Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program. If a team can’t bring in top-notch recruits, it doesn’t have much chance to compete at a high level.
Bud Elliott, a former SBNation writer and current recruiting lead at Banner Society, found that teams have to sign more four- and five-star recruits than two- and three-star recruits over a four year period to compete for a national championship. Elliott calls this the “blue-chip ratio.”
That’s not to say it’s a necessity. But going back to 2005 (except for 2010’s Auburn squad), every national champion has a blue chip ratio of at least 50%. In other words, more than half of their recruits over the past four years were rated four or five stars.
So, I applied Elliott’s formula to the 14 SEC teams. Using recruiting data from 247Sports, I compiled lists of each team’s signees going back to 2006. From there, I was able to create a four-year rolling average, beginning with the 2009 season.
Let’s see what the data revealed.
The Usual Suspects
It should come as no surprise that Alabama leads the league in blue chip ratio. The team has maintained a yearly blue chip average of at least 60% since 2008, Nick Saban’s second season with the Crimson Tide.
Georgia is making a run at Alabama’s crown, though. Their 2019 four-year average is only 1.6 percentage points behind Alabama.
LSU rounds out the top three, although the gap between Georgia and LSU in 2019 is significant (16.1 percentage points). The Tigers are consistently in the 60% range, though. Aside from Alabama, they’re the only team whose blue chip ratio hasn’t varied more than three percentage points since 2014.
Here’s a look at how the SEC stacks up. The first chart is the entire league together. The second and third are the East and West divisions, so you can get a less-crowded look at the numbers.
Let’s take a look at each SEC team’s recruiting charts individually. I’ve added each team’s yearly wins to the chart, as well. Though not surprising, it’s interesting to see the direct effect wins has on recruiting success.
The rich keep getting richer. Alabama only signed 5 four- and five-star players in 2006, the year before Saban arrived. The next year, the Tide added seven more — and never looked back. Since then, Alabama has signed a total of 230 blue chip recruits — an average of 19 a year.
Since 2011, the team hasn’t had a blue chip ratio less than 66% and averaged 12.9 wins per year. The team is loaded for 2019, as well. This year’s 78.1% ratio is the second highest since 2006, behind only 2017’s 80.1% ratio.
Arkansas has struggled with recruiting over the years. They haven’t had a blue chip ratio over 25% since 2009, even after managing double digit wins in 2010 and 2011.
With Chad Morris leading the chants of “Woo Pig Sooie” in Fayetteville now, recruiting is on the uptick. The team signed more four-star recruits in 2019 than they did in the last three years combined.
Inconsistency has plagued Auburn since the team won the national championship in 2010 (Elliott suggests the data for Auburn’s recruiting classes is incorrect — but it’s the data we have to go on).
Fortunately for Tigers fans, recruiting under Gus Malzahn is trending up. The team has a blue chip ratio of 50% plus since 2015, including 5 five-star players in that same time period (two in the 2019 class).
Since Urban Meyer left the Swamp to head north to Columbus, Florida has struggled with consistency and their blue chip ratio reflects that. Coming off the national championship teams of 2006 and 2008, the team maintained a blue chip ratio of more than 50% until 2015 when Jim McElwain took over the team from Will Muschamp.
The team’s blue chip ratio declined until 2017, then began to tick upward once Dan Mullen arrived from Mississippi State. With the 2019 class signed, Florida’s blue chip ratio ticked back over 50% to 51.6%.
If Georgia is one thing, it’s consistent. Aside from 2013, when the team’s blue chip ratio “dropped” to 48.9%, the Bulldogs have maintained a blue chip ratio of more than 50% since 2009
Since Kirby Smart arrived in Athens with his Alabama national championship rings in tow, Georgia is on pace to pass Smart’s former boss for the best blue chip ratio in the SEC. In fact, the team’s blue chip ratio is up 41% since 2016.
Like Arkansas, Kentucky has struggled to recruit at a high level. In fact, according to 247 Sports, the team has only signed one five-star recruit since 2006: linebacker Micah Johnson, from Fort Campbell, Ky.
Even though the Cats have posted winning seasons since 2016, including 10 wins in 2018, recruiting hasn’t reflected that success. Even after the 2018 campaign, the team’s blue chip ratio is relatively flat.
LSU has regularly recruited at a high level since 2009, boasting a blue chip ratio of 60% or more since 2014. The team added three five-star recruits in 2019, as the gruff-talking Ed Orgeron looks to lock down the state of Louisiana for the Tigers.
Despite double digit wins in three seasons since 2009, the Bulldogs haven’t seen much payoff on the recruiting trail. The team only has three five-star recruits since 2009, and has only averaged 4 four-stars a year over the same period.
Now that Dan Mullen is at Florida, new head coach Joe Moorhead has his work cut out for him. A 2019 recruiting class made up of 30% blue chip players, including five-star offensive tackle Charles Cross, is a step in the right direction.
Mizzou got a nice boost when it left the Big 12 for the SEC for the 2012 season. When the Tigers joined the SEC, they posted their highest single year percentage of blue chip recruits, with 26.7% (a five-star and 3 four-stars).
The Tigers competed for the SEC Championship in 2013 and 2014, but since then it’s been a tough row to hoe. The team’s blue chip ratio has declined every year since 2015.
The correlation between the Rebels’ success on the field and on the recruiting trail is evident. When Ole Miss wins, they see a boost in recruiting. After a bad season, recruiting falls off.
After 2015’s 10-win season, the Rebels blue chip ratio peaked at 40.2%. However, a 5-win year in 2016 brought the team back to earth, as the ratio dropped 8.6%.
The Rebels are on a three-year blue chip skid, although they added five-star running back Jerrion Ealy in 2019.
South Carolina has posted a consistent blue chip ratio since 2014, managing to stay consistent even when the legendary Steve Spurrier handed the reins over to Will Muschamp. In fact, the team’s blue chip ratio has stayed between 25 and 30% in that time.
The Gamecocks must contend with in-state rival and reigning national champion Clemson for recruits. Landing five-star defensive tackle Zacch Pickens from Anderson, S.C. was a good start.
Despite having a blue chip ratio that is consistently in the 30 to 40% range, Tennessee hasn’t been able to convert that success to wins on the field.
Once Lane Kiffin left Knoxville, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones recruited well, but struggled to develop the talent they brought to Rocky Top.
With Jeremy Pruitt leading the charge, Big Orange Nation is hopeful that the team can return to its glory days.
Texas A&M got a huge recruiting boost when the conference announced they were joining the SEC in 2012. The team’s blue chip rate increased by 13.5% that year and hasn’t dropped below 30% since then.
New coach Jimbo Fisher landed 12 four- and five-star recruits this year and, despite a brutal schedule that features games with the top three teams in the country (Clemson, Alabama and Georgia), Aggies fans are hopeful Fisher’s contract pays off.
The Commodores were the only team not to sign a five-star recruit in the 14 years I examined. In fact, they only signed 15 4-star recruits over that same period.
Even though Vandy made a bowl game in two of the last three seasons, the ‘Dores haven’t been able to beat out in-state rival Tennessee, or Alabama and Georgia to the south on the recruiting trail.