The excitement and energy of National Signing Day always comes with an understood expectation: A Top 25 finish in recruiting should bring a Top 25 finish in the polls.
But is that necessarily fair?
"You need good players to win," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "The No. 1 element that goes into successful recruiting classes is wins and losses on the field."
Those wins and losses, however, are not guaranteed.
"I have seen way too many top programs recruit very good recruiting classes year-in and year-out and underachieve while programs with lesser ranked classes have flourished," Farrell said.
Rivals.com began tabulating its Top 50 recruiting class team rankings with the Class of 2002. In nine years, 29 teams have made the rankings each season.
In order to judge how recruiting success relates to on-field success, we ranked teams by recruiting (taking their average place over the nine years) and then compared that to their winning percentage over those nine years. The results may not be what you expected.
The school with the best recruiting classes over the period (USC), had the second-highest winning percentage. But the school's with the second- and third-highest recruiting ranking (Florida and Georgia), tied for 7th in winning percentage.
Virginia Tech had the highest achievement - in other words, it did the most with its classes. Virginia Tech tied for 21st in recruiting classes, but has the sixth-highest winning percentage in that time period (for a plus 15). Missouri (+13) is next. Ohio State (+11), Oregon and Pittsburgh (both +10) are the only other schools with double-digits gains.
The biggest underachievers? South Carolina and Texas A&M are the two biggest violators of good classes gone bad, with each coming in nine places lower on the field than in recruiting.
South Carolina ranked No. 15 in recruiting average but just 24th in winning percentage. Texas A&M was one spot behind in both, finishing No. 16 in recruiting but No. 25 in results.
Here are some facts and figures as we break down the numbers:
The Big Six versus the rest: It should come as no surprise that all of the 29 teams to put together Top 50 recruiting classes for each of the past nine classes are from automatic qualifier conferences and Notre Dame. Only six schools from Big Six conferences have failed to make the Top 50 in recruiting at least once.
Being outside of the "Big Six" has shown to be an additional challenge to pulling in high-profile players on a consistent basis. TCU and Utah have each been to multiple BCS Bowls and have had multiple Top 50 classes, but nine straight classes was too tall of an order to fill.
Farrell thinks that the success on the field of non-Big Six schools is more a result of its weaker opponents than underrated recruiting.
"TCU, BYU, Utah, Boise State and others play some good teams here and there during the season and they play some very good teams in bowl games, but the week-to-week attrition that comes with playing in a conference like the SEC, Big XII, Big Ten or PAC 10 doesn't affect them," he said. "I think we'll see if this holds true when Utah joins the PAC 10 and TCU joins the Big East. I'd love to see TCU or Boise State play a full SEC or Big 12 schedule for two or three years and see if the continue to rattle off nearly undefeated seasons. I can almost guarantee they wouldn't."
The SEC: Nine of the 12 teams have been inside the Top 50 in recruiting every season. That's more than any other conference.
And it was almost 10.
Of the three schools that missed, Mississippi State has been inside the Top 50 in eight of the nine years, only missing in 2003. Kentucky has been up to the task in four of the nine years. Vanderbilt, however, is one of only six Big Six programs to never be inside the Top 50 in recruiting.
The Big XII and Pac 10: The Big XII conference is represented by half its teams, including Nebraska for now, as teams that are consistently inside the Top 50.
"The Big XII has been dominated on the field by Texas and Oklahoma and both always have very highly ranked recruiting classes," Rivals.com Texas recruiting analyst Brian Perroni said. "However, the rest of the Big XII has a lot of exposure to the state of Texas. The Big XII also has some very good recruiters who also do a great job of identifying talent."
The Pac 10, like the Big XII, is represented by half of its teams as consistently being inside the Top 50. California and soon-to-be member Colorado have only missed the Top 50 rankings one year of the nine - Cal in 2002 and Colorado in 2010.
Every member of both conferences has been inside the Top 50 at least one time.
The Big Ten, ACC and Big East: The Big Ten has just two schools (Ohio State and Michigan) that have been among the Top 50 in recruiting every season. But three others (Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin) have missed the Top 50 just once.
The ACC, much-maligned for its on-field success, has been among the better conferences on the recruiting trail. The conference has had five teams make the Top 50 in recruiting every season with Boston College just missing out. Interestingly, Wake Forest - which has never been inside the Top 50 rankings - did make a surprise BCS trip when it won the league in 2006.
BY THE NUMBERS
There are 29 schools to have its recruiting classes ranked inside the Top 50 each year since 2002. Here's a breakdown by team of the differential between the average Rivals.com team rank and the winning percentage those teams have produced.
Avg. Class (rank)
Win percent (rank)
The Big East is the weakest of the bunch. Only Pittsburgh has been in each of the Top 50 recruiting rankings, though West Virginia has missed out only once. The only feather in its cap: Two schools that have never been in the Top 50 (Connecticut and Cincinnati) have made a BCS bowl.
So what does this all mean?
A major compliment to coaching is when recruiting classes begin to outperform expectations on a consistent basis. Virginia Tech is the best example of that.
Virginia Tech, despite being No. 21 in recruiting, has a .752 winning percentage with four ACC titles in its seven years in the league.
"No question Virginia Tech is recruiting players for their system and sometimes that means they'll pull a two-star or three-star that fits like Jarrett Boykin (3-star) or Rashad Carmichael (2-star)," Brian Mohr, publisher of HokieHaven.com, said. "Their recruiting classes have drastically improved over the past five years and they have always targeted the top players around the region, especially in-state."
Oregon is doing the same on the West coast. It is No. 20 in average recruiting class but has a .684 winning percentage - good for No. 10.
Oregon's recruiting number is on the rise. The Ducks are on pace to have back-to-back Top 15 classes and the opportunity to go after more five-star players - such as recently committed Colt Lyerla - may help push the Ducks even more on-field success.
"It's just the natural progression any team would make given the amount of success the Ducks have had on the field the last decade," DuckSportsAuthority.com publisher A.J. Jacobson said. "I don't think their philosophy or due diligence into checking on how well the student-athlete would fit into the program will change, but I think that Oregon has become and will continue to become more selective with who they pursue in recruiting going forward."
Texas A&M hopes to join this crowd. It is just 57-54 in the past nine seasons, a .513 winning percentage that puts them No. 25 among the 29 teams.
"There's really no good reason for A&M's lack of success on the field," Perroni said. "They have always had fairly highly ranked recruiting classes but the talent has not translated to the field. They are located less than 100 miles from Houston, one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. Texas and OU usually get most of the top tier talent but A&M still has plenty to choose from with what's left. The fans are definitely not accepting of this as they grew up with the Aggies dominating the SWC year in and year out."
There is hope. A&M had its best success in years in 2010, going 9-4 with victories over Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. For one year at least, all that recruiting success appeared to pay off.