CFB Team Talent Measure (TTM)
Recruiting is the bloodline of college football and can make or break a program and just as important as recruiting comes player development, which is a direct reflection of effective coaching. Teams that can recruit and develop talent at a high level are the teams that appear in the college football playoff top ten consistently (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma). Teams that are good at one but seem to be lacking on the other front are the teams capable of a top ten ranking but not a real playoff threat such as (Michigan State, LSU, USC, Notre Dame). The difference among the four examples in the Michigan State, LSU, USC, and Notre Dame bucket vary such as Notre Dame who recruits at a top ten level but does not consistently compete for the College Football Playoff. In fact once Notre Dame did reach the CFP in 2018-19 Clemson dominated by a score of 30-3. Brian Kelly has been a consistently good recruiter while at Notre Dame, but Kelly had to make changes prior to 2017 at both coordinator positions following a bad 4-8 season in 2016. Kelly decided to relinquish his play-calling duties in 2017, resulting in the Irish improving to a 10-3 record. The success continued in 2018 resulting in Notre Dame making the CFP. Team talent and returning starters can tell a story, but there is a myriad of other variables that when thoroughly analyzed, tell a different story.
Michigan State is the opposite of Notre Dame, USC, and LSU as they recruit based on fit and much of the Spartans recent success happened before Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor allowing Michigan State to compete with Michigan for in-state recruits successfully. Mark Dantonio has built his Spartan program using a “chip on the shoulder” mentality motivating his players to play beyond their perceived star ranking. His ability to develop three star guys over the years has led to Michigan State landing higher ranked four star recruits throughout the years. Whether or not Michigan State has benefited from Michigan’s down years (Rodriguez, Hoke Era) they have remained consistent enough to compete with Jim Harbaugh’s recent Michigan teams beating them two out of the last four years proving that Dantonio is still a great developer of talent even when Michigan has regained recruiting prowess within the state of Michigan.
USC is similar to LSU, both are recruiting at a high level, but USC has yet to take the next step. LSU took a step forward in 2018 when they acquired a competent QB (OSU transfer Joe Burrow), but the LSU offensive line has yet to take the next step in pass protection. To sum it all up, both USC and LSU appear to lack the developmental component needed to become a championship calibre program like (Alabama, and Clemson), yet they continue to recruit at a championship level.
Why is any of this relevant?
The obvious answer is not always obvious. Every team operates differently, but the one consistent factor is recruiting. Those with the most talent have an increased shot at winning the conference championship or making the CFP, but other factors are relevant. Coaching, and development are just as important but the difference between the teams that have won a National Title in the CFP era (not just make an appearance in the playoff only to be blown out) is their ability to both recruit and develop at a high level.
How do we measure team talent?
By using the total number of five, four, and three-star players compiled from one of the three major recruiting sites gain insight on the overall perceived roster talent. This measure is not meant to be a predictor of success, but more of a measure of total team quality. We can also use this to gauge whether a coach is getting the most out of his teams perceived talent measure whether they are a team loaded with four and five stars or a team of predominantly three-star recruits. If a coach is winning at a high level with three-star recruits, we can conclude that he and his staff are high-level developers of talent. The same could be inferred of coaches with high-end talent like Alabama, who get the most of their four and 5 five star players.
Total combine invites
The next variable we use is a team’s total number of combine invites. The total number of combine invites are a direct reflection of player development among power five teams. Programs that send a high number of combine invites tend to be the ones that are competing at the highest level of college football.
The very basic math
So to keep things simple I created a talent measure using basic math (5) points for a five star, (4) points for a four-star, and (3) pts for a three star. As you can see we have a measure for the 2018 talent measure, 2019 pre-combine measure which includes the 2019 recruiting class, and then our last measure which subtracts the total combine invites from the total talent measure. Since the average star ranking for an NFL player in 2018 was 67% of the (254) combine invites drafted were rated (3) stars (according to 247 sports) we subtract 3 pts from the total Team Talent Measure (TTM) for every combine invite.
Clemson’s pre-combine (TTM) of 363 reduced to 330 because of their 11 combine invites (-33 pts). Clemson pre-combine ranked 11th among all P5 schools before subtracting the combine invites. Post combine ranking has Clemson at 17th (TTM). Does this mean 16 teams recruit better than Clemson? We can conclude that this is not the case; The simple truth is that it means Clemson lost a lot of talent to the NFL from their 2018 roster. Clemson is still ranked 4th among all P5 in total star average (3.79).
Our Team Talent Measure is not exact, but it does draw attention where intended. When I began this project, my goal was to identify every team's total talent. The 247 Sports Composite does a great job of measuring this, but unfortunately, they don’t release their 2019 rankings until later in the summer, and I am diligently trying to get a head start on the season.