Recruiting never stops. Neither do your questions.
And if we didn’t get to your question, don’t be discouraged! We will be addressing some on “Stars Matter,” our weekly recruiting podcast, which can be found on the feed of “The Andy Staples Show.” Look for new episodes every Thursday morning.
Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
With the start of the 10-year of the Playoff beginning in fall, what are your top 10 programs (cumulative body of work) over the past nine seasons? Caveat is equal weight is given to recruiting and on-field performance (50/50). This, I think, will level it out with respect to teams that have recruited well but have not done much on the field, like, for example, Texas A&M. — Jason S.
It’s funny you ask this question because we have had some discussions about doing program rankings based on body of work and developing a points system for national titles, College Football Playoff wins, Playoff berths, conference championships, wins, NFL Draft picks and, of course, recruiting results. That probably should be an annual feature at The Athletic. Maybe we’ll start it this year once we get through national signing day.
Breaking down the list you requested 50-50 with on-the-field results and recruiting results seems to be misguided given all that really matters to people is who wins the most. That said, the programs that will rank high on this list all have the recruiting results to match their on-the-field accomplishments because you don’t become a top-10 program nationally in the Playoff era without accumulating talent at a high rate.
Here’s my crack at program rankings without an official points system:
1. Alabama: There is no question who has ruled the sport during the CFP era. Alabama has won the national title three times and has made the Playoff all but two times in the nine years of its existence. In six out of those seven appearances, Alabama has played for a national title. Oh, and the Crimson Tide have won the recruiting crown all but three times dating back to the 2011 recruiting cycle. It’s been pure dominance.
2. Georgia: Georgia has won the last two national championships and played for another, in 2017. Though it took until Year 4 of the CFP era for Georgia to even make the Playoff — Kirby Smart was still building his roster — the Bulldogs are one of three teams that has won multiple national titles since 2014. Though some may take exception to the fact that Georgia isn’t No. 1 on this list, it’s about body of work throughout the entire Playoff era. If we were doing current program rankings, Georgia would be No. 1.
3. Clemson: Though the Tigers haven’t made the CFP the last two years, Clemson is the other program — joining Alabama and Georgia — that has win multiple national titles during the CFP era. Dabo Swinney’s run is impressive because he turned Clemson into a juggernaut without recruiting at the same level as the two teams ahead of it on this list. If recruiting rankings were split 50-50 in this ranking, Clemson would be lower, which shows why recruiting rankings cannot be weighed as heavily as you requested.
4. Ohio State: Ohio State is the only program in college football that has either made the CFP or been alive to make it on selection day in all nine seasons. The Buckeyes won the first national title of the CFP era and played for another one after the 2020 season. Had they made the field goal at the end of this year’s semifinal against Georgia, this list may have looked entirely different. That’s how thin the margins are in this sport.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners have made the Playoff four times in the last eight season but lost each time in the semifinal. The goal for Oklahoma has been to break through and win a semifinal and, dare to dream, a national title. First-year coach Brent Venables has a top-five class in his first full cycle, and the Sooners hope that’s a sign that recruiting will soon be at a level good enough to break though and compete for a national title.
6. LSU: LSU may be one of the easiest places in the country to recruit a top-five class, but, ironically enough, it was an overlooked in-state prospect (Justin Jefferson) and a special transfer quarterback (Joe Burrow) who helped the Tigers win their lone national title of the CFP era. Perhaps LSU should be higher on this list given most consider the 2019 Tigers one of the greatest college football teams of all time. It does seem remarkable that LSU has made the CFP only once since 2014, but that is what happens when you play in the SEC during Alabama’s golden years and Georgia’s rise to the top.
8. Michigan: It’s remarkable to think how much ground Michigan has made up in the past two years. Though the Wolverines didn’t come close to sniffing the CFP in the first seven years of its existence, Jim Harbaugh now has a program that has beaten Ohio State, won the Big Ten and made the CFP in consecutive seasons. Maybe this — like Swinney at Clemson — is yet another reminder of how much patience can pay off when it comes to your head coach.
8. Notre Dame: Notre Dame has made the Playoff twice despite having a harder path to receiving a bid — the Irish essentially have to go undefeated (in non-COVID years). Though Notre Dame has met similar fates as other programs when it arrived on that stage, people seem quicker to point out that the Irish are overrated. No, Notre Dame has been consistent. That’s enough to get on this list given how lopsided recruiting rankings and, ultimately CFP results, have become.
9. Oregon: The Ducks are one of only seven teams that has won a Playoff game. Though Oregon has not returned to the CFP since the 2014 season, it has been a consistent fixture in the Pac-12. Now with Dan Lanning at the helm, the hope is Oregon will recruit well enough to return to the CFP.
10. Penn State: This was the hardest spot to rank. The results on the biggest stage have been so repetitive that regardless of which team you put in this spot, you’re going to ruffle some feathers. Penn State hasn’t made the Playoff, but it has four top-10 finishes during that span. And the program’s consistency is the reason the Nittany Lions are perhaps going to be the biggest beneficiary of CFP expansion.
Will the Ohio State 2024 class once again be propped up by having three or four elite receivers with not much substance behind them? — Darryl C.
The tone of this question is either sarcasm or it’s an Ohio State fan who is worried.
Breaking down Ohio State’s class is difficult, and this question cuts right to the heart of the issue. On one hand, Georgia and Alabama combined to sign 14 five-star prospects and Ohio State landed one, a receiver. Three of Ohio State’s seven top-100 players are receivers. So the programs Ohio State has to beat to meet expectations have not only signed better classes, they are also deeper and more well-rounded.
That’s going to catch up with Ohio State down the road. So if you’re being sarcastic, wait to have the last laugh. If you’re worried, you should be. The point you’re making is valid and deserves to be mentioned. It’s not always only about the rankings. It’s about class makeup, like how well you addressed needs and plugged holes on your roster.
The one thing I would push back on is the “not much substance behind them” remark. Ohio State’s average player rating was 93.62, which was third-highest behind Alabama and Georgia. The Buckeyes’ class has plenty of substance to continue beating up on the majority of college football. When this really gets exploited — if Ryan Day and his staff don’t right the ship — is going to be when/if Ohio State lines up across from Georgia or Alabama in the Playoff in two or three years.
There is so much misinformation and lies surrounding NIL deals. An an upset fan can tweet out that a University of Oregon NIL collective paid a high school football recruit $5 million to sign with the Ducks, and the media treats it like fact. One might think the Oregon athletic administration would push back, but given the NCAA doesn’t care, they let it float around since it actually works positively for the school in luring other athletes out of high school and the transfer portal. So what do you think is the duty of care for the media in accurately reporting on NIL deals? — John R.
The worst part of this NIL era is the misinformation and lies. Though it’s easy to understand why it’s happening — there are a lot of people who stand to make more money by falsely inflating the NIL market — it doesn’t make it less frustrating. If SlicedBread posts on Twitter that a program is paying a prospect $9 million dollars, people just assume it’s true.
Why that happens, I don’t understand. Sometimes dealing with NIL is as easy as common sense, but alas, people are impressionable.
The one thing I didn’t like about your question was saying the media treats it like fact. Maybe some media members do, but not all of them. I’m proud to say that journalism comes first at The Athletic, and we never circulate numbers without reporting or confirming other reports. My response to people who are blaming the media would be to be mindful of what you consume online, which is true for all of us in all regards.
How quickly does the “Stars Matter Signal” flash in the sky above your house when your colleagues wonder who the next Brock Purdy is going to be? In the NFL version of five-stars, 75 percent of opening day quarterback starters this past season were first-round picks, and the short-term success Purdy has enjoyed hasn’t been duplicated by a player drafted that low in 20 years. — Dan K.
Stars Matter in college football, and because they matter at this level, it translates to the NFL Draft.
But the one thing I’ve learned by being a casual consumer of the NFL is that nobody knows anything about quarterbacks and predicting which ones will ultimately be great. Who are the best quarterbacks in the country? Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert? The colleges are Texas Tech, Cal via junior college, Wyoming via junior college, LSU, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Think about how much money is spent in the pre-draft process evaluating quarterback prospects. And those people still chose Zach Wilson over Justin Fields. So why wouldn’t Mr. Irrelevant turn into a six-time Pro-Bowler?
I still think it is very early in Purdy’s NFL career, and I’m not going to spend $70 on his base rookie card on eBay like some of the crazies on the internet. For all we know, Purdy won’t even be the starter in San Francisco next year as Trey Lance — who went to North Dakota State — returns from his injury. And though I’ll always be the first to stand up and scream “stars matter,” I’ve learned never to do it as it pertains to predicting which NFL quarterbacks will turn out to be great and which ones will bust out. Nobody knows, not even the people who are paid to spend all year evaluating them as college prospects.
(Photo of Nick Saban: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)