As Year2 noted yesterday, Rivals has suddenly become cagey about ranking classes past the Top 50. That means no point totals for Kentucky and Vanderbilt, which makes it very hard to put together a complete Team Speed Kills 12 this year, as I found out when I tried to figure out a work-around last night.
So instead of trying to do that, let's look at some context and interesting numbers about the recruiting classes pulled in by SEC teams this year as we end the week.
What's the difference between Top 25 recruiting classes?
This is one of the more intriguing questions when you have nine consensus Top 25 teams and a tenth that has at least one recruiting service placing them in the Top 25. It's pretty clear that it's not a fait accompli that divisional or national standings follow recruiting rankings exactly; otherwise, there's no real reason to play the games once the recruits have been snagged and one of the greatest head coaches in Florida history is Ron Zook. On the other hand, Dr. Saturday and others have done pretty convincing work documenting that recruiting classes do matter. And there's a reason that coaches probably reach for the antacid at least as much in January as in November. What we're asking here is the matter of degree.
For example, does it put LSU at a significant disadvantage that its class is ranked No. 6 to Alabama's No. 1, according to Rivals? Is there any real difference between Auburn's No. 7 ranking with 2,194 points and LSU's place with 2,224? It doesn't help that the formulas used to get to those point totals are opaque at best.
It's also important to note that one recruiting class is only one-quarter or less of the picture. Not only will that recruiting class change over time with transfers, academic casualties and early draft entries, but it is only one of the classes that compose a team. Players from four other classes -- remember red shirts -- will also help to shape the roster of the Tennessee team of 2011 -- or 2014, for that matter. Yes, those players will all be seniors or red-shirt juniors then (if none of them bolt for the pro ranks), but we know that all 27 won't be there and it's hard to believe that the 25 remaining will include 22 starters who haven't yet joined the NFL.
Then again, is it notable that this year's "teams on the rise," Arkansas and South Carolina, both landed outside the Top 3 in their divisions? Should we slow down the hype about Bobby Petrino building a perennial BCS visitor in Fayetteville and Steve Spurrier adding another team to the SEC East's deep field of contenders (in most years)?
Most teams are happy to have a Top 25 recruiting classes, because it puts you on course to be one of the elite teams in the nation. But most of the SEC is now on that course. Or to rephrase it, how significant an advantage can it be to have the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation if you're lining up against teams that have a similar if slightly less talented roster every week?
Somewhat related to that, here are some of the traditional or recent powers that landed outside of the ranking of the top half of the SEC according to Rivals or Scout: Miami (FL), Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma (Scout only), Penn State, Stanford, TCU and Virginia Tech. Oklahoma is one of your leading contenders for the national title next year; Stanford is one of the other potential crystal-trophy holders. Nebraska could be a favorite during its first year in the Up North conference.
So to circle back to our last point for just a minute more: Does it really matter that a team is the fifth-ranked team in the conference if it's still pulling in the same caliber of recruit as a longstanding powerhouse like Oklahoma?
And doesn't that sort of go back to our discussion last month of the likelihood of another championship for the league? To go undefeated, a team might have to beat five Oklahomas or seven Nebraskas. And once it loses to the first team, it's a series of sudden-death games against teams that have just as much talent as some of the other national title contenders. Is it any surprise that SEC teams rarely seem to suffer from stage fright once they get to the national title game? (This offer is nontransferrable to two-loss teams named "Arkansas" appearing in BCS games or four-loss teams named "South Carolina" appearing in the Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl.) Yeah, they're facing one of the most talented teams in the nation -- that's different from the last two months because ...
It's not over
Jadeveon Clowney is still out there, with likely landing places at Alabama and South Carolina (and perhaps Clemson). He could make the Tide a consensus No. 1, or something approaching it depending on what happens with Cyrus Kouandjio, and could radically change the assessment of South Carolina's class as well. And there are still a few recruits that haven't made a final decision, though very few and none with the kind of cachet Clowney and Kouandjio have.
Then, there are the inevitable academic casualties and -- er -- roster reshuffling that comes from schools having oversigned, etc. Which is part of what makes all of these questions more difficult to answer. We know who had the best class according to a recruiting service right now; we don't know who would have the best class if the recruiting service undertook the same task a few months from now.
So why do we care? Because this is a football-mad conference, there's nothing else going on in college football right now, and the one sport where the SEC might be even more impressive than football (baseball) hasn't started. In Lexington and a few other places, they comfort themselves by watching the court; this is all the rest of us have.