If you happen to be tired of pretty much the same teams making the College Football Playoff every year, well, sorry, but you might as well get used to it.
Wednesday is National Signing Day and this year it will serve as a testament not just to the rich getting richer, but the rich getting richer at a greater rate than perhaps ever before.
Rivals.com has 33 players in the Class of 2020 rated as five-star recruits. A whopping 22 of them have either committed, or are predicted by Rivals experts, to sign with just five schools: Clemson (6), Georgia (6), LSU (4), Ohio State (3) and Alabama (3).
That’s five schools getting two-thirds of the very best recruits in America. And if those schools sound familiar, well, that’s because three of them (Clemson, LSU and Ohio State) are in this year’s playoff (along with Oklahoma) and Georgia and Alabama are regulars.
“It’s uncommon for there to be such a discrepancy of talent in college football,” said Mike Farrell, Rivals.com’s national recruiting director.
National Signing Day is just accentuating the gap between the sport’s truly elite teams and everyone else, including the merely very good.
The five schools are playoff regulars, among the mere 11 programs that have ever reached the now-6-year-old postseason system.
Only five teams have ever won a playoff game. That includes Alabama (5 wins), Clemson (5), Ohio State (2) and Georgia (1). Only Oregon, back in 2014, is a playoff game winner outside of this group, although the Ducks are doing fine and may get two five-stars this year.
It isn’t good for the sport to have so much talent coalescing around just a few programs that top players believe can win a national title. It certainly doesn’t help that four of them are tucked into the Southeast part of the country.
That’s reality, though. Just about everyone else is boxed out right now, stuck in a circle where success begets success.
“The lack of parity is the reason,” Farrell said. “Alabama and Clemson have won national titles, Ohio State has one and Georgia has been a play away. Throw in LSU with their national recruiting approach this year and you have a perfect storm, especially with power programs like USC, Texas, FSU and others down.”
There is no quick fix or easy legislative solution. Nor should there be. Players should be able to attend any school they wish. Besides, the last thing college athletics needs is another rule.
That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for college football in general, where more spread-out talent would likely equate to a nationally competitive sport.
And, yes, it’s true recruiting rankings don’t win games and two-stars out of high school can become All-Americans. We know. Talent is talent, though. Consider that the 33 five-stars are about the same as the number of first-round picks in the NFL draft each year (32).
Anyone who follows the NFL knows that while there are certainly plenty of busts picked in Round 1, that pool of players pans out as stars at a far greater rate than each successive round. In the NFL, teams will trade two or three players just to move up a few spots in the first round.
It’s no different at the college level, where scouting has improved dramatically. With five-star recruits, the odds are in your favor. What would happen if an NFL team was getting six first-round picks a year? That’s Clemson, basically.
Talent has always flocked to play with other talent at successful programs, of course. It just hasn’t happened at this rate, as Farrell notes.
From 2003-14, the top five classes in the Rivals.com rankings combined to sign an average of 16 five-stars a year (37.5 percent less than this year’s 22).
There any number of reasons for this but it seems the playoff has separated the truly great programs and made it seem like only a few teams a year play meaningful games.
The Pac-12 is in the middle of a four-year playoff drought and it’s showing in recruiting. States in the league’s footprint produced nine five-star players this year. Six of them are signing elsewhere, including the top two players in California (Clemson, Alabama), the top two in Arizona (Georgia, Texas) and the top-rated recruit in Nevada (Georgia).
Why Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott isn’t screaming and politicking for an expanded playoff that would provide his league with a lifeline of an automatic bid remains a mystery.
The recruiting disparity doesn’t just impact the playoff chase, though. It can make conference races feel obsolete.
Clemson went unbeaten and mostly unchallenged in the ACC this year. It will now sign the conference’s seven highest-rated recruits. That’s like getting the first seven picks in a playground game. Ohio State, equally perfect in the Big Ten, will land the top five in its league.
So the Tigers and Buckeyes look good … not just this year, but for the future. Same for the Big Three of the SEC.
In other words, even on a day of fresh beginnings and hopeful commitments, nothing changes.