Recruiting rankings would have predicted Clemson-FSU outcome

The Clemson Sports Blog

Florida State's Timmy Jernigan sacks Clemson's Tajh Boyd during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Florida State's Timmy Jernigan sacks Clemson's Tajh Boyd during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

What did we learn, for better or worse, Saturday night?

For one thing, recruiting matters.

If you're follower of the never-ending spectator sport known as college recruiting, you might have seen this one coming.

Especially if you subscribe to the theory that most games are won and lost in the trenches.

Turnovers beside the point, Florida State manhandled Clemson Saturday night because the Seminoles were dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Defensively, the Tigers - who entered the game leading the nation in sacks - were unable to get consistent, game-affecting pressure on Jameis Winston with a four-man rush. FSU neutralized Vic Beasley with a combination of strength and double-teams. Clemson was forced to blitz to get pressure, and when they did, Winston found the openings and picked the Tigers apart.

By ESPN's statistical reckoning, more than two-thirds of Winston's 444 passing yards came off Clemson blitzes - the most in college football over the past three seasons.

On the other side of the ball, the Tigers were unable to provide basic protection for Tajh Boyd in the passing game, or consistently open holes for the rushing attack.

Mention was made before the game of Florida State's personnel losses from last year on its defensive front. The players lost, including Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, were replaced by five-star recruits Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman, among others.

Over the past six recruiting cycles, both Florida State and Clemson have recruited an elite level of skill players. But there has been a stark difference in the recruiting success for the two programs on the offensive and defensive lines.

Since 2009, FSU has signed 19 four-star and three five-star offensive and defensive linemen (using Rivals' class rankings). During the same period, Clemson has signed 11 four-stars and no five-stars.

On defense, FSU has a dozen four-stars and three five-stars, while Clemson has seven four-stars.

On the offensive front, the Seminoles have signed seven four-star players. Clemson signed four, but one of those - J.K. Jay - never played because of a career-ending back injury.

Overall, comparing the recruiting rankings of the Tigers and Seminoles over the past six years shows a significant gap, as well.

Many of the key, difference-making players on the field for FSU on Saturday come from the Seminoles' consensus No. 1-ranked national class of 2011, their 2012 class (ranked 2nd by ESPN and 3rd by 247Sports), and their 2010 class, which was ranked sixth by ESPN.

Consensus rankings have Clemson's classes ranked 15th in 2010, 10th in 2011, and 16th in 2012.

For the current 2014 recruiting cycle, FSU's group of commitments have a No. 4 consensus ranking, while Clemson's class is ranked 16th.

While the Tigers' recruiting under Dabo Swinney and staff has marked a significant upgrade over the previous two decades, the Seminoles - despite their on-field troubles - have never stopped collecting cream-of-the-crop talent, year after year after year.

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Comments » 5

essoclub writes:

Great article - recruiting does matter. Beating our in-state rival will go a long way towards helping us land top local athletes. It's time to step our game up in recruiting from Florida and we should also expand recruiting to other parts of the U.S.

As a South Carolinian now living in Cali, I can tell you that tons of kids from my adopted state would love to play for Clemson. Let's also look at the northeast (NJ, PA, CT, NY, etc.), where young high school athletes would be more than happy to play in a beautiful and sunny state like South Carolina.

TigerNE writes:

I'm still not buying the accuracy or relevance of the high school rating system overall. Sure, if you recruit only from the lower ranks or only from the highest ranks, you are likely to get teams that reflect that. But many a team has won without the best recruits. Coaching and player development are perhaps just as important. How many top high school recruits perform below expectations in college? How many multi-award winning top college performers fail once they arrive in the NFL?

My point is just that it is all relative and inaccurate to a degree. Sure, some players are always on top from high school through the NFL - think Nuk. But even Nuk was only a 4 star who essentially performed like a 5 star in college.

We just need to focus on getting much better linemen. Under Morris and Venables, I think we've started off relatively well in the 2013 and 2014 classes. Not so sure about beyond.

I wonder how LSU recruiting stacked up to ours last year. Would that predict the outcome or show more about coaching and development?

KerryCapps writes:

Good points. I think individual recruiting rankings are suspect at times - ie, TJ Green going from two-stars to four-stars when he became a Clemson commitment, as opposed to when he was committed to UAB. He didn't suddenly flip a switch and become a better player because Clemson noticed him. He was overlooked by the ratings system, which is subjective to the extreme.

In terms of overall trends over a multi-year period, however, I think the class rankings can give a general indication of how well a program is recruiting. FSU has been reeling off top-5 recruiting classes for what seems like forever. What's most puzzling to me is how to explain those years of under-performing on the field with the roster stocked with elite talent. Under-performance obviously wasn't a problem for the Seminoles Saturday night - they played like you'd expect one of the most talented teams in the country to play.

Interesting question about LSU and how they stack up against FSU in recruiting four and five-star linemen. I'll check on it when I get a chance.

jl_andrews#290395 writes:

You can't blame recruiting for this butt kicking and then take credit for the wins against LSU and UGA! They have both out recruited us by about the same margin. If it was just recruiting then we should have gotten curb stomped by both of those. But we didn't! Yes, their Jimmy's and Joe's are better than ours COMMING OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, but isn't that why we have 2 of the highest paid coordinators in the NCAA? We got out coached, out executed, and out hustled! And it started way before the first kickoff!.

waran writes:

Great article and comments.

Recruitment ranking is imprecise but is the best proxy for talent like SAT for academic performance. SAT may not predict academic success at college very accurately but is the best we have. The elite schools always get higher SAT applications.

At least this article makes me feel a bit better.

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