Varsity Numbers: Recruiting Spectacular

Varsity Numbers: Recruiting Spectacular
Varsity Numbers: Recruiting Spectacular
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Connelly

I got solid feedback from the two ESPN Insider pieces I wrote around signing day (found here and here), so I thought I would use the VN space to expand on the conversation. If you hate football recruiting and feel that even the smallest discussion of it makes you want to go take a shower, you might just want to skip this column ... or at least scroll down to the Random Golf Clap section.

The two ESPN pieces referenced above both dealt with college football recruiting and its link to on-field success. The first dealt with correlations and the predictive power of recruiting rankings; the second was more of a reaction to the 2010 class -- which teams saw upgrades and downgrades in their talent level, and which have recently overachieved or underachieved compared to what their recruiting rankings would predict. The conclusions ranged from duh-worthy (of course recruiting rankings matter, though there was a bit of personal surprise with the magnitude) to surprising and hard to explain (how the hell are Texas and Alabama overachievers?). Now let's expand on what we know to this point.

Recruiting Success Breeds Success; Success Breeds Recruiting Success

Recruiting success and on-field success are a chicken-or-egg concept. One leads to the other, which leads back to the other, but which came first in the process? Can you succeed at the highest level without great recruiting? Can you recruit consistently well over a period of years without succeeding at a high level on the field? The causation is too complicated to determine, but there is a correlation discussion that I think can take place, and I'm trying to get it started.

To illustrate my point, I want to reference a recent "Why Recruiting Matters" post from Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal's The Daily Fix blog. Bialik, with whom I had an e-mail conversation on the topic, said this:

There's certainly a link, but I'm not yet convinced that all of the correlation he finds is the result of recruiting breeding success. Good college-football teams tend to stay good, and also to recruit well. But that doesn't mean one causes the other. Surely the talent of incoming players is important, but so are facilities, other attributes of a university that are attractive -- such as climate and convenience -- and coaching. Those factors likely help top programs recruit, and also get the most out of their recruits.

Coaching and development are clearly important to the success of a program; for more on that, see the "Overachievers and Underachievers" section below. However, I think the above passage shows where we can get our minds spinning in circles on the topic. The point of that first Insider piece was to show that good rankings are correlated to good performance; I was looking for correlation rather than causation, and I think that's an important point to make. I can't tell you which comes first, the chicken or the egg, but I can tell you that chickens lay eggs now, and I can tell you that, if you recruit at a very high level over a period of 4-5 years, it will almost certainly reflect well on the field. And if your recruiting begins to suffer, it will almost certainly start to show on the field, maybe not right away, but a few years into the future.

In most years, you will still have to coach wonderfully and overachieve a little bit to bring home a national title, but as a whole, 4- and 5-year average recruiting rankings are almost as predictive to success as 4- and 5-year on-field performance is.

Correlation between a team's F/+ performance* and common projection factors
Category Factor/Correlation
Last Year's Performance Last Year's S&P+ Rating: 0.754
Last Year's F/+ Rating: 0.744
Last Year's FEI Rating: 0.720
Historical Performance 3-Year History: 0.738
4-Year History: 0.738
5-Year History: 0.729
Recruiting Performance 5-Year Rivals Ranking Avg.: 0.673
5-Year Rivals Ranking Weighted Avg.**: 0.670
4-Year Rivals Points Avg.: 0.654
5-Year Rivals Points Avg.: 0.653

* The F/+ measure is the combination of S&P+ and FEI ratings, a measure referenced in Varsity Numbers often and featured in last year's Football Outsiders Almanac.
** The weighted average is an attempt to emphasize the importance of both experience and talent; it more heavily weights the classes from 3-5 years ago than the most recent classes.

It really does say a lot about the continuity involved in college football that you could come up with a pretty strong prediction of success for a team based solely on recent performance and recruiting, and not taking into account returning starters, recent turnover margin, or any of the primary year-to-year change factors. Obviously you can make a better prediction bringing more factors into the fold, but all of the correlations involved with both recent performance and recruiting are quite strong.

But as we know, the FBS level of college football is quite diverse, giving a playing field to both LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida and Florida International. What works in the SEC or Big 12 probably is not the same as what works in the Sun Belt or WAC. And sure enough, if we break out these correlations between major conferences (those whose champions get automatic bids into a BCS bowl) and mid-majors (those who don't), different stories emerge.

Correlation between F/+ performance and common projection factors, AQ and non-AQ
Category Factor/Correlation AQ Conf. Non-AQ Conf.
Last Year's Performance Last Year's F/+
Last Year's S&P+
Last Year's FEI
Last Year's Point Differential
Last Year's Win %
Historical Performance 2-Year History
3-Year History
4-Year History
5-Year History
Recruiting Performance 4-Year ESPN Grade Avg.
5-Year Rivals Points Avg.
4-Year Rivals Points Avg.
5-Year Rivals Rank Avg.
5-Year Weighted Rivals Rank Avg.
Correlation between change in F/+ performance and common projection factors, AQ and non-AQ
Category Factor/Correlation AQ Conf. Non-AQ Conf.
Year-to-Year Change Factors Last Year's Turnover Margin
Last Year's Pct. of Fum. Rec.
Offensive Starters Returning
Offensive Pct. of Lettermen Returning
Ret. Starting Quarterback
Defensive Starters Returning
Defensive Pct. of Lettermen Returning

There is quite a bit to digest here, but here are some potential conclusions:

  • Recent history (the last 2-5 years) means more at the mid-major level, suggesting it is harder for a bad program to turn things around (or a good program to fall off its pedestal) at the lower level of FBS. This seems a bit counter-intuitive, considering USC's sustained run of success in the Pac-10, not to mention Oklahoma's three straight Big 12 titles and Ohio State's four straight titles (split or outright). However, Troy has won or split the last four Sun Belt titles, Boise State has lost one WAC conference game in four years, Central Michigan has won three of four MAC titles, and East Carolina has won back-to-back Conference USA titles. Things don't change very quickly at any level of FBS play, but the mid-majors are more predictable.
  • ESPN needs to grade out mid-major teams too. The correlation of ESPN recruiting averages to success is a bit stronger than that of Rivals, but not only does Rivals' database go further back (which is one of the primary reasons for its use here), but Rivals' rankings also take all FBS teams (and some FCS teams) into account, and ESPN does not.
  • It is interesting that 4- and 5-year Rivals points averages matter roughly the same at the major conference level, but while 4-year averages are somewhat correlated to success at the mid-major level, 5-year averages are not even close.
  • Phil Steele's "Turnovers = Turnaround" concept that I have treated as gospel for the last decade does indeed bear some importance ... at the major conference level. At the mid-major level, there is almost no correlation between turnover margin or percentage of all fumbles recovered, and change in F/+ performance.
  • Experience matters, and it matters more at the non-AQ level. The correlations between returning starters and success are much stronger for mid-majors than major conference teams. Pure talent matters for major conference teams, while it is more of a mix of talent and experience for mid-majors.

Overachievers and Underachievers

Here's the strangest point made in either one of the Insider recruiting pieces: Texas, Alabama, and Florida were among the top 10 overachievers in 2008-09, according to what their recruiting rankings project. Here's how that list was established: for the 2008 and 2009 season, a team's F/+ rating was compared to the F/+ projected for them using a regression formula based on the relationship between F/+ and 5-year Rivals averages.

As soon as the second Insider piece was published, I regretted not expanding the sample to include 2007. The idea with the 2-year sample was to keep the data as immediate as possible (since people tend to want to make immediate conclusions when it comes to recruiting data), but a 3-year sample would have told a more comprehensive story, and for this piece, we're including 2007.

The biggest single-season overachievers from 2007-09 are as follows:
1. TCU 2009 (Projected F/+: 195.6, Actual F/+: 258.9, Difference: +63.3)
2. TCU 2008 (Projected: 194.7, Actual: 248.9, Difference: +54.2)
3. Boise State 2009 (Projected: 193.1, Actual: 241.7, Difference: +48.6)
4. Boise State 2008 (Projected: 191.8, Actual: 238.9, Difference: +47.1)
5. Cincinnati 2009 (Projected: 187.9, Actual: 234.8, Difference: +46.9)

The biggest single-season underachievers:
1. Washington State 2008 (Projected: 203.1, Actual: 144.5, Difference: -58.6)
2. Washington State 2009 (Projected: 195.8, Actual: 138.0, Difference: -57.8)
3. Washington 2009 (Projected: 213.0, Actual: 156.9, Difference: -56.1)
4. Texas A&M 2008 (Projected: 220.9, Actual: 171.9, Difference: -49.0)
5. Notre Dame 2007 (Projected: 221.9, Actual: 183.8, Difference: -38.2)

So this was the standard used for the underachievers and overachievers list.

Here is the three-year overachiever list, with numbers.
1. TCU (+44.0/season)
2. Cincinnati (+43.5)
3. Boise State (+39.1)
4. Florida (+35.1)
5. Navy (+32.7)
6. Air Force (+32.6)
7. BYU (+28.1)
8. Connecticut (+25.7)
9. Utah (+24.2)
10. Penn State (+21.7)

The expansion to a three-year sample bumped Texas (+18.6) to 16th and Alabama (+18.2) to 17th, thanks to their underachieving 2007 seasons.

You can make this list in two ways. You can either win with average (or worse) recruits, or win big with good (or great) recruits. Florida's recruiting-based projected F/+ was second behind USC in all three seasons (2007-09), but their actual F/+ output suggests that recruiting can only get you so far. Coaching, execution, and a little bit of overachieving are what you need to win (or contend for) titles.

Here is the three-year underachiever list.
1. Washington State (-39.3/season)
2. San Diego State (-28.2)
3. Texas A&M (-27.0)
4. Iowa State (-23.8)
5. Kansas State (-23.6)
6. Washington (-22.1)
7. Syracuse (-21.8)
8. Notre Dame (-21.7)
9. Colorado (-20.9)
10. Michigan (-20.3)

The fact that Notre Dame has upgraded from Charlie Weis, who led the Irish to the eigth-place spot on the underachievers list, to Brian Kelly, who led Cincinnati to second place on the overachievers list, tells you all you need to know about why Notre Dame fans should be absolutely ecstatic about their coaching upgrade. Experience and system fit still matter, and we'll see what Kelly has to work with in the 2010 season. But Kelly has proven himself more than almost any other coach in recent seasons, and if anybody can take the Irish back to the Top 10, Kelly seems to be the man to (eventually) do it.

Conference Data

My other regret with the second Insider piece: I used means instead of medians in averaging a conference's achievement numbers to determine which conferences had most over- and underachieved. Below is a 3-year look at FBS conferences with both the average and median "projected versus actual F/+" data.

Median and Avg. Differences Per Conference
Between Projected F/+ and F/+ (2007-09)
Conference Avg. Diff.
Per Team
Rank Median
Per Team
Big East +9.4 1 +10.8 1
Mountain West +9.2 2 +3.1 2
Big Ten +0.5 4 +0.0 3
SEC +2.7 3 -1.4 4
Pac-10 -4.1 10 -2.5 5
Conference USA -2.2 7 -3.1 6
Big 12 -3.8 9 -3.2 7
MAC -3.8 8 -3.7 8
WAC -0.9 6 -4.4 9
ACC -0.6 5 -5.0 10
Sun Belt -6.2 11 -30.4 11

Part of the headline of the second Insider piece was "Pac-10 in decline," and that may not have been entirely fair. The Pac-10 still does not fare well in stretching the sample to three years, but the use of medians as the guideline instead of averages helps them significantly, as it minimizes the anchor that is Washington State.

The median data also brings all but two conferences within +/- 5.0 of 0.0, meaning that over time, most conferences achieve at roughly the level expected from recruiting rankings. However, the fact that only two conference earned a positive median suggests that more teams tend to underachieve, while the ones who overachieve do it rather significantly.


For the second Insider piece, we compared teams' 2005-06 recruiting rankings to their initial 2010 rankings to determine who may be in the process of upgrading or downgrading their talent level. Here, we will do something slightly different. Using the same regression formulas referenced above, we can determine a projected F/+ based on teams' 5-year recruiting averages.

Below is a list of the 10 teams whose recruiting-based projected 2010 are most improved over their 2009 projected data. This will show you whose talent level has improved the most from last season. None of these improvement numbers are huge, because (a) regression equations are going to usually err on the conservative side of things (i.e. no tremendously high or low numbers), and (b) we're only talking about one recruiting class here, and nobody's talent level changes to a historic level with one class.

Most Improved Major Conference Teams for 2010
According to Recruiting Rankings
Team Conference 2009 Proj.
F/+ Rk.
2010 Proj.
F/+ Rk.
Washington Pac-10 45 36 +9
Cincinnati Big East 82 74 +8
Georgia Tech
Big 12
Notre Dame
West Virginia
Big East
Big 12
Penn State
Oklahoma State
Big Ten
Big 12
Big East
Big Ten

While Brian Kelly never had a ton of talent to work with (according to the recruiting rankings), he made the most of it. And now he's leaving incoming coach Butch Jones with a fuller cupboard, even though Cincinnati is still among the bottom of the list in terms of major conference recruiting rankings. Meanwhile, Steve Sarkisian is doing a nice job of upgrading Washington's talent, and Missouri, the Big 12 North's biggest overachiever over the last three seasons, is upgrading its own as well.

Least Improved Teams for 2010 According to Recruiting Rankings
Team Conference 2009 Proj.
F/+ Rk.
2010 Proj.
F/+ Rk.
Virginia ACC 35 46 -11
Kansas State
Big 12
Big Ten
Big East
Washington State
Big 12
Big Ten
Big Ten
Big Ten
Big Ten
Big Ten

The Big Ten has been better than most conferences at outperforming recruiting rankings. The conference is going to have to hope that continues, with six teams' projected ratings falling at least four spots and just two (Penn State and Minnesota) improving.

To date, everything I have done with recruiting rankings has been at the team level. Eventually the goal is to reach rough conclusions based on individual talent as well -- what can one generally expect from a 5-star, first-year starter at quarterback, or a true freshman running back, etc. This, however, is a nice step forward in how to view recruiting rankings and the impact they may or may not have on your team's chances for success in the fall.

Random Golf Clap

To something three decades in the making.

Random Mini-Rant

Close your eyes and imagine this for a moment. It is the BCS National Championship game. We are tied with five seconds left. Team A is lining up for the title-winning field goal. It is blocked! Team B recovers it and takes it the other way. They're going to score! Announcers, fans, players, coaches ... they're all going wild. As Team B's returner is about to score, the moment strikes him. He's about to win the national title in the most exciting title game finish ever. As he crosses the 5-yard line, the moment overtakes him, and he begins to high-step, or point to the stands, or raise his arms in victory ... and he is penalized for excessive celebration. And, with the NCAA's new, horrific rule change, it is a spot foul. No touchdown. The game goes to overtime.

I realize that with the No Fun League as its role model, the college football game has always been likely to over-penalize celebration, writing on eye black, or any other form of actual personality, but this a terrible rule.

Random Reasons to Love College Football

This was pretty much the best debut for anybody, ever. And it's a lot harder to sneak up on a country with your utter dominance at the professional level, now, isn't it?

Random Playlist

In honor of recruiting, Signing Day, hat ceremonies, etc.

"I Can't Sign My Name" by Big Joe Williams
"If I Could Only Win Your Love" by Emmylou Harris
"Kerosene Hat" by Cracker
"The Kerry Recruit" by The Dubliners
"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" by Bob Dylan
"New Recruit" by Eric Clapton
"Passing the Hat" by Cold War Kids
"Signs" by Tesla
"Street Signs" by Ozomatli
"Wasted Words" by Allman Brothers Band

Closing Thoughts

Back in mid-December, when the Big Ten announced that it would be looking into expansion of its league, it also announced that the process would take at least one year, possibly two. It's going to be a long 10-22 months. So far, we've had Missouri's governor lobbying for Mizzou (and offending Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the process), a wildfire "Pitt to the Big Ten! It's a done deal!!!" rumor spreading quickly despite not even being 1 percent true, the revelation that the Big Ten may have contacted Texas, and now the loud throat-clearing coming from Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne.

Granted, the last couple of developments have added some entertainment value to the mix. First, we've gotten a healthy dose of Texas arrogance. Exhibit A: "We're the good-looking girl at the dance." Exhibit B: "I'm more convinced than ever that if Texas makes a move in the future, it could be a football-only move. Think Notre Dame. Football in one conference. Basketball and the non-revenue sports in another conference or regional alliance." (Fans of other Big 12 teams thank you, from the bottom of their comparatively cash-strapped hearts, for thinking about maybe, kind of, sort of sticking around to help them out in other sports after taking your football revenue to another conference. That's so kind of you.) Texas arrogance is actually a little bit refreshing -- they're not trying to convince you they're great and they hold all the cards because they know you already know they do. The "I can't help that we're Texas, but we are, and you know it," vibe is different from other forms of arrogance; it is both more jarring and more acceptable.

Then there's Nebraska. Certain SI reporters (both of whom I really enjoy) were tripping all over themselves to proclaim what a great choice the Huskers would be, but ... is this true? Nebraska is a "national name" in football in that they were great for decades, but a) since Eric Crouch left after the 2001 season, they are 63-40 (Missouri is 63-39) and are not one of the 30 FBS teams to have finished in a season's final AP Top 10 (for what it is worth, half of the Big 12 North -- Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri -- is on that list of 30 teams); b) while their football attendance obviously dwarfs that of any of the other Big Ten candidates north of Austin, theirs is dwarfed by that of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, somewhat minimizing the accomplishment; c) Omaha's market is smaller than that of Springfield, MO, while Lincoln's market is barely bigger than the Columbia/Jefferson City, MO, corridor, and that obviously ignores the impact in St. Louis and Kansas City if one certain Big 12 North team were chosen over another; and d) it's not like they are actually going to deliver more "national eyeballs." No cable company in other areas of the country is going to think to themselves, "Well, we didn't add the Big Ten Network while they had national names like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, et cetera, but now that they've added Nebraska, I'm in!"

Outside of the football writer community, NU does not appear to carry any more heft than other Big Ten expansion candidates (Holiday Bowl ratings this year were down 5%, though some of that might have obviously had something to do with the game's utter lack of competitiveness), but watching the simultaneous reactions of "They would be a homerun!!!" and "Yawn" from different corners of the Internet has certainly been entertaining.

(And yes, the entire two paragraphs above were written by a Missouri fan. Take it for what it is worth. But facts are facts. Nebraska has a case, but it's far from a no-brainer.)

But despite the entertainment, we are still only two months into As The Big Ten Expansion Turns, and it's hard to imagine the other rumors that may pop up by the time the Big Ten makes a decision. (And ironically, no matter what rumors pop up in the meantime, they could end up deciding not to expand at all.) Consider it one more way for college football to stay in the spotlight during the long offseason, especially now that the Pac-10 has thrown its hat into the expansion ring as well. This time around, conference expansion and realignment seem much more realistic than it did in the past, but ... you're still going to get awfully tired of hearing about it.


33 comments, Last at 22 Feb 2010, 6:15pm

#1 by Eddo // Feb 19, 2010 - 12:25pm

"The fact that Notre Dame has upgraded from Charlie Weis, who led the Irish to the eigth-place spot on the underachievers list, to Brian Kelly, who led Cincinnati to second place on the overachievers list, tells you all you need to know about why Notre Dame fans should be absolutely ecstatic about their coaching upgrade."

Isn't there a bit of selection bias in recruiting rankings, though? (I apologize if one of your Insider pieces addressed this.) When a "name" school like Notre Dame recruits someone, they immediately garner a higher ranking than an equivalent player being recruited by Cincinnati.

Therefore, the recruiting classes at Notre Dame may have been closer in quality to the classes at Cincinnati than rankings show.

I do agree that Kelly was an excellent hire for Notre Dame; I'm just not sure the overachieving and underachieving lists necessarily reflect that, at least to the extent you imply.

Points: 0

#12 by Bill Connelly // Feb 19, 2010 - 2:57pm

There is absolutely a bit of a bias involved -- if Texas, Florida, Notre Dame or USC offer somebody, they're going to almost certainly see a bump to at least three stars -- and I almost acknowledged that in this piece but held off (I'm figuring out the best way to analyze it ... it's tough to do). What I tried to do for the most part was take the 20,000-foot view of recruiting rankings, knowing that they're infinitely far from perfect. Despite all the underlying biases involved, the rankings are still more predictive than I thought they would be when I started analyzing them, and they are useful because of that, even if they always overestimate Notre Dame's talent level or leave the service academies for dead.

Points: 0

#2 by Hurt Bones // Feb 19, 2010 - 12:50pm

Another playlist:

"Can I Change My Mind?" Tyrone Davis
"Hold You To Your Promise" Don Covay
"You Didn't Know It But You Had Me" James Carr
"Reconsider Baby" Lowell Fulsom
"You Must Believe Me" The Impressions
"Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" Wilson Pickett
"Come On Over To My Place" The Drifters

Points: 0

#21 by young curmudgeon // Feb 19, 2010 - 11:05pm

Tyrone Davis! Don Covay! The Impressions! Wilson Pickett! The Drifters! This is a GREAT list...and Lowell Fulsom isn't so bad either (abashed to admit that I don't know the James Carr song). Nice job.

Points: 0

#23 by Hurt Bones // Feb 20, 2010 - 8:43am

In honor of the Nick Saban/Lane Kiffin types, I almost put "Back Stabbers" by The O'Jays on the list.

Points: 0

#3 by Scott P. (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 1:29pm

are not one of the 30 FBS teams to have finished in a season's final AP Top 10

They'll easily get there next season when they compete for the national title.

Points: 0

#7 by Bill Connelly // Feb 19, 2010 - 2:42pm

Just like Nebraska fans said they would in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007? :-)

NU very well might be really good next year, but let's just say that Red Flag #1 in finding who's most overrated in the preseason rankings is who draws this statement the most from commentators: "Yes, they lost __(insert best player here)__, but I still expect them to rise 10-15 spots in the rankings and win 2-3 more games than they did with __(insert best player here)__ last year." It was a red flag with Ole Miss last year (when they lost studs on both lines), and it's already a massive red flag with Nebraska this coming year (they have to replace Suh, Turner, O'Hanlon and Asante ... or four of their top seven defenders along with Crick, Amukamara and Allen ... that was my list, anyway). They could very likely stay the same as last year or maybe get a smidge better, but expecting them to make a massive leap without the DT who was drawing triple-teams seems like a leap that my numbers can't support. Then again, you've got a cake(ish) schedule...

Points: 0

#4 by GoVikes (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 1:39pm

Re: Big 10 expansion, you forgot to mention Rutgers on that list as well. They'd get access to the New York City market with that addition, and Rutgers' profile - big public university, historic (albeit unsuccessful) program - would fit much better with the Big Ten than Notre Dame would. Paterno has lobbied in the past for Rutgers to be considered. Looks like the poor Big East would get cannibalized again.

Out of curiosity, who would the Big 12 look to if they lost a school, given that they've been targeted by the Pac 10 as well (Colorado tops on their wish list)? It's looking increasingly likely they will lose a program - would TCU be the natural replacement, or are there other schools in consideration? This could lead to a worst-case scenario for the Mountain West Conference: Big Ten takes Mizzou or Nebraska, leading the Big 12 to scoop up TCU, and the Pac 10 swipes BYU and Utah (which the LA Times is reporting as practically a done deal). It would spell the end of what's arguably been the best mid-major conference over the last decade.

Points: 0

#8 by mm (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 2:47pm

As long as the Big 12 has Texas and Texas A&M they would be fools to add another Texas school, since those 2 schools by themselves make the Big 12 dominant for the TV markets in Texas. Remember, nobody wanted Baylor and Texas Tech in the conference to begin with.

If both UT and A&M left, then they'll likely add 1 or 2 Texas schools to try and keep them somewhat relevant in Texas, but I wouldn't be surprised if the much bigger University of Houston was first picked. If Texas left but A&M was stranded, they might add another Texas school, but it wouldn't be a sure thing.

If any Big 12 school other than the Texas Two left, the choices would come to schools that add TV viewers outside the state of Texas: BYU, Utah, and New Mexico (a small state, but none of the other conferences are there) would be canidates. Colorado State might replace Colorado if they left.

Points: 0

#9 by Bill Connelly // Feb 19, 2010 - 2:50pm

Oh I think there are more candidates than what I mentioned above -- it's just that the ones mentioned are the ones who have been openly lobbying for a spot (MU, NU) and/or have been the subject of massive rumors (Texas, Pitt).

As for the Big 12 ... they're stuck between a rock and a hard place because they've bent over backwards so far for Texas that they just have no flexibility in figuring out how to keep a Nebraska or Missouri if they were to get an offer. I think the most likely scenario is the announcement of a Big 12/Pac-10 TV network/deal to compete with the SEC and Big Ten, and in that scenario there's a pretty solid chance that no major realignment takes place involving the Big 12 (the Pac-10 could still go after BYU/Utah, and the Big Ten could still go after ND/Pitt/Rutgers), but if they can't work that out, they really might be screwed.

The assumption that TCU is at the top of the replacement list, however, is pretty faulty I think. If we were just talking about football, then obviously they'd be right there, but a) they don't have a huge base of fans/alumni (their football stadium holds only 44K), b) they really don't have anything to offer in terms of any sport other than football, c) they're obviously not tremendously marketable, and d) if I'm not mistaken, their academics are no great shakes. Of course, if the Big 12 loses some teams, they might be in a "beggars can't be choosers" situation.

My guess is, if NU or MU leave, then the Big 12 would have no choice to go after a BYU or Utah, or sneak in the other direction and see about teams in the Big East or ACC, hoping to hit a homerun ... which would obviously be a geographic nightmare. Then, if that doesn't work out (and Arkansas isn't interested in leaving ... which, with the money they're making in the SEC, I can't imagine they'd be interest), maybe TCU. They are so screwed if ANYBODY leaves that I think desperation will get the TV deal done for them, but we'll see...

Points: 0

#5 by G_Man1 (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 1:49pm

Curious what are your thoughts on Missouri going to the Big 10? I'm an Iowa State fan, and I can state I would be pretty happy if ISU went to the Big 10. Not only would ISU get more money and it would fit better geographically, but the Big 10 is much better at getting their damn games on TV. How in the year 2010 a game between two BCS bowl eligible teams isn't on TV anywhere (see MU-ISU game this year) is beyond me. I have other issues with the Big 12, mostly centered around how the south controls the conference, but if the Big 12 would just get all their football games on TV, I would happy. It's even more inexcusable considering pretty much all their basketball games are on TV.

Points: 0

#10 by Bill Connelly // Feb 19, 2010 - 2:53pm

I think that, because of a) academics, b) money, and c) feeling like you have to do whatever Texas wants to do at all times, Mizzou would absolutely accept a Big Ten offer, even if it means the alteration of some century-old rivalries. Even if the move isn't perfect athletically (Mizzou recruits a ton of players from Texas, and it's unclear how that would be impacted by a move ... plus, while they'd still probably play Kansas every year, obviously they wouldn't end up playing anybody else from the old Big 8 very often, if at all), (a) and (b) above would make the call an easy one.

Points: 0

#6 by G_Man1 (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 1:58pm

Sorry for the double post, but the fallout I see from this for the Big 12's perspective is that they will significantly upgrade their TV presence after the current deal with Fox expires in 2012.

Points: 0

#11 by Bill Connelly // Feb 19, 2010 - 2:54pm

I agree. I think that, whatever they work out, they announce it as soon as humanly possible and, unless there's a major financial hit (and there might be), they might even try to get out of that Fox deal. Like I said above, I think a partnership with another conference (likely the Pac-10, though not definitely) is the most likely result.

Points: 0

#13 by mm (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 3:08pm

How? The Big 10 and the SEC have locked up the best time slots for ABC, CBS, and ESPN. Fox has baseball, and NBC doesn't seem ready to spend more than they are for Notre Dame.

The Big 12 basically consists of 3 big states: Texas (whose viewers are delivered by Texas and {to a lesser extent} Texas A&M), Missouri, and Colorado. That's essentially 4 schools supporting 8 schools that aren't contributing much to any TV market. Nebraska and Oklahoma have prestige that adds some value, but not a lot.

Yes, if the conference stays together, it will likely get more money, and perhaps more exposure on regional cable, but it will remain well behind the Big 10 and SEC. When the Pac 10 gets its act together, it will fall behind them as well.

This is why the Big 12 is prone to a breakup, and why the 4 schools are all more likely to get chosen to move than schools like Nebraska or Oklahoma.

The small schools should hope that 1) Texas politics keeps those schools from leaving and 2) the Big 10 then decides to go East and leave Missouri alone. Colorado will likely leave anyway and be replaced by BYU. The conference will still lose ground economically to the Big 3 conferences over time, but they'll still be pretty respectable.

If the worst happens, and all 4 schools leave, I don't think the conference will disappear, but it will be greatly diminished in stature. I think it would take the choice remaining schools West of the Mississippi(after the PAC 10 takes what it wants), and become the Western version of the Big East. The Big 12 would have more passion about football than the Big East, but a much smaller population.

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#14 by Bill Connelly // Feb 19, 2010 - 3:39pm

That's my point -- that's why a partnership with somebody like the Pac-10 would be a necessity. You're right about time slots being at a premium, but there are still plenty of major spots available, and I'm thinking they might (MIGHT) be able to work something out that satisfies everybody involved. And like I said...they've got desperation on their side. If they don't get it figured out, the conference very well might fall apart.

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#19 by mm (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 7:09pm

I don't know that Texas wants that. If it happens, and the Pac 10 gets its 12 teams, you'll have to split the money 24 ways. If Texas wanted to stay in the conference, it would probably make its own network (even though it wouldn't be broadcast outside of the state), letting the other schools have a network to divide 23 ways.

If Texas goes with A&M or Colorado to the Pac 10, the Pac 10 network is almost as appealing as Big 12/Pac 10 network is right now, and you only have to split the money 12 ways.

If Texas likes the idea of sharing a network with PAC 10 schools and likes some of its current rivals, it could likely get the Pac 10 to agree to accept it and 5 of its hand-picked schools to form an 18 team Pac 10. (Your East division would be something like Arizona, Arizona State, Texas, A&M, Colorado, +3 from from Nebraska, Utah, Texas Tech, Missouri, Oklahoma) Texas would be playing schools in its region, but with a much better TV deal.

In any event, its less about what the Big 12 wants to do, its what Texas wants to do.

And of course, the Pac 10 may see the Big 12 as weak, and get an alliance with the ACC. If that encourages some schools to move to the Pac 10, even better.

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#15 by alexbond // Feb 19, 2010 - 4:52pm

Washington State University 2008-2009 - The Reign Of Champions

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#16 by staubach (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 5:00pm

Follow the money! The link below lists the top 64 athletic departments in terms of revenue (the most important thing that will matter to the Big Ten or Pac10 when it comes to re-alignment). Nebraska fits squarely in the middle of Big Ten schools (#6) in terms of revenue, while Missouri would drop the Big Ten's average down a few pegs. Maybe Missouri could make up the difference with TV ratings, but I'm not sure how to quantify that kind of value.

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#17 by staubach (not verified) // Feb 19, 2010 - 5:14pm

If realignment happens, would/could a conference kick out one of their current (but unprofitable) members?

Anyone who has ever been to a Northwestern football game knows the stadium resembles a high school field more than the huge stadiums of Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State. The Big Ten already draws the Chicago TV market by having Illinois in the state and half of the city seems to come from Michigan or Indiana so there is no risk of losing the television market for Big Ten games. Given a choice, I think the other Big Ten teams would prefer a more competitive and higher revenue athletic department would be willing to forego the academic prestige that Northwestern brings to the conference.

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#18 by Jeff Fogle // Feb 19, 2010 - 5:20pm

A million things I want to say here, but I've already been enough of a pest. Just thought of this though. Knowing that the South wants to rise again (lol), and that they already think of themselves as the true powers in this sport...could we conceivably work our way toward something like:

SEC and the Big 12 South in an 18-team mega-league that would be seen as the dominant force in football based on recent championship games.

Big 10 and the Big 12 North plus an extra invite in an 18-team mega-league.

Pac 10 and the Mountain West in an 18-team mega league (or invites to Boise and other WAC team for a 20-team mega league).

Seems a bit far-fetched...but there's always been a line of thought that things will eventually evolve into bigger superconferences.

Don't currently think that Big 12 is in desperation mode, because Texas seems very much against a move to the Big Ten (literal outrage from fans and local media at the suggestion a couple of weeks ago...nobody wants a bunch of road games up North against teams few down here even care about outside the clear powers). As long as Texas and the Texas teams are in the Big's not desperation mode. Texas has the economy of a country. Should the SEC come calling about world domination... well then...who knows?

I know BC sees this from the Missouri perspective...and I've learned a lot about the bigger picture from his comments. Down here, it's not arrogance, it's just reporting the facts (lol). The Texas nation sees it that way anyway. UT has the biggest stack of chips at the poker table, and they're playing big stack poker.

Thanks BC for the very in-depth recruiting report. Know that was a ton of work...

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#20 by peachy // Feb 19, 2010 - 9:55pm

I don't think many power-brokers will be keen on the idea of mega-leagues - it's conceivable for basketball, but the one attempt at a really massive conference for football was a bust. Having twelve teams works really well, and you could maybe push as far as fourteen if everyone was willing to play nine in-conference like the PAC-10.

I suspect that the limit of the change will the PAC-10 and Big-10 going to 12 each, with the SEC, Big-12 and ACC remaining there; the Big East might expand as well, but the pickings are slimmer within its footprint, and it might content to replace losses. Some current teams in the AQ conferences might shuffle around, with a handful of the most prominent mid-majors "promoted" to round out the numbers. Which conferences benefit most is an absolute guessing game at this point...

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#22 by Will // Feb 19, 2010 - 11:58pm

Academics are important to the Big Ten, and that's where Mizzou would fall short - they would be, by far, the worst school academically in the conference. Notre Dame and Texas are obviously the big prizes and fit in academically, but both would probably lose money by joining the conference since they both have good television deals. The Big Ten would take either (or both), but I don't see them jumping ship.

That really leaves Pitt, Syracuse, and Rutgers. Pitt is the only one that would be a good football fit, but they don't expand the geographic reach of the conference at all.

Unless they can convince ND or Texas, or a surprise team enters the fray (Boston College, Virginia, Virginia Tech), I think it's going to be a team stolen from the Big East or no expansion at all.


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#24 by Bill Connelly // Feb 20, 2010 - 10:31am

I do agree that the Big East schools are on steadier footing than the Big 12 schools mentioned, but let's not pretend that the Big 12'ers are Tier 3 schools or anything. The most referenced college rankings are US News & World Report, and the difference in rankings is pronounced but not a deal-breaker. The lowest-ranked Big Ten schools are Indiana and Michigan State in the 70s, while all three Big East schools above rank between 56 and 66. Meanwhile, MU ranks 102 and Nebraska 96. US News rankings are based on perceptions, so you could safely say that either NU or MU would immediately jump into at least the 80s just by joining the conference (Penn State saw a similar bump when they joined).

One of Mizzou's major problems in recent years has been the steady withdrawal of state funding -- Missouri's had some budget problems like a lot of states, but it's been compounded by the fact that the state government was run primarily by a SW Missouri governor and legislators through a good chunk of the last decade. Hence why Mizzou's funding shrank and SW Missouri State became Missouri State. They have a pro-Mizzou governor now (one who sticks his foot in his mouth often, but still does support Mizzou) and all the structure in place to become a great research institution, and I think they could pretty quickly at least get to the point of Indiana and Michigan State in the rankings.

All that said, though, you're right that that is a black mark on their resume and prevents them OR Nebraska from being a runaway favorite. But if they show promise academically while offering by far the biggest new-market opportunity (and a steadily improving overall athletic department), then they still have an excellent case to make for inclusion.

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#25 by TomKelso // Feb 20, 2010 - 11:18am

The last time Notre Dame was discussed -- I believe their academic culture was regarded as the major sticking point, specifically the research or lack of same in a religious institution, as opposed to the state universities that comprise 10 of the other 11 members.

Please note I'm not talking about levels of scholarship, but of research -- which is going to be an issue as long as we have the current bio-ethical debates. It gives cover to just about any and all objections.

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#27 by td (not verified) // Feb 21, 2010 - 8:31am

Texas would be crazy to consider the Big 10, though I was in favor of them joining the Pac 10 when it was floated years ago.

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#26 by td (not verified) // Feb 21, 2010 - 8:28am

I think the big caveat that goes with praising Brian Kelly is that he was able to build a strong Big East team. The verdict is still out with RichRod in Ann Arbor as to whether that translates to a power conference. Not saying he won't be successful, but I imagine two years ago, RichRod would have been on the 'most successful' list, too.

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#28 by Morgan Edge (not verified) // Feb 22, 2010 - 1:55pm

The bigger problem would be the divisional split. Geographically, you would have a lopsided football division in the East


Big 10 +2 East:

Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

Big Ten + 2 West

Big 12 school/ND


Big 10 +2 East:

Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

Big Ten + 2 West


I assume you would have to keep Ohio State/Michigan/Michigan State together and it is hard to put Penn State anywhere else. I would love to see other opinions of a logical split.

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#29 by Eddo // Feb 22, 2010 - 2:52pm

What about north/south:

Michigan State

Penn State
Ohio State

You don't have to keep Michigan and Ohio State together; in fact, it's probably best to have them separated, so they can meet for the title in typical years in which they're the two best teams (like Florida and Alabama in the SEC).

It's not like teams would only play intradivision games; you could still have Michigan play OSU every year, Illinois play Northwestern, Michigan State play Penn State (all are the final-game rivalry pairings currently).

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#30 by mm (not verified) // Feb 22, 2010 - 2:55pm

Someone on the frank the tank blog (linked) posted a proposed a rotating division setup that looks like this (taking 3 teams from Big 12):

Group A:
Ohio State
Michigan State

Group B:
Texas A&M

Group 1:

Group 2:
Penn State

Each team would be guaranteed to play every team in its group each year. Every team from group A would also get a permanent opponent from group B (For example Texas-Ohio State; Nebraska-Michigan; Texas A&M-Michigan State). This gives every team 3 annual rivals; they will play each of the other 10 teams once home and away over 4 years.

For the first 2 years of the rotation, Group A and Group 1 form a division while group B and group 2 form a division. Every team plays the 6 teams in its division + 2 cross divisional games (for 8 conference games). For teams from Group A, the cross divisional games include the 1 permanent rival + 1 of the other 2 teams in Group B. For Group 1, the cross divisional games are 2 of the 4 teams in Group 2.

In the second 2 years of the rotation, Group A and Group 2 form a division, with Groups B and 1 forming the other division. Now the teams from Group A play the other team from group B as their 2nd cross divisional game. Teams from group 1 play the 2 teams in group 2 they didn't play in the first 2 years.

Thus, in a 'normal' 4 year education, you will see your team play 10 conference opponents once at home and once away, while your 3 rivals will appear on the schedule each year.

I like the idea, even though group 1 is definitely underpowered compared to the others (at least for now).

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#31 by Jeff Fogle // Feb 22, 2010 - 5:03pm


Am I reading the projection chart properly:

*The best way to project the upcoming season for major conferences (or at least create an accurate starting point) is to look at last year's Point Differential, then tweak for turnover extremes or extreme changes in returning offensive starter numbers or percentage of defensive lettermen?

*The best way to project the upcoming season for mid-majors is to look at their two-year records then tweak for offensive starters returning and percentage of defensive lettermen?

And does it say that, in the majors, any 4-5 year recruiting "report cards" are less predictive about next year than last year's point differential? And that for mid majors, the recruiting stuff is so non-correlated that it doesn't really add anything to "Last 2 years plus Tweaking?"

I think that's what the charts are saying, but I want to make sure I'm reading them right and drawing appropriate conclusions. Thanks in advance if you get a chance to answer...

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#32 by Bill Connelly // Feb 22, 2010 - 5:42pm

If you're looking strictly at the very best correlations, then that's probably about right. But so many of those are so close together that by merging together a ton of factors, you can get a much more accurate projection than simply taking the top two. And yeah...mid-major recruiting data isn't nearly as predictive as that of the major conferences, which makes sense if you think about it -- orgs like Rivals probably aren't going to be able to as accurately identify some of Rice's or Wyoming's or Florida Atlantic's signees, just because of the lack of film or background info. That, and you could probably make a case that it's hard to differentiate between one 2-star player and least more difficult than at some of the higher ranking levels.

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#33 by Jeff Fogle // Feb 22, 2010 - 6:15pm

Thanks. Agree that merging is best. Interesting that a relative few things do so much of the heavy lifting. Somebody who didn't have time/resources for full analysis can get pretty darn close with the basics you isolated. And, I guess one could make the case that you can get pretty darn close even with ignoring recruiting just because so much of recruiting kind of takes care of itself (powers recruit, mid majors don't have much volatility anyway).

Create a reasonable starting point, then adjust on the fly if teams look like they're breaking that recent mold once the season gets rolling(point differential from LY for majors, 2Y records for mid-majors). Maybe I'm just trying to forgive myself for mostly ignoring recruiting (lol). Great study.

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