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How important is elite recruiting?

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Pretty important!

What is the relationship between recruiting and on-field success? I looked at this question by comparing the 247 Composite average team talent ratings with the F/+ ratings for the 2015 season.

The average team talent ratings are just what you’d think – how talented the average player is on a team. I only looked at the top 100-best recruiters in the country last season – so 28 poor recruiting teams are left out.

It’s definitely worth noting that this is just one way to look at team talent. I used average talent, but I could’ve used blue chip percentage, the raw number of four- or five-stars, or total team talent rather average talent.

Talent definitely isn't distributed equally

I started by looking at a probability distribution of the average team talent data. As you can see from the chart below, average team talent is positively skewed – Alabama is far more talented than everyone else in the country:

The average Crimson Tide player is an incredible 2.5 standard deviations more talented than the average player from the mean talent team in the country (which was Rutgers last year). For reference, the average Alabama player has a 93.42 rating in the 247 Composite – the average Rutgers player was rated 83.68. The top ten most talented teams in the country last year were Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Texas, and Michigan.

While teams on the right side of the distribution aren't really surprising, what's interesting is how skewed the distribution is. Most teams across the country in the recruiting top 100 are fairly clustered together. A few elite recruiting programs have a vastly unequal distribution of top talent.

The relationship between talent and performance

Next, I looked at the relationship between average team talent and F/+ to get a sense for how important recruiting actually is to performance. First, after running a simple linear regression, there is significant evidence that the relationship between the two variables (more talent = better performance in F/+) isn’t random. Here’s the chart with the two:

I highlighted a few notable teams and over- and underperformers. The trend line is essentially what F/+ rating you’d expect a team to have given their average talent rating. Alabama is far more talented than the majority of college football, but they also outperformed expectations given their talent level.

The big takeaway from the regression was that average team talent accounts for 41% of the variance in F/+. So it's critically important to be an elite recruiter, but it also didn't account for even half of the variation in performance by F/+. It's possible that there's a fairly high barrier to entry in recruiting for contending for the national championship, but it's more important to be part of that elite club than it is to be first in the club (I looked at the relationship between average talent and F/+ for just the 17 schools with an average team talent rating over .88 and there wasn't a statistically significant relationship between the variables any more).

Under- and overperformers

As you’d imagine, teams on the top of the trend line outperform expectations given their talent and teams below underperform relative to expected F/+. Clemson was one of the 15 or so most talented teams in the country last year but ranked second in the final F/+. The opposite would be either Texas or USC, teams with great recruiting but poor performance relative to talent (and fan expectations).

I took the residuals to measure the overachievers and underperformers relative to their expected F/+ given a certain average talent.

The top overachievers are exactly the people you’d expect – the teams with coaches who got offseason raises or hired away: Bowling Green, Toledo, Clemson, Memphis, Houston, and Temple. The underperformers are the teams who made a coaching change or who entered the season on the hot seat: Kansas, UCF, Oregon State, Rutgers, Texas, Tulane, South Carolina, Rice, and Kentucky.

Moving forward, sorting the 2016 version of this list by residuals is a good way to tell who the likely top candidates for raises, contract extensions, and new jobs are going to be.

In the table below, click on the column headers and you can sort the data too:

Team '15 Avg Talent '15 F/+ Predicted F/+ Residuals Talent Z Scores
Alabama 93.42 71.3% 48.0% 23.3% 2.48
Ohio State 91.92 54.7% 41.8% 12.9% 2.11
USC 91.09 33.6% 38.3% -4.7% 1.90
Notre Dame 90.58 43.3% 36.2% 7.1% 1.77
Florida State 90.27 36.4% 34.9% 1.5% 1.69
LSU 90.11 39.1% 34.2% 4.9% 1.65
Auburn 90.03 20.6% 33.9% -13.3% 1.63
Georgia 89.89 21.4% 33.3% -11.9% 1.59
Texas 89.85 -2.2% 33.2% -35.4% 1.58
Michigan 89.73 41.6% 32.7% 8.9% 1.55
Texas A&M 89.11 19.7% 30.1% -10.4% 1.40
Florida 88.92 24.0% 29.3% -5.3% 1.35
UCLA 88.78 23.8% 28.7% -4.9% 1.31
Clemson 88.67 61.2% 28.3% 32.9% 1.28
Stanford 88.33 48.1% 26.9% 21.2% 1.20
Oregon 88.16 28.1% 26.2% 1.9% 1.16
Oklahoma 88.14 49.9% 26.1% 23.8% 1.15
Miami 87.92 5.6% 25.2% -19.6% 1.09
Ole Miss 87.67 48.4% 24.1% 24.3% 1.03
Tennessee 87.62 32.3% 23.9% 8.4% 1.02
South Carolina 87.18 -12.0% 22.1% -34.1% 0.91
Penn State 87.06 13.6% 21.6% -8.0% 0.88
Michigan State 86.99 39.1% 21.3% 17.8% 0.86
North Carolina 86.39 27.2% 18.8% 8.4% 0.71
Arkansas 86.31 36.7% 18.5% 18.2% 0.69
Nebraska 86.19 17.8% 18.0% -0.2% 0.66
Virginia Tech 85.89 7.0% 16.7% -9.7% 0.58
Mississippi State 85.84 33.9% 16.5% 17.4% 0.57
Arizona State 85.63 12.7% 15.7% -3.0% 0.52
Louisville 85.52 17.2% 15.2% 2.0% 0.49
Virginia 85.35 -6.5% 14.5% -21.0% 0.45
Kentucky 85.34 -15.3% 14.5% -29.8% 0.44
Washington 85.20 36.0% 13.9% 22.1% 0.41
Missouri 85.13 -4.8% 13.6% -18.4% 0.39
Oklahoma State 84.99 16.9% 13.0% 3.9% 0.35
Baylor 84.94 36.0% 12.8% 23.2% 0.34
California 84.88 21.5% 12.5% 9.0% 0.33
Texas Tech 84.80 6.7% 12.2% -5.5% 0.31
West Virginia 84.58 21.4% 11.3% 10.1% 0.25
TCU 84.42 30.5% 10.6% 19.9% 0.21
Arizona 84.32 -6.4% 10.2% -16.6% 0.18
Vanderbilt 84.15 -8.4% 9.5% -17.9% 0.14
Wisconsin 84.12 20.9% 9.4% 11.5% 0.13
Pittsburgh 84.08 14.5% 9.2% 5.3% 0.12
Utah 84.04 29.0% 9.1% 19.9% 0.11
Maryland 83.98 -5.3% 8.8% -14.1% 0.10
Northwestern 83.88 11.0% 8.4% 2.6% 0.07
N.C. State 83.79 12.7% 8.0% 4.7% 0.05
Rutgers 83.68 -29.7% 7.6% -37.3% 0.02
Georgia Tech 83.45 0.5% 6.6% -6.1% -0.03
Iowa 83.33 17.5% 6.1% 11.4% -0.07
Washington State 83.20 10.4% 5.6% 4.8% -0.10
USF 83.19 15.1% 5.5% 9.6% -0.10
Duke 83.09 -4.3% 5.1% -9.4% -0.13
Oregon State 82.91 -35.6% 4.4% -40.0% -0.17
Indiana 82.54 5.7% 2.8% 2.9% -0.26
Illinois 82.48 0.2% 2.6% -2.4% -0.28
Boston College 82.47 -2.8% 2.5% -5.3% -0.28
Brigham Young 82.46 19.2% 2.5% 16.7% -0.29
Boise State 82.42 17.7% 2.3% 15.4% -0.30
Purdue 82.26 -15.7% 1.7% -17.4% -0.34
Iowa State 82.25 -6.5% 1.6% -8.1% -0.34
Kansas 82.13 -57.6% 1.1% -58.7% -0.37
Cincinnati 81.98 -2.9% 0.5% -3.4% -0.41
Colorado 81.92 -18.5% 0.3% -18.8% -0.42
UCF 81.79 -57.9% -0.3% -57.6% -0.45
Syracuse 81.75 -9.1% -0.4% -8.7% -0.46
Minnesota 81.44 8.9% -1.7% 10.6% -0.54
Kansas State 81.38 -7.7% -2.0% -5.7% -0.56
Wake Forest 81.36 -15.7% -2.1% -13.6% -0.56
Marshall 81.30 7.1% -2.3% 9.4% -0.58
San Diego State 80.76 15.6% -4.6% 20.2% -0.71
Houston 80.72 24.9% -4.7% 29.6% -0.72
East Carolina 80.19 -3.3% -6.9% 3.6% -0.86
Connecticut 79.99 -6.9% -7.8% 0.9% -0.91
Louisiana Tech 79.96 8.4% -7.9% 16.3% -0.92
Georgia Southern 79.91 12.8% -8.1% 20.9% -0.93
SMU 79.76 -34.0% -8.7% -25.3% -0.97
Western Michigan 79.75 12.4% -8.7% 21.1% -0.97
Toledo 79.70 30.5% -9.0% 39.5% -0.98
Southern Miss 79.57 8.4% -9.5% 17.9% -1.02
Fresno State 79.49 -32.4% -9.8% -22.6% -1.04
Temple 79.42 14.5% -10.1% 24.6% -1.05
South Alabama 79.34 -30.1% -10.4% -19.7% -1.07
Louisiana-Lafayette 79.31 -32.6% -10.6% -22.0% -1.08
Tulane 79.24 -45.5% -10.9% -34.6% -1.10
Nevada 79.11 -20.6% -11.4% -9.2% -1.13
Tulsa 79.11 -18.9% -11.4% -7.5% -1.13
Arkansas State 78.52 -2.8% -13.9% 11.1% -1.28
Florida Atlantic 78.32 -19.9% -14.7% -5.2% -1.33
Memphis 78.30 16.7% -14.8% 31.5% -1.34
Bowling Green 78.21 26.2% -15.1% 41.3% -1.36
Rice 78.06 -49.1% -15.8% -33.3% -1.40
Akron 77.76 -8.7% -17.0% 8.3% -1.47
Colorado State 77.67 -10.4% -17.4% 7.0% -1.50
Middle Tennessee State 77.56 -7.7% -17.8% 10.1% -1.52
San Jose State 77.56 -15.1% -17.8% 2.7% -1.52
Central Michigan 77.52 -2.1% -18.0% 15.9% -1.53
Miami (OH) 77.32 -39.4% -18.8% -20.6% -1.58
Northern Illinois 76.70 -0.1% -21.4% 21.3% -1.74