A final look at Tennessee’s place in the 2013 recruiting rankings

butch-jones-stadium-ut.jpgKNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The book is just about closed on the 2013 recruiting class, and most sites are already listing 2014 recruiting rankings. (Texas A&M already has seven verbal commitments!)

But I wanted to explore Tennessee‘s final 2013 rankings one last time. I use the 247Sports composite rankings to get a true feel for the “consensus” view nationally.

Although the exact formulas used by each recruiting site are proprietary, there are a few things to keep in mind...

* There are a limited number of five stars and four stars to be doled out. Most services — perhaps all — assign five-star rankings to only 32 players (corresponding with the number of players selected in the first round of the NFL draft), so it’s not like the sites can give away 50 five-star rankings in one year and 53 in the next.

* Generally, there’s a difference between a “high” star ranking and a “low” one in the calculation of overall rankings. For example, the 33rd-best player in the nation will get a four-star rating, even though he’s just one slot behind the 32nd five-star. He’ll score more “points” in the overall recruiting ranking than the 175th-best four-star player. The same applies for three stars, where there can be a large variation between a “high three-star” and a “low three-star.”

* The recruiting sites have the toughest time when they are forced to balance quality and quantity. How do you compare an class of 21 prospects with a class of 32?

I believe Rivals does it by counting only the first 20 players. 247Sports weighs players differently in order to avoid favoring teams who load up on prospects. Here’s the explanation:

Each recruit is weighted in the rankings according to a Gaussian distribution formula (a bell curve), where a team’s best recruit is worth the most points. You can think of a team’s point score as being the sum of ratings of all the team’s commits where the best recruit is worth 100% of his rating value, the second best recruit is worth nearly 100% of his rating value, down to the last recruit who is worth a small fraction of his rating value. This formula ensures that all commits contribute at least some value to the team’s score without heavily rewarding teams that have several more commitments than others.

For example, LSU’s average signee has an rating of 91.03 (essentially, this is based on 100 being the No. 1 player in the country), while Ole Miss has an average of 89.04. Both classes signed 27 players. Yet Ole Miss is ranked third in the SEC with 766.25 points and LSU fourth with 762.49. Why? Essentially, the best players in the Ole Miss class are better than the best players in LSU’s class, but LSU’s class is more consistent top to bottom, particularly in the bottom of the class that isn’t weighted as highly..

So let’s take a look at the 247Sports composite rankings. In the spreadsheet below, the teams are sorted by overall points. If you sort by average points per player, Tennessee jumps over Arkansas and Mississippi State.

What jumped out to me immediately is the clustering. Yes, UT is in 11th place, but there aren’t statistically significant differences between the eighth spot and the 12th.

We might more accurately break the rankings into five clusters.

1. Alabama
(significant gap)
2. Florida, Ole Miss, LSU
(smaller gap)
3. Texas A&M, Auburn, Georgia
—- SEC average ——
4. South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
(small gap)
5. Kentucky, Missouri

In this context, only one team is radically different from recent league norms in recruiting — and that’s Ole Miss, which put together a phenomenal class in coach Hugh Freeze’s first full-year recruiting effort.

Since Alabama is the No. 1 team in the league — and the consensus No. 1 team in the nation — let’s look at the rankings as a percentage of Alabama’s points (both individually and as a team).


 And one more….


You can get a sense of the five clusters on the two graphs.

(Very) long story short: Tennessee’s class wasn’t where it needs to be in order to compete against the upper-echelon of the league. But the Vols aren’t alone in that regard.

The goal for Butch Jones and his staff in the next recruiting cycle? Become the Ole Miss of 2014.

Questions, comments? Did I make an error in the numbers? Drop me an e-mail or converse with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus or Tumblr .

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