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The Importance and Silliness Of Recruiting Rankings

How to both value and dismiss the objective but still subjective ranking system we obsess over each February.

Hunter Henry, the 4-Star Under Armour All-American who makes Hog fans love recruiting services.
Hunter Henry, the 4-Star Under Armour All-American who makes Hog fans love recruiting services.
Bud Elliott

This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.

Like most things, the truth probably falls somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe rankings alone are a direct indication of how a program does for the next few years, but I do think it can serve as a general gauge. Depending on your preferred recruiting service, Arkansas finished somewhere 12th and 9th in the SEC, which seems bad, but between the low 30s and low 20s nationally, which means it’s still a strong, talented class that is better than most and given the right circumstances can be competitive with anybody.

So what exactly are these circumstances? These are the things that recruiting has no effect over, but still play an important part in determining who wins and loses games, or how well one recruiting class mixes with the other classes immediately preceding and following it. Every college football team is a blend of about five different recruiting classes, and building a good team requires following a good class with more good classes. Alex Collins may get a lot of playing time at running back this year, but he’ll probably be running behind an offensive line made up of older players and will likely take handoffs from a quarterback at least two years older than him.

Also, how many games do we watch that come down to fumbles or missed field goals or SEC officiating? Fluky things that can barely be accounted for? Plays like the infamous last play of the Alabama vs. Georgia SEC Championship Game, are things that recruiting can’t control, yet that play likely determined the national champion. Recruiting also doesn’t affect scheduling, which is what gave Georgia a clear advantage to get to Atlanta over rivals Florida and South Carolina. Arkansas can recruit as well as possible, but as long as the Razorbacks play in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge every odd year, the Hogs will have a clear disadvantage since Arkansas hasn’t won in both places in the same year since joining the SEC (unless you count Alabama’s retroactive 1993 forfeit).

It’s foolish to think there’s any substantial difference between a class ranked 22nd and a class ranked 18th. Much has been made about Ole Miss’ class**, but of their five-star players, one is a single defensive lineman, one an offensive lineman, and one a wide receiver. How many games can a single offensive or defensive lineman win? Not taking anything away from Laremy Tunsil, the Rebels’ highly touted offensive lineman has a chance to be a great player, but if it’s understood that an offensive line works as a unit rather than an individual, would you rather have the offensive line recruits assembled in Oxford or the group coming into Fayetteville? The Razorbacks are bringing in three players rated four-stars on at least one recruiting service, plus a JUCO All-American.

Again, you can read the column in its entirety here.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter.