College football recruiting: Schools with best class rankings on average over the past five years

While we celebrate college football's stars with stiff-arm trophies and All-America honors, everyone knows a championship contender is the sum of its parts. Years of work from both coaches and players are ultimately put to the test in just 12-15 individual contests that will forever define the legacy of that year's team. College basketball has Cinderella stories, but in college football, we can usually identify the teams that have the best chance to win based on the talent that's been recruited to campus. 

Now that National Signing Day 2019 (both of them) is in the books, it's time to update our Rolling Talent Ratings. When this exercise started in 2012, the hope was to identify the team's with the most talent by using a five-year average of class rankings in the 247Sports Composite. Since then, 247Sports -- now not only the industry leader but also our partners here at CBS Sports -- launched the Total Team Composite, which factors in attrition and transfers to rate and rank the talent level of each team every August when that season's rosters are finalized. In this transfer portal era of college football, signing classes are less likely than ever to remain totally intact from commitment to the conclusion of a five-year window.

But these average class rankings do reveal a lot about the success of programs on the recruiting trail and the trends over time that can either explain or expose issues in on-field performance. We've collected all the data that you can view in the table below, and then we'll spotlight a few programs that have stood out among the top 25 recruiting programs in the country.     

TeamConferenceFive-year average20152016201720182019

Alabama

SEC

2.2

1

1

1

7

1

Georgia

SEC

3.8

6

7

3

1

2

Ohio State

Big Ten

5.8

7

4

2

2

14

LSU

SEC

7

5

3

7

15

5

USC

Pac-12

7.6

2

8

4

4

20

Florida State

ACC

7.8

3

2

6

11

17

Auburn

SEC

10

9

9

9

12

11

Clemson

ACC

10

8

10

16

6

10

Texas 

Big 12

10.6

10

11

26

3

3

Oklahoma

Big 12

11.8

15

21

8

9

6

Texas A&M

SEC

12.6

11

19

12

17

4

Notre Dame

Independent

12.8

13

15

11

10

15

Tennessee 

SEC

13.4

4

14

17

20

12

Florida 

SEC

13.4

21

13

10

14

9

Penn State

Big Ten

13.4

14

20

15

5

13

Michigan

Big Ten

15.4

38

5

5

21

8

Oregon

Pac-12

17.2

16

28

19

16

7

Miami

ACC

19.4

26

22

13

8

28

South Carolina

SEC

20.6

19

26

21

19

18

Ole Miss

SEC

21.2

17

6

30

31

22

UCLA

Pac-12

21.2

12

12

20

18

44

Washington 

Pac-12

21.4

27

29

22

13

16

Stanford

Pac-12 

22.8

24

16

14

39

21

Nebraska 

Big Ten

23.8

31

24

23

22

19

Mississippi State

SEC

24.8

18

31

24

27

24

Some of this confirms what you, myself and every college football fan around knows intuitively: for the last half-decade, no one in the country has been as dominant on the recruiting trail as the power trio of Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State. It's after that group that disappointment starts to set in, where LSU, USC and Florida State have all averaged top-10 classes over the last five years but failed to make the College Football Playoff. 

The on-field success of Clemson and Oklahoma have shown that conference and national championships can be won without top-five recruiting classes, but they also each serve as examples for the disconnect between signing day and game day. The Tigers were able to close the talent gap with Alabama, in part, because Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Mitch Hyatt, Austin Bryant and other key pieces of the 2015 recruiting class chose to return to college for their senior seasons instead of going pro. If fellow 2015 signees Calvin Ridley, Da'Ron Payne or Minkah Fitzpatrick had chosen to do the same, then maybe that showdown in Santa Clara goes differently. Oklahoma, on the other hand, has done enough work on the recruiting trail to contend for Big 12 championships, but this average does not have a factor for the addition of Heisman Trophy-winning transfer quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. 

Signing day rankings are not the end-all be-all for college football success, but they still say a lot about the health of a program and the battles that are being won or lost on the recruiting trail. With that in mind, here are a few teams trending in both the right and wrong directions over the last three-to-five years.     

Trending Up

Washington: Chris Petersen's first recruiting class in 2014 ranked No. 37 in the country, and ever since that low-point from the Sarkisian-to-Petersen transition, the rankings have been consistently in the top 30 and recently cracked the top 20 in the last two classes. It's no surprise then that the Huskies have gone from sub-.500 Pac-12 conference records in Petersen's first two seasons to three straight 10-win seasons with two Pac-12 titles and a College Football Playoff appearance. 

Oklahoma: No head coaching transition in recent memory has been as smooth as Oklahoma handing the reigns from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley. Because of his reputation as a brilliant offensive coach and the proven results with Mayfield and Murray, Riley has made Norman, Oklahoma, a necessary stop for skill position talent. While the 2018 class was mostly in the footprint of Oklahoma and Texas, Oklahoma's 2019 class -- which reached into California, Florida and even Georgia -- has shown that this upward trend could continue as Riley's program becomes a true nationwide brand on the trail.  

Oregon: USC and UCLA's struggles have been a huge benefit for Oregon and Washington. Mario Cristobal is a dogged recruiter that brings the plan and work ethic of an SEC staff to the Pac-12, and he made waves in this past cycle. The Ducks have no shortage of resources, and with Cristobal leading the efforts, it's hard to imagine Oregon fading from the top 15 anytime soon. 

Trending Down 

Florida State: Because there is so much talent nearby, you're not going to see the Seminoles free fall in the recruiting rankings. But the message has been sent and the pressure is on: the lingering shadow of success that was cast by the 2013 BCS title and success of Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston has faded away. Willie Taggart needs wins, both on the field and on the recruiting trail, in order to the close the growing gap with Clemson in the ACC.  

Ole Miss: The Hugh Freeze scandal and an NCAA investigation have been the easy explainers for the sharp drop-off in recruiting rankings for the Rebels. However, it should be pointed out that while Matt Luke has been recruiting in the midst of sanctions, he was still in the mix for several coveted four-star players and won some signing day battles last week for a late surge up to No. 22 in the rankings for 2019. 

UCLA: The grand Chip Kelly experiment at UCLA is put to the test most on the recruiting trail, where that staff has decided to be frugal with its offers and specific with its targeted recruiting. That could mean that players who are offered will commit more often and those players will be a perfect fit for what Kelly wants to do with the Bruins. But it could also mean less commits and less of a chance to secure the top prospects who can help you compete for titles. We'll see if he's the smartest guy in the room when we revisit this exercise in a few years.     

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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