Signing Day to Season Finishes: Who Converts Stars to Wins
On Monday, February 13,, Track ‘Em Tigers’ Jay Coulter published an article: Malzahn Doubles Down on Recruiting. Jay outlined the mystifying dismissal of long-time Auburn staff member Scott Fountain, who worked at Auburn for two different coaching staffs. One of the few leftovers from the Gene Chizik era, Fountain is one of the best recruiting gurus in the business. In addition to his recruiting prowess, he led Auburn’s special teams and tight ends. While some might question his ability as a tight ends coach, judging by Auburn’s poor utilization of the position in the last two years, his special teams coaching was spectacular as Auburn led the country in several key special teams areas.
Still, Fountain was dismissed, and Larry Porter was hired to the same position on the staff. Though he is a terrific recruiter, Porter is a man who has no experience with tight ends or special teams.
This process has resulted in some questions. Even though Gus Malzahn has put a premium on recruiting with Auburn never finishing outside the top ten on National Signing Day, except for his first year as Auburn’s head coach the Tigers have not finished a year ranking in the top ten on the field.
It’s final rankings and wins that are really in question. Given the respect in which Fountain was held, his dismissal raises questions. One is just what does recruiting buy Auburn and how does Auburn compare to other schools?
From 2013 through 2017, only a handful of teams were in the top ten of recruiting each year. This includes in-state rival Alabama, SEC West rival LSU, and Ohio State.
Alabama is the standard bearer and has finished No. 1 in the 247sports.com composite rankings every year from 2013 to 2017. In that period, Alabama never finished lower than seventh in the final rankings while winning a national championship and twice finishing 2nd overall.
In the same period Ohio State has been on the top ten list every year. The Buckeyes have a national championship, never finished lower than 12th and were in the top ten two times.
LSU has finishes at No. 13, No. 14, No. 16 and was unranked one year.
During this period Auburn was No. 2 in 2013, finished at No. 14 in 2014, was unranked in 2015, and finished at No.24 in 2016. It clearly has underperformed in comparison to Alabama, Ohio State and LSU.
Even when comparing Auburn to lesser recruiting teams, it doesn’t fare much better.
- Florida State has been in the top ten recruiting rankings four different times since 2013. The Seminoles have one national championship, a playoff appearance, and have never finished lower than 14th.
- USC has finished unranked twice, 19th, and No. 3, despite multiple coaching changes.
- Georgia has struggled mightily on the field, finishing unranked three times with a No. 6 final ranking in 2014. Can Auburn claim superiority to UGA? Judging by final rankings, perhaps. Yet Auburn is 1–3 against the Bulldogs despite beating them on the recruiting trail.
Then there is Clemson, a clear over-performer. The purple Tigers played Alabama in the College Football Playoff final two straight years, beating the Tide in 2017. Yet Clemson finished in the top ten in recruiting just once.
Auburn is vastly outclassed by Alabama and Ohio State. Its results are questionable in comparison to LSU, FSU, USC and UGA, and it suffers in comparison to Clemson, which has clearly done “more with less.”
There is no doubt that college football recruiting isn’t a science. There are greater unknowns from the transition from high school to college than from college to the NFL. In the NFL, there are more booms than busts, so it stands to reason that there is a large margin of uncertainty for college recruiting.
Except for the few teams that are able to turn recruiting classes into rock-solid on-field programs, recruiting classes are a poor predictor of on-field performance and final rankings for most schools. Except Auburn. No team in America has done less with more than Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers.