“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” – Former
UCLA football coach Henry Russell Sanders.
“It’s not that you won or lost, it’s how you played the game” –
Journalist Grantland Rice
“I don’t expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation. I just
want to win enough to warrant an investigation.” – Former Nebraska football
coach Bob Devaney
Three famous and relevant quotes about winning, although Bob Devaney’s quip
doesn’t directly apply to my previously stated goal for part 2 of the
recruiting series; showing how recruiting rankings relate to overall wins,
conference championships and national titles. However, with a new scandal
breaking seemingly every day, I had to include his infamous words.
So, just how important is winning in the current culture of college football?
To some, it truly is the only thing. We all know fans of college programs who
don’t care how their team wins, or who consider anything less than a national
championship a wasted season. Today’s sports pages are filled with debates
about the monetary value of a winning program, for the colleges, the coaches,
the athletes and even the fans. College football has become a monetary monster
and the best way to feed said monster is to continue winning.
I am an old-school fan in that I honestly enjoy a season like the one Bryan
Randall captained in 2004 just as much (if not more) than VT’s magical ride to
the MNC game in January 2000. To me, the 2004 team embodied all that is right is
about college athletics; of course, they also managed to win 10 games and an ACC
title … not too hard to like. Maybe reality lies somewhere between the
diametric words from Coach Sanders and Grantland Rice. However, this article is
all about the Ws (or lack thereof).
Criteria update: In Part I, the dataset was derived mainly from
Rivals’ rankings of the 2002-2008 recruiting classes. Since becoming All-ACC
or an early-entry into the NFL usually takes 2-3 years, I felt it best to not
utilize rankings outside that period. For this piece, I used data from Rivals’
rankings of the 2002-2010 classes, as players today can make a significant
impact as freshmen, directly contributing to wins and losses. Also, the current
12 members of the ACC did not begin competing (in today’s format) until the
2005 season, when BC finally joined the conference. The information I present
covers the 2005-2010 seasons; this allows at least four recruiting classes to
impact each of the six seasons. In addition, when comparing the ACC programs to
recent BCS champions, the historical recruiting data only allowed for studying
2005-2010. Honestly, this study needs to be re-visited 10 years from now to
truly produce statistically accurate data and conclusions. However, I did my
best with the limited sample sizes and I still think some interesting
conclusions can be drawn. On to Table 1:
Let me go ahead and state the obvious … recruiting rankings mean absolutely
nothing in correlation to wins (j/k). All kidding aside, for the years available
for comparison (in the ACC), the three programs that have the best overall
winning percentage AND ACC winning percentages (VT, BC and GT) all have
significantly lower average star rankings from 2002-2010 than the top “ranked”
schools (FSU, Miami and Clemson). Virginia Tech’s success rate comes as no
surprise (seven consecutive 10-win seasons will seriously help one’s numbers),
but both Boston College and Georgia Tech are in the bottom third in the ACC when
looking at average stars per class.
To be fair, Florida State and Clemson have very respectable overall and ACC
winning percentages. I suspect that instability in their respective coaching
ranks is partly to blame for only one (ONE!!) ACC title combined in the six
seasons studied. FSU does have the most bowl wins (and they are not against
terrible teams) and one ACC title, but with the supposed talent they bring in
year after year, their results both in and out of the ACC should be much better.
Let me more closely examine VT’s success … I just stated that their
success should come as no surprise, but that only pertains to winning
percentages. When comparing their average recruiting rankings to the rest of the
ACC, they consistently fall right in the middle. However, VT has dominated the
ACC since joining, with players that are supposedly inferior to FSU’s and
Miami’s players. Stability in their coaching staff and a proven method of
finding, then developing, 2 and 3 star athletes is obviously their forte. Or, is
it possible that a staff like VT’s, with so much experience together, is truly
able to see a 4-star player when he is ranked a 2 or 3-star? Personally, I think
VT’s formula is one that works perfectly with the tools their staff brings to
the recruiting trail and is simply better when compared to the rest of the ACC.
Some true disappointments: Miami, UNC, UVA and Maryland, by average
recruiting rankings, should all have produced much better winning percentages
both in and out of the ACC. Maryland, which may be the toughest sell
location-wise in the ACC, has at least won three bowl games during the six seasons
studied … the same as Miami, UNC and UVA combined.
Kudos must be given to Jim Grobe’s staff at Wake Forest. From 2002-2010, WF
signed TWO 4-star athletes … the rest were ranked 3-stars or less. Yet they
have managed to win an ACC championship and two bowl games, both more than a
certain private school in southern Florida. Remember, by average star rankings,
WF is behind Duke.
I am left with several observations/conclusions, at least when discussing the
Virginia Tech may have some perceived recruiting disadvantages due to
location, limited amount of D-1 ballers in-state, etc., but the staff stability
and the relationships said staff has built with Virginia high schools (and, more
recently NC and GA schools) far offsets those “disadvantages”.
Boston College and GT both have had remarkable success considering their
respective recruiting rankings.
UVA and Maryland are two programs that have not parlayed recruiting success
into consistent on-field results. However, I do believe that the new staffs at
both schools have their respective programs moving in the right direction.
Florida State and Clemson are sleeping giants folks. While all the data above
strongly suggests that, at least in the ACC, recruiting rankings do not
correlate to wins, both programs should soon find the right mix of talent and
coaching. Maybe fewer 5-star recruits and more heavily-researched 3 and 4-stars
is the answer.
Finally, let me state the obvious fact on rankings versus wins, ACC-only.
While I was originally joking, I truly feel that the data proves that, from
2005-2010, star rankings had little correlation to overall win percentage, ACC
win percentage, ACC titles and bowl victories. It’s possible that with a
larger sample size (maybe 10 more years), the recruiting rankings will prove
One more table re: ACC teams, then we’ll move on to a comparison between
ACC schools and the last 6 BCS champions and their recruiting rankings.
Overall Win %
ACC Win %
In Part I, I briefly touched on the incredibly high percentage of 4 and 5-star players that FSU and Miami had signed between 2002 and 2008. While those
percentages dipped slightly when including the 2009 and 2010 classes, they are
still amazing numbers. If we look at raw numbers, FSU and Miami signed 34
5-stars from 2002 through 2010, compared to 21 5-stars for the rest of the ACC
teams during the same period!! Yet, even with all that highly-ranked talent,
their overall and ACC win percentage paled in comparison to VT, BC and GT. Those
three schools signed 87 players combined ranked at 4-star or greater compared to
125 for FSU and 108 for Miami. Wake Forest signed 2 (yes, 2) 4-stars during that
same period, yet managed to win an ACC title, something Miami could not
accomplish with many more highly-ranked recruits. VT signed only three 5-tars
compared to 19 and 15 (FSU and Miami respectively), yet their overall and ACC
win percentage destroyed that of the two Florida schools.
I, for one, just cannot believe that the coaching staffs at FSU and Miami
were that incompetent, to have that many more 4/5-star players yet parlay it
into one collective ACC Championship. Along the same lines, I cannot believe
that the staffs at VT, BC and GT are/were that much more effective at coaching
up the talent they signed. Therefore, this data is strongly suggesting that: 1)
More top athletes from Florida do not have the work ethic or teamwork necessary
to produce consistent winning teams or 2) The recruiting services (in this case
Rivals) are highly over-estimating just how talented these kids truly are coming
out of high school.
Now it’s time to compare the “talent level” of the last six BCS
champions to the teams from the ACC, specifically the six winners of the ACC
championship from 2005-2010. In addition, I will compare the Orange Bowl
opponent’s rankings totals from 2006-2010 (using average stars for four or
five year period). So, two more tables, then some final comments.
Bowl result (year)
|8-5 (05-06)||Orange, L, PSU 26-23||
|Texas (2002-2005)||3.73||13-0 (05-06)||BCS Title, W, 41-38||73.00|
|WF (2002-2006)||3.01||11-3 (06-07)||Orange, L, UL 24-13||5.00|
|UF (2002-2006)||3.64||13-1 (06-07)||BCS Title, W, 41-14||57.00|
|VT (2003-2007)||3.22||11-3 (07-08)||Orange, L, KU 24-21||27.00|
|LSU (2003-2007)||3.71||12-2 (07-08)||BCS Title, W, 38-24||55.00|
|VT (2004-2008)||3.21||9-4 (08-09)||
Orange, W, Cinn 20-7
|13-1 (08-09)||BCS Title, W, 24-14||73.00|
|GT (2005-2009)||3.11||11-3 (09-10)||Orange, L, Iowa 24-14||18.00|
|Ala (2005-2009)||3.55||14-0 (09-10)||BCS Title, W, 37-21||55.00|
|VT (2006-2010)||3.21||11-3 (10-11)||Orange, L, Stan 40-12||27.00|
|14-0 (10-11)||BCS Title, W, 22-19||55.00|
First, another reminder that this is a small sample size. However, the
numbers speak for themselves; with the exception of the ’05-’06 Florida
State team, the teams that have won the last 6 BCS title games not only have a
much higher average star ranking, but their lowest percentage of 4/5-star
starters in the championship game is still 28% above five of the six ACC
champions. Florida State was actually a much better team than their overall
record showed in ’05-’06, and they played a very talented, experienced Penn
State team to an exciting, yet heart-breaking 3OT loss. I believe VT’s team
from last season is the second-best in this period, but they obviously could not
stay with a Stanford team with “less” talent (per the rankings…that table
will follow soon).
Two personal conclusions I cannot ignore:
1) The ACC (specifically VT, FSU, GT and Wake) simply does not recruit
then PLAY with the same caliber athlete as the schools that have won the
last 6 BCS titles. FSU appears to be on par or better when recruiting the
top talent, but cannot seem to consistently turn that talent into a
powerful, consistent product. Is my geographical bias partly to blame? I am
going to reserve judgment on that until Part 3 is complete. However, I see
no other way for our Hokies to consistently beat the top programs (possibly
leading to a MNC) until our TOP-END recruiting improves. I am not abandoning
the respect I have for staffs that develop 3-star recruits into fantastic
college players, nor do I want VT’s staff to change their basic recruiting
strategy. I am simply stating, for the first time, that in order to become a
true top-10 program, I believe we need to retain a higher percentage of VA’s
5-star recruits while consistently adding an additional two or three 4-star
athletes annually from the Commonwealth and beyond. If you have followed my
posts on TSL over the years this is a strong departure from my previous
2) Again, Jim Grobe’s staff at Wake Forest does an excellent job
recruiting to fit their system and producing a respectable product under
extremely adverse conditions.
One more comment before the final table in part 2. I am not disillusioned
with VT football in the least; while I would like to become a legitimate annual
contender for the MNC, I am a fan that endured some very lean years in the 80s.
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, contending for ACC championships
while doing things the right way is still very satisfying … for me.
Since I love duality, this last table will seem to contradict the data from
Table 3’s comparison to the recent BCS champions. Teams with “better”
talent should consistently “beat” those without, right? Well, apparently not
re: ACC Champions against their opponents in the Orange Bowl.
4 or 5 yr. period
4 or 5 yr. period
|2011||VT||3.21||11-2||Stan W, 40-12||11-1||
|2010||GT||3.11||11-2||Iowa W, 24-14||10-2||3.16||Iowa|
|2009||VT||3.21||9-4||VT W, 20-7||11-2||3.00||Cincinnati|
|2008||VT||3.22||11-2||KU W, 24-21||11-1||3.05||Kansas|
|2007||WF||3.01||11-2||UL W, 24-13||11-1||3.05||Louisville|
|8-4||PSU W, 26-23||11-1||
Upon first look, FSU’s loss to Penn State seems difficult to comprehend,
based on the disparity in the recruiting rankings. But, as I mentioned
previously, that Penn State squad was talented and experienced and FSU was
already into their period of coaching disarray. No, I cannot lay the lion’s
share of the ACC “shame” on FSU. Nor can I really find fault with Wake
losing to Louisville or GT falling to Iowa. After all, not only did both those
opponents have slightly better average rankings, they also sported very strong
records and were battle-tested teams.
Unfortunately, I CAN find fault with VT. In the 2008 Orange Bowl, they were
far and away the more talented team, as they were again versus Cincinnati in
2009. Yet they lost one and struggled in 2009 to put away a mediocre Big East
champion. Then there’s the Stanford loss. When I was running the numbers, I
expected Stanford to have a decent advantage in average recruiting rankings but,
once again, VT’s numbers turned out higher. Stanford was not fielding 4 and
5-star linemen, tight ends or linebackers … in fact, even Andrew Luck was “only”
a 4-star compared to Tyrod’s 5-stars. In the three BCS games VT has played the
last 6 seasons, they were, by average rankings (and by rankings at the skill
positions) the more talented team.
Everyone talks about needing FSU, Clemson or Miami to become relevant again
to improve the ACC’s reputation. While I agree that would help, I think, more
importantly, the current dominant program in the ACC (VT) needs to step up their
play in the major OOC matchups and start owning BCS games against teams with
less talent, experience and stability in their coaching ranks.
A few quick reminders and observations. First of all, this series is an
attempt to show any correlation between recruiting rankings and production.
Please keep that in mind while cursing me for outrageous conclusions and “VT-bashing”;
I believe that the only way to make this both interesting and relevant is to
present the data then make honest observations, painful as some may be.
The data presented in Part II seems to support different conclusions from the
first segment (ACC productivity) to the national comparisons then again when
looking at the Orange Bowl opponents. A conference is generally a regional
entity and some of the factors determining national prominence don’t translate
to the conference level. In my opinion, this shows in Virginia Tech’s ability
to join a conference and quickly become the most consistent winner. However,
making the leap to the national level requires the foundation of the regional,
time as the top dog, then some adjustments and some good fortune.
VT’s recruiting before the staff changes this season was, in my opinion,
exactly what was needed to become successful, established and respected on a
regional level. For many fans, including yours truly, continued similar success
would be enjoyed … but I do think deep-down the administration, coaching-staff
and the fan base are ready now to take the challenge of becoming a truly
national program. From researching and writing Parts I and II, I now believe
getting there will require keeping the base foundation in place while becoming
more aggressive in the pursuit of those 2-4 truly top athletes per year.
Consistent national success just won’t happen with only three 5-stars and 40
4-stars in nine years … at least that’s what I believe. Let me know what you
As before, please shoot me any suggestions, comments, or criticisms on the
TSL message boards (pharlap_99) or directly to [email protected].
The scope of Part III may change from my original plans, but I hope to have
it ready in the next week.
Now, let’s win em all, one at a time!