Analysis: Do Stars Matter in Recruiting and Where Does Iowa Fit In?

January 8, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s a question often posed but too frequently answered with opinion – Do recruiting stars matter when it comes to college football?

People argue about it. Some cite examples of loaded teams like Alabama. Others counter with schools like Iowa producing two unanimous all-Americans in two-stars Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson this season.

The 247 network provides interesting data to analyze the debate. The first interactive graphic shows roster makeup based on rankings nationally. The composite score includes data from all the major recruiting services nationwide:

You’ll notice that the two teams in the national championship game – Alabama and Georgia – are slotted first and fourth. That certainly lends credence to stars mattering.

If you expand it to the four teams in the College Football Playoff this season, and include Clemson and Oklahoma, it still looks pretty good for the stars-matter crowd. The Tigers are ninth and the Sooners 16th.

Moving out farther, here’s what the final CFP Top 10 looked like with the team talent composite score based on recruiting rankings in parenthesis:

1. Clemson (9)
2. Oklahoma (16)
3. Georgia (4)
4. Alabama (1)
5. Ohio State (2)
6. Wisconsin (37)
7. Auburn (8)
8. USC (3)
9. Penn State (19)
10 Miami (20)

Again, that’s pretty strong evidence that stars matter. Six of the top 10 in the CFP final poll also were in the Top 10 of talent composite score (TCS). Three others were in the Top 20. Wisconsin is the outlier and certainly shows that the star system is not foolproof.

It also should be noted that the CFP final poll isn’t without flaws. Auburn lost to No. 12 Central Florida, 34-27, in the Peach Bowl. The Knights are 55th in the TCS. The rankings still are the opinion of a committee.

That said, the CFP poll is what’s used to determine the playoff, which produces the national champion. It’s the most important measuring stick in the sport.

Beyond the Final Four, where two Top 10 teams had to lose, the other six squads in the CFP final poll Top 10 went 3-3. However, two of those programs lost to other Top 10 opponents in bowls. Ohio State beat USC and Wisconsin downed Miami.

Let’s now look at the rest of the CFP final Top 25 with TCS rankings in parenthesis:

11. Washington (24)
12. Central Florida (55)
13. Stanford (14)
14. Notre Dame (10)
15. TCU (32)
16. Michigan St. (30)
17. LSU (6)
18. Washington St. (60)
19. Oklahoma St. (38)
20. Memphis (70)
21. Northwestern (41)
22. Virginia Tech (33)
23. Mississippi St. (25)
24. NC State (44)
25. Boise State (67)

As you can see, much more disparity exists in the 11-25 range. You have LSU, 6th in the TCS, at 17th in the rankings. Meanwhile, Memphis is 20th but 70th in the TCS. The wide range here makes sense.

The star rankings aren’t absolute. Programs like Wisconsin outperform their TCS annually. Others will do that based on factors like experience, development and system. One team could be loaded with four- and five-star recruits that are underclassmen and not do as well as another outfit with a group of veteran three stars that come together.

Continue reading below

Related In HawkeyeNation Forums

Still, the evidence remains strong that the teams in the national title hunt do well in the TCS.

Here’s a look at the CFP playoff teams each year with the TCS for the corresponding season in parenthesis:


1. Alabama (1)
2. Oregon (21)
3. Florida State (4)
4. Ohio State (3)


1. Clemson (13)
2. Alabama (1)
3. Michigan State (23)
4. Oklahoma (16)


Continue reading below

1. Alabama (1)
2. Clemson (9)
3. Ohio State (5)
4. Washington (24)


1. Clemson (9)
2. Oklahoma (16)
3. Georgia (4)
4. Alabama (1)

If you look at these four seasons, of the 16 playoff teams, 10 were in the Top 10 of the TCS and 13 were in the Top 16. Only Oregon (21), Michigan State (23) and Washington (24) were outside the Top 20.

While it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy memorable and meaningful seasons like Central Florida, Memphis, Boise State and others did this year, your chance of winning the big prize increases dramatically if you’re high up in the TCS. The numbers don’t lie.

Iowa just missed reaching the CFP Final Four in ’15. After a 12-0 regular season, the Hawkeyes lost a heartbreaking, 16-13 decision to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship. Alabama went on to crush the Spartans, 38-0, in the semifinals. No. 6 Stanford slammed the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes, 45-16.

We know that Alabama was No. 1 in the TCS that year and Michigan State 23. Stanford was 18 and Iowa was 51.

This year, the Hawkeyes finished 8-5 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten. Here’s a look at the conference’s TCS rankings for ’17:

Continue reading below

Ohio State was No. 1 in the TCS and won the league title, losing just once in conference, a 55-24 beatdown by the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin, No. 7 in the TCS, posted a perfect regular season before falling to the Buckeyes in the championship game.

The Badgers certainly serve as an example of stars not being everything. They’ve played in five of the seven Big Ten title games.

This year’s conference results also didn’t line up overwhelmingly well with the TCS. No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 Nebraska didn’t even make bowl games. No. 2 Michigan finished 5-4 in the league, 8-5 overall and lost its bowl game.

Penn State, No. 3 in the TCS, posted a 11-2 mark, losing a pair of close games to Ohio State and Michigan State on the road. No. 8 Northwestern (10-3) and No. 14 Purdue (7-6) outperformed their TCS. The No. 6 Spartans (10-3) also did well.

It should be noted that Wisconsin did not play Michigan State or Penn State during the regular season. In ’15, when the Hawkeyes started 12-0, they missed the Nittany Lions, Ohio State and Michigan. Since the conference went to East and West Divisions, the East is 4-0 in the title game.

Let’s look at where Iowa shakes out for this decade with its TCS national number in parenthesis:

’10 8-5 (36)
’11 7-6 (26)
’12 4-8 (40)
’13 8-5 (56)
’14 7-6 (58)
’15 12-2 (59)
’16 8-5 (55)
’17 8-5 (49)

Those numbers tell us that the Hawkeyes are consistent. They also say that they outperform their recruiting rankings regularly, making seven bowls in eight years and winning at least eight games in five of those seasons. Iowa does more with less when it comes to the TCS.

That said, the statistics, at least based on the recruiting numbers from this decade, make it difficult to predict Iowa putting itself in the national title hunt. It’s not impossible, like ’15 showed, but the odds are long.

The good thing about sports is they don’t always go according to plan, perception or follow statistical data strictly. It’s why we watch for upsets.

The Iowa coaching staff has its strict plan in place. It certainly recruits high-ranked players, but they must fit into the culture. It’s the Hawkeyes’ formula for winning a national title. It will be interesting to see if results in a run at one and deals a blow to the TCS.

Trending in Forums View All >

4 thoughts on “Analysis: Do Stars Matter in Recruiting and Where Does Iowa Fit In?

Comments are closed.

HawkeyeNation Archives View All >

Bigger Ten: Week Eight Predictions

Jon Miller

October 18, 2018

Miller and Deace share their Week 8 predictions…and Deace is on a roll, going 11-4 against the spread in each of the past two weeks

HN TV: Hawkeyes Discuss What They Expect from Maryland

Rob Howe

October 18, 2018

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, players preview next opponent.

Schwartz: Hawkeyes, Terps, and Irrational Fear

David Schwartz

October 18, 2018

Trepidation present in matching up with the turtles.

Breaking Down the Group of Recruits Expected at Iowa-Maryland Game

Rob Howe

October 17, 2018

A look at the prospects coming to check out the Hawkeyes.

Sign up for the Newsletter

Sean Neugent

October 17, 2018

The newsletter is chalk full of great stories and game information

Preview, Prediction: Hawkeyes Play Host to Explosive Maryland

Rob Howe

October 17, 2018

Terrapins visit Kinnick Stadium for Iowa Homecoming.

Notebook: All Hands on Deck for Versatile Hawkeye Defense, Injury Update

Rob Howe

October 16, 2018

Iowa showing resiliency, versatility and innovation in stopping opponents.

HN TV: Stanley on Staying Grounded, Whatever It Takes for Smith-Marsette

Rob Howe

October 16, 2018

Hawkeye players meet with media Tuesday as they prepare for Maryland.