National signing day: What recruiting classes tell us about college football's next national champion
Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU had many reasons to celebrate the strong recruiting classes they landed Wednesday on national signing day. If history is any indication, there's a decent chance they'll be playing in Raymond James Stadium for next season's national title game.
I analyzed college football's last 10 national champions to see which 2016 teams have the recruiting makeup to challenge for a trip to Tampa. We'll start with the obvious. Teams that win titles land highly decorated classes. Here are the average recruiting rankings (from 247Sports' composite data) of the five classes that comprised those championship rosters:
2015 Alabama: 1
2014 Ohio State: 6.4
2013 FSU: 7.2
2012 Alabama: 2.4
2011 Alabama: 4.8
2010 Auburn: 14.8
2009 Alabama: 11
2008 Florida: 5.2
2007 LSU: 6.6
2006 Florida: 6
Two notable trends emerged:
1. Teams recruited really well during the two classes before their titles. Only one team (FSU) had a class ranked outside the top six the February before its title run; the Noles were No. 11. The preceding class (a team's sophomores/redshirt freshmen) had an average rank of 5.7. Nine of the 10 champions had a top-12 class that year (2010 Auburn was the exception).
2. Depth is important. Nine of the 10 champions had at least four recruiting classes that ranked in the top 15. Again, the exception was Auburn, which looks like an outlier. Only three classes total were outside the top 15, and the Tigers had two of them.
So let's take those trends and apply them to current teams. We get four strong contenders, three solid ones and two more that are close enough to include.
On the fringe: Clemson has back-to-back top-10 classes, but the Tigers haven't cracked the top six. We'll throw in Texas, too; the Longhorns have landed four top-16 classes, including two in a row in the top 11.
Legitimate hopefuls: With the unrest at Georgia, it's easy to forget that the Bulldogs have reeled off three consecutive top-eight classes and haven't been worse than No. 12. Auburn's roster is full of talent from top-11 classes, but the third one surprised me. With the NCAA sanctions over, USC has three consecutive top-10 classes and hasn't fared worse than No. 13.
Best bets: 'Bama has had the top class for six years in a row. FSU has reeled in four top-four classes in the last five seasons, while Ohio State hasn't had a class worse than seventh. Even with the drama surrounding Les Miles at LSU, the Tigers still had the nation's No. 3 class Wednesday - their fourth consecutive top-six haul.
Does that mean those are the only nine teams that could come to Tampa? Of course not. Recruiting (and rankings) are imperfect. The Oregon team that lost the 2010 title game didn't have a recruiting class ranked higher than 13th. The numbers don't take into account coaching changes (sorry, ‘Horns, Bulldogs and Trojans) or injuries or talent development. But a decade of data is hard to ignore.