply put, it has changed the way programs build their teams. Weak teams can reload quickly. Strong teams can be decimated in the same fashion. Patience to wait out maturing incoming classes is no longer mandated.

Obviously, any change this dramatic can and has changed the business of handicapping college football as well. Knowing which teams are trending in the right or wrong direction in terms of their recruiting success can also prove to be beneficial for the handicapper.

 

This study should prove more important than ever with the mass realignment we have undergone nationwide for the 2024 season. Measuring a team’s talent level numerically should be a great indicator of how teams will assimilate into their new leagues. For instance, as you’ll see on my predicted standings chart later, the teams moving from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten and Big 12 seem set up for strong success. Alternatively, looking back at last year, the teams that went from the American to the Big 12 were generally overmatched on a talent scale in their new surroundings, and it played out that way on the field.

I will address all of those subjects in this article, including projecting this year’s standings for the newly reshaped conferences based SOLELY on the recruiting rankings from 247Sports and a predictive formula that I was able to uncover using regression analysis. This is always an interesting topic, and I have now made it a permanent fixture in my preparations for each coming college season.

2024 Projected Standings using recruiting rankings for the last four years

After adding the 2024 rankings from 247Sports.com to my database of the year-by-year recruiting rankings for the FBS teams since 2007, and comparing different options to the actual records and my power ratings that teams closed at in a given season, I was able to determine that the most predictive time frame of a team’s success on the field again came when considering its LAST FOUR RECRUITING CLASSES. It was greater than 1-year, 2-year, 3-year, and any special combined formulas I derived using the 1-4-year window.

Recruiting consistency leads to more consistent on-field success. As is the case with any statistical study, there are exceptions to the rule, but knowing what I know from 20+ years in this industry on both sides of the counter, I am still comfortable with using this 4-YEAR TIME WINDOW for analyzing teams’ prospects for a season despite the recent recruiting trends. That said, I will continue to analyze the results again each year to stay on top of any new trends forming.

Here are the would-be projected standings for the 2024 season for each conference using their combined average rank for their last four recruiting classes (2024, 2023, 2022, 2021). Remember that these projections include NO OTHER factor than the perceived talent level of the players by 247Sports when they signed into each team’s recruiting class.

VIEW COLLEGE FOOTBALL RECRUITING STANDINGS HERE

As you look at the projected standings, you will see that there aren’t any major surprises projected at the top of any of the Power 5 conference standings besides perhaps Utah stepping into the role of favorite in the revamped Big 12. The Group of 5 conference projections typically change more from year-to-year, based upon unusually highly or lowly rated classes working their way into the system. We will see how this plays out in Conference USA, with Louisiana Tech and Florida International ranked at the top after struggling in 2023. Hopefully, you can find more useful tidbits as you study the Recruiting Rankings chart by conference.


Teams that do the most/least with their recruiting classes

Signing a quality recruiting class is only the start of the story. Coaches need to develop the individual talent they acquire and mold them into a functioning unit in order to be successful. While some programs take a modestly rated recruiting class and make a winning program out of it, there are others that take a highly rated class and underachieve on the field. Let’s look at some of the programs that have distinctly demonstrated the opposite ends of this spectrum.

The teams below are sorted by the difference between their average national recruiting rankings over the LAST FOUR years as compared to their end-of-year power rating on my scale. As you analyze the merits of why each of these teams appears on the list, be sure to consider which programs have undergone coaching changes in recent years and, as a result, how relevant this info might be for 2024.

Top 20 teams whose on-field performance consistently exceeds its recruiting rating

As you look at the teams on the “overachieving” list, you’ll see a common trend in that three of the top four programs are service academies, a credit to the quality character of kids those teams recruit.

Of the top 10 teams, four are repeat teams from last year. New entries are James Madison and Jacksonville State, recent FBS adds, Oregon State and Western Kentucky.

All but three of the teams on this list are from Group of 5 conferences. Only Oregon State (#7), Iowa State (#8), & Wake Forest (#18) represent the Power 5 leagues. Truthfully, it’s hard to compete consistently for conference titles in the Power 5 leagues if you aren’t recruiting consistently well. It will be interesting to see how the recruiting efforts of the Pac-12 teams moving into Midwest leagues fare, as recruiting kids/families for games far out of market could prove to be a challenge.

1. JAMES MADISON: Recruit Rank – 131.8, SM PR – 47, Difference: +84.75
2. JACKSONVILLE STATE: Recruit Rank – 132.8, SM PR – 83, Difference: +49.75
3. AIR FORCE: Recruit Rank – 108, SM PR – 64.5, Difference: +43.5
4. TULSA: Recruit Rank – 114, SM PR – 75.5, Difference: +38.5
5. ARMY: Recruit Rank – 117, SM PR – 80, Difference: +37
6. LIBERTY: Recruit Rank – 101.8, SM PR – 65.8, Difference: +36
7. OREGON STATE: Recruit Rank – 71.3, SM PR – 36.8, Difference: +34.5
8. IOWA STATE: Recruit Rank – 53, SM PR – 22, Difference: +31
9. WESTERN KENTUCKY: Recruit Rank – 107.8, SM PR – 77.3, Difference: +30.5
10. LA LAFAYETTE: Recruit Rank – 89.5, SM PR – 59.3, Difference: +30.25
11. SAN JOSE STATE: Recruit Rank – 107.5, SM PR – 77.3, Difference: +30.25
12. MARSHALL: Recruit Rank – 102, SM PR – 72.3, Difference: +29.75
13. COASTAL CAROLINA: Recruit Rank – 94.8, SM PR – 66, Difference: +28.75
14. TROY: Recruit Rank – 102.8, SM PR – 75, Difference: +27.75
15. APPALACHIAN STATE: Recruit Rank – 83.5, SM PR – 57, Difference: +26.5
16. NAVY: Recruit Rank – 121.3, SM PR – 94.8, Difference: +26.5
17. UAB: Recruit Rank – 101.8, SM PR – 75.5, Difference: +26.25
18. WAKE FOREST: Recruit Rank – 67.5, SM PR – 43.5, Difference: +24
19. BOISE STATE: Recruit Rank – 68.5, SM PR – 44.8, Difference: +23.75
20. WYOMING: Recruit Rank – 110.5, SM PR – 86.8, Difference: +23.75

Top 20 teams whose recruiting ratings have exceeded their on-field performance

The programs on this “underachieving” list are those that, more often than not, are forced to fire their coaches due to lack of success. They recruit fairly well but are typically found at or near the bottom of their conference standings. For a second straight season, Rutgers holds the dubious honor of the top spot.

Essentially, the teams on this list don’t do nearly as well as what 247sports thought its signees were capable of.

Overall, this list is dominated by Power 5 conference schools, who use the lure of playing in big-time college football games to sign good athletes but haven’t had the same luck transferred to the field. You might be surprised to see some programs like Michigan State, South Carolina, or Miami on this list, but that’s the nature of the beast playing in the country’s toughest conferences.

The only three Group of 5 schools you’ll find among the top 10 in this collection of underachievers are Florida International (#3), South Florida (#7), and Louisiana Tech (#8).

Only two teams from this group have welcomed new head coaches for 2024, Boston College and Indiana. It will be interesting to follow the direction of those programs in the coming seasons. The other 18 are staying the course for at least one more season, which historically has proven a better way to escape underachievement.

1. VANDERBILT: Recruit Rank – 54, SM PR – 103, Difference: -49
2. STANFORD: Recruit Rank – 39.8, SM PR – 82, Difference: -42.25
3. FLA INTERNATIONAL: Recruit Rank – 87.8, SM PR – 128.5, Difference: -40.75
4. COLORADO: Recruit Rank – 45.3, SM PR – 82.8, Difference: -37.5
5. RUTGERS: Recruit Rank – 50.5, SM PR – 82.3, Difference: -31.75
6. GEORGIA TECH: Recruit Rank – 44.8, SM PR – 73.8, Difference: -29
7. SOUTH FLORIDA: Recruit Rank – 79.8, SM PR – 107.3, Difference: -27.5
8. LOUISIANA TECH: Recruit Rank – 90.3, SM PR – 117.3, Difference: -27
9. MICHIGAN STATE: Recruit Rank – 33.5, SM PR – 60.5, Difference: -27
10. SOUTH CAROLINA: Recruit Rank – 34.5, SM PR – 60.5, Difference: -26
11. MIAMI (FL): Recruit Rank – 11.3, SM PR – 34.8, Difference: -23.5
12. ARKANSAS STATE: Recruit Rank – 90, SM PR – 112.5, Difference: -22.5
13. MARYLAND: Recruit Rank – 29.8, SM PR – 52.3, Difference: -22.5
14. NEBRASKA: Recruit Rank – 25.5, SM PR – 47.8, Difference: -22.25
15. BOSTON COLLEGE: Recruit Rank – 52.5, SM PR – 74.5, Difference: -22
16. INDIANA: Recruit Rank – 46, SM PR – 67.8, Difference: -21.75
17. MASSACHUSETTS: Recruit Rank – 108, SM PR – 129.8, Difference: -21.75
18. SOUTHERN MISS: Recruit Rank – 92.3, SM PR – 112.3, Difference: -20
19. TEMPLE: Recruit Rank – 98.3, SM PR – 117.8, Difference: -19.5
20. COLORADO STATE: Recruit Rank – 86.5, SM PR – 105, Difference: -18.5

Teams whose recruiting appears to be trending in each direction

The recent success or lack thereof on the recruiting trail for teams figures to have a direct relationship with how they fare on the field in the coming years. Teams whose classes are improving consistently are likely to become more prominent on the national/conference stage, while those whose class strengths are declining could be experiencing downturns in the near future. There are also unique situations where a staff added an unusually highly rated or lowly rated class in a given year instead of typical results. Let’s look at teams on both ends on the recruiting momentum spectrum.

BYU (Last three recruiting ranks: 62, 51, 57, prior 11 years avg: 69.3)
The step up to the Big 12 conference has had a good impact on BYU’s recruiting rankings recently, and the 57th-ranked class of 2024 is keeping with that tendency. It’s not quite Big 12 caliber yet, however, and it needs to keep trending upward for this team to compete for conference titles.

California (Last three recruiting ranks: 55, 46, 39)
Moving to the ACC didn’t hurt California’s first-year recruiting efforts, as the Golden Bears scored their best class in four years. The four-year average of 42.25 wasn’t top half for Pac-12 standards, but it is for ACC figures. Don’t be surprised if this team fares better in its new conference.

Charlotte (2024 recruiting rank: 77, prior FBS high: 88)
Including the addition of a transfer QB from Florida, Charlotte’s first recruiting class after completing a year of American Athletic Conference action was stellar by program standards. Having never scored higher than an 88 rank before, head coach Biff Poggi landed a 77th ranked class nationally. Doing this consistently would make the 49ers an upper-half AAC team.

Colorado (Last two recruiting ranks: 21, 22, prior 2-years avg: 62)
The impact of hiring head coach Deion Sanders was huge on the recruiting trail as he built upon a huge first class in 2023 with an almost equal one this past winter/spring. Colorado’s four-year average ranks fourth among its new mates in the Big 12.

Florida (2024 recruiting rank: 7, best since 2013)
Billy Napier landed Florida its most highly-rated recruiting class in over a decade since the 2023 season ended. The #7 national ranking used to be commonplace around Gainesville. Not lately, however. This is exactly the momentum the Gators need to become relevant again in the SEC.

Florida State (2024 recruiting rank: 11 – highest since 2018)
Like its neighbors to the East in Gainesville, Florida State scored a highly regarded recruiting class this past winter/spring, highlighted by the signing of transfer QB DJ Uiagalelei. Head coach Mike Norvell is building off a huge undefeated regular season and has this program on the cusp of elite again.

Houston (Last three recruiting ranks: 51, 48, 52 – prior 5-year average 75.8)
The move to the Big 12 has helped Houston put together its best three-year recruiting classes on record. The four-year average still places the Cougars 13th on the conference list, so there’s plenty of work still to be done for new head coach Willie Fritz.

Illinois (Last five recruiting ranks: 87, 71, 65, 54, 45)
Fourth-year coach Bret Bielema brought in Illinois’ best recruiting class since 2019 this spring and continued a five-year trend of continuous improvement. This program seems to be clearly moving in the right direction.

Kansas (2024 recruiting rank: 42, prior 12-year best: 49)
Lance Leipold’s Kansas team is winning and building upon that success, as he and his staff put together the best recruiting class the program has scored since 2011. It seems the best could be yet to come for the Jayhawks.

Miami (Last two recruiting ranks: 8, 6 – prior 13-year average: 16.6)
I’ve seen a lot of experts that are high on Miami this year, and despite all of the criticism head coach Mario Cristobal has received for their underachieving ways, on paper, this might now be the most talented team in the ACC for 2024.

Missouri (Last four recruiting rank avg: 24.8 – prior five-year average: 43.2)
Moving to the SEC and hiring head coach Eliah Drinkwitz has had a major impact on recruiting at Missouri. The results on the field have improved as well, with the Tigers coming off am 11-win season and Cotton Bowl victory.

NC State (Last three recruiting ranks: 76. 49, 27))
Although he is going into his 12th season at NC State, head coach Dave Doeren seems to have flipped a switch the last two offseasons to turn up the Wolfpack’s recruiting efforts. This year’s rank of 27th is SEC-level, and the addition of transfer QB Grayson McCall should keep this team in contention for 2024 in the ACC.

Oregon (Last seven recruiting rank avg: 9.6, prior 5 years 20.4)
Despite four coaching changes since 2017 and now a move to the Big Ten, recruiting has taken off for Oregon once again after a downturn in the years prior. The Ducks scored a 15-year high ranking of fourth this offseason. With QB Dillon Gabriel under center, are they poised to get back into the national title consideration in the immediate future?

SMU (Last four recruiting ranks: 51, 50, 42, 57– prior 11-year avg. rank: 75.2)
With four strong recruiting classes in tow and now a move to the ACC, it sure looks like SMU will be more than competitive in its enhanced surroundings. In fact, on the conference projections chart, the Mustangs check in at #11 of the 17 ACC teams. Not bad for a program that has been at the Group of 5 level for decades.

Texas State (Last two recruiting ranks: 87, 79 – prior 11-year average 108.2)
Head coach GJ Kinne has proven to be a terrific hire for Texas State. Not only has he been highly effective in landing key transfers as well as recruits in his first two offseasons for the Bobcats, but the results also showed on the field as his first team went 8-5. At this rate, it would be surprising to see TSU be able to keep him beyond another season or two.

Texas Tech (Last 42 recruiting ranks: 72, 46, 35, 26)
Head coach Joey McGuire has the Texas Tech recruiting efforts headed in the right direction, with each of the last three seasons under his watch bettering the prior year. At this rate, the Red Raiders will be the projected winner in the Big 12 next season or the one after that.

Tulane (Last four recruiting ranks: 80, 77, 75, 64)
Sometimes, it’s only baby steps that are needed in recruiting to make a program better. As you can see, the rankings are climbing slowly but surely for the Green Wave, leaving them in a position to fight for an expanded CFP berth once again.

Tulsa (2024 recruiting rank: 75 – prior six-year avg: 110)
Tulsa’s recruiting efforts made a quantum leap this offseason under second-year head coach Kevin Wilson. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to move up a tier or two in a Group of 5 conference.

UCF (L3 recruiting average: 37 – prior 10-years average 68.1)
Head coach Gus Malzahn has taken UCF recruiting to another level in his four years, so much in fact that the Golden Knights are projected to be third of 16 teams in the Big 12 for 2024.

UTEP (2024 recruiting rank: 91, best since 2010)

New head coach Scotty Walden immediately got busy for UTEP and scored the program’s best-rated recruiting class in 14 years. The average ranking since 2010 was 122.5, so this group is a huge step up in talent. We’ll see if it pays off right away or in the near future.

Boise State (Last two years recruiting ranks 74, 73, prior 12 years no 70+)
This might not seem like a big transformation, but second-year head coach Spencer Danielson has landed Boise State its two lowest-rated recruiting classes since 2010 & prior. This program had become a normal 50s and 60s-rated school. Will back-to-back underachieving classes lead to a drop-off on the field in the coming years? The Broncos are still projected first in the MWC on the conference standings chart, but the margin is slimming.

Boston College (Last four years recruiting ranks – 37, 53, 57, 71)
This offseason’s recruiting results weren’t a great start for new head coach Bill O’Brien’s reign at Boston College. I would have expected more, considering his career success in the New England area. For 2024, there might be enough talent and experience back to maintain some level of success, but the recruiting efforts are going to have to pick up if this team is to stay viable in the ACC.

Bowling Green (Last four years recruiting rank avg 112.8, prior four-year avg 96.0)
The 2024 season will be Scott Loeffler’s sixth at Bowling Green, and he will be bringing back a relatively experienced lineup. However, recent recruiting classes suggest the seven wins achieved last year could be a ceiling type of number for this program in this era.

Buffalo (2024 recruiting rank 117, prior three-year avg 84.3)
Former head coach Maurice Linguist recruited well in his three years at Buffalo. His teams didn’t win on the field, however. The Bulls are looking for the opposite after new head coach Pete Lembo’s first class cratered.

Central Michigan (2024 recruiting rank 126, prior three-year avg: 92)
Head Coach Jim McElwain seemingly took the winter and spring off since finishing 5-7 last season, as his program recorded its worst-graded recruiting class on record. That won’t help improve a team that has missed out on bowl games the last two seasons.

Cincinnati (Last five years recruiting ranks: 40, 42. 48, 55, 60)
Cincinnati is trending in the opposite direction needed to compete in the Big 12.

Florida International (Last three years recruiting rank avg: 104, prior five-year avg: 79.6)
The weakening of Conference USA around FIU has had a detrimental effect on recruiting efforts. You can see the dramatic fall off the last three years when compared to the prior five, although the current four-year ranking is still second best in the league. I’m not sure lessening the standards because those around you are also being lessened is what a program wants.

Hawaii (Last six years recruiting rank avg: 120.7, prior nine-year avg: 94.1)
Not sure why specifically, but it seems that very few highly regarded players are drawn to Hawaii football any longer. One would have thought that prolific passer Timmy Chang coming back as head coach would have made an impact. It hasn’t, and the program continues to suffer on the field.

Iowa (Last four years recruiting ranks: 24, 38, 41, 50)
There may be an emerging stigma attached to Iowa football due to its lack of offensive effectiveness in recent years. The Hawkeyes and head coach Kirk Ferentz are on a four-year slide for recruiting class scores. With the Big Ten getting better, this team’s talent level is not.

LA Lafayette (Last three years recruiting ranks: 120, 91, 114 – prior three-year avg: 74.3)
Transitioning out of a huge four-year run under Billy Napier was expected to be tough. While Napier is setting new recruiting standards at Florida, head coach Michael Desormeaux has unfortunately lowered the recruiting standards of ULL in his first three classes. The results showed on the field the last two years. It will probably continue.

Maryland (2024 recruiting rank: 54, prior 14-year low: 50)
Yes, you’re reading that accurately, Maryland scored its worst recruiting class in at least 15 years following back-to-back 8-5 seasons under Mike Locksley. With this Big Ten getting significantly better and deeper this season, this was no time to slip up and lose momentum.

Michigan (Last five years recruiting rank best 12th, prior eight-years, five top 8’s)
Despite three straight CFP appearances, Michigan has been unable to capitalize on the recruiting trail. The loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh hurt since the national title win, but the Wolverines’ 2024 class ranked 19th, very low by program standards, and with the addition of USC and Oregon, the current Big Ten conference projection by recruiting rankings is fifth.

Middle Tennessee State (Last four years recruiting rank avg: 119.5, prior eight-year avg: 90.5)
Falling recruiting rankings were just one reason it was time for Middle Tennessee State to move on from veteran coach Rick Stockstill. His last three classes reflected a new era of the recruiting game he couldn’t keep up with. Unfortunately, new head coach Derek Mason seems to have continued that trend.

Northern Illinois (2024 recruiting rank: 116, prior 14-year low: 114)
Even coming off a first bowl win in many years, Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock couldn’t close the deal with recruits. The result was a 15-year low ranking this year for the Huskies. The last three years have also been plus-100, so it doesn’t seem that the bowl-winning success will last.

Navy (Last five years recruiting rank avg: 123.5)
For anyone wondering why Navy’s football program has fallen on hard times, look no further. Prior to 2019, the eight-year recruiting average was around 103, and the Navy staff always did well in developing those players. This new task is a little tougher. This ranking is EASILY the worst in the American Athletic Conference and makes the job of new head coach Brian Newberry a challenge.

New Mexico (Last two years recruiting ranks: 125, 128)
New Mexico has never been a hotbed for top college football talent, but I would have thought new head coach Bronco Mendenhall would have had a bigger impact on this year’s recruiting efforts than he did. No wonder this team’s win total is a measly 2 at DraftKings.

New Mexico State (Last three years recruiting ranks: 86. 118, 130)
Pardon the pun, but head coach Jerry Kill’s decision to retire “killed” recruiting efforts at NMSU. An enthusiastic Kill brought in a great class two years ago, and that group led the Aggies to two bowl games. Don’t be surprised if this team hits a wall this year.

North Carolina (2024 recruiting rank: 32, prior 11-year low: 32)
North Carolina has revived its football program under head coach Mack Brown, so why the poorly-rated recruiting class this year by program standards? This coming off a 2023 class rated just 28th. Perhaps UNC is bound to decline in 2024.

Northwestern (Last five years recruiting ranks: 47, 49, 56, 60, 93)
With Northwestern’s high education standards, it’s never as easy to recruit there as at some other Big Ten schools. That said, former head coach Pat Fitzgerald typically fared well at getting the most out of player development. Now, with David Braun in charge of a recruiting trend moving steadily downward, the 2024 season becomes a major challenge.

San Jose State (Last six recruiting classes: Five worse than 110th, prior five-year avg: 84.2)
Recruiting efforts have dropped off severely at San Jose State and now the Spartans start anew under head coach Ken Niumatalolo with just seven starters back. It wouldn’t be outlandish to see things go south for the Spartans in 2024.

UCLA (2024 recruiting class rank: 44, worst since 2011)
UCLA’s first recruiting class for Deshaun Foster bottomed out, which is not great timing considering the move to the Big Ten figures to bring enhanced competition. To put the #44 raking into perspective, the average ranking for the Bruins since 2011 was 22.

Virginia (Last four years recruiting ranks: 32, 59, 65, 69)
The recruiting classes at Virginia have fallen off in each of the last three years from the season prior, and that doesn’t bode well for improving or competing at any respectable level in the ACC.

Washington State (Last five years recruiting ranks: 56, 59, 62, 71, 80)
There has to be some real concern with Washington State football right now, as not only have the Cougars been left without a bonafide conference, but the impacts on recruiting have been felt as well, with four straight classes rated worse than the prior.

West Virginia (2024 recruiting rank: 61 – worst on record)
Head coach Neal Brown’s West Virginia team had a strong 9-4 season last year, a program best since 2016. That makes it all the more surprising that the Mountaineers struck out on the recruiting/transfer trail in the offseason. They are still in relatively good shape as far as the Big 12 is concerned, but this isn’t a raking that they want to see start to trend.