To me, one of the best things that anyone has done in the football recruiting industry in the last decade is the 247Sports composite rankings. I think it's relevant to look at each of the big four recruiting service rankings (247, Rivals, Scout, and ESPN) and I have my own evaluations on prospects, but having that composite ranking really helps a lot for context when it comes to conveying how good a prospect really is or can be.
Just imagine if Mel Kiper had a quarterback in his top five on his big board, but none of the other experts had a first round grade on him. As a fan, would you put complete faith in Kiper's evaluation or would you think the consensus ranking was probably closer to the truth? Obviously you would choose the consensus. That's why it doesn't make much sense to just use the "Scout has him as a 4 star" reasoning to brag about a recruit if everyone else has him as a 3 star. Maybe he will ultimately play like a blue chip player in college, but the odds say that the 3 star average that everyone else gave him is probably closer to the truth of what he is.
The one big thing that I always thought was glaringly missing from recruiting rankings was tracking how many of those recruits are still on a team's roster. It's great if a program signed eleven 4 star prospects in one recruiting cycle, but if two of them didn't qualify, one transferred, and another quit football, that can make a significant difference when looking at how recruiting translates to actual college football competition.
In order to figure out how many 4 and 5 star prospects were still on the roster of some Pac-12 teams, I literally had to go through recruiting classes and rosters then put together my own spread sheet to find out just what the difference was in terms of raw talent on each roster. The end result was great, but it took quite a bit of time to figure out who transferred, who went a mission, who got kicked off the team, or anything else you can think of.
Thankfully 247Sports now has done the work for me and put together a team talent composite for all of the teams in the FBS and I'm sure you could make a pretty good guess as to which Pac-12 team tops the list in terms of having the most raw talent based on composite recruiting rankings.
Yup, it's the Trojans. They are behind Alabama in terms of overall talent on their current roster, but that is the only team they are behind. In terms of blue chip recruits, there are 52, including a ridiculous 10 5 star recruits, who currently play for the Trojans.
The only other Pac-12 teams in terms of overall recruiting talent in the top 20 are UCLA (15), Oregon (17), and Stanford (18). And the number of blue chip recruits they have compared to USC is significant. UCLA has 37, Oregon has 31, and Stanford has 29 on their rosters. When you dig deeper, the gap widens even further. Arizona State has 19, Washington, 16, Cal 15, and Arizona 9.
When those numbers are put out there, it's pretty obvious why many people would jump onto the USC hype train before the season. They are supposed to have better players, and a lot more of them, than the rest of the conference. Even with them only being able to sign 71 players over the last four recruiting classes, they still have far more raw talent than the teams they are competing against. Depth is one thing, but the top end guys are supposed to be difference makers.
Throw that in with arguably the top returning quarterback in the conference in Cody Kessler (with apologies to Jared Goff) and I have to disagree with what Bud Elliott wrote yesterday. It was completely justifiable for people to pick them to win the conference and therefore be a playoff team. In fact, they should still be able to be a playoff team by winning out the rest of the way. The roster has more talent than anyone else they will face this season with Notre Dame being the only team that is close.
Yet, it's probably unlikely that they do run the table. Whether it's coaching strategy, program culture, player development, or something else, there is obviously something missing from the equation when it comes to this program in recent years. (Our Jack Follman goes into it a bit further in this piece he wrote yesterday)
For this current team, it's not just about the sanctions. Even with those, the talent gap should still be significant enough for them to be at or near the top of the conference. But does anyone have confidence they'll win this week on the road against an Arizona State team that hasn't looked all that impressive to start this season? They could blow out the Sun Devils or lose by a couple of touchdowns. Nothing would surprise me with this USC program.
There are other top national programs that aren't close to dominating on the field like they do in recruiting as well. Auburn (6), Michigan (9), and Texas (11) should all be better than they have been this season, but have had problems at quarterback (all three) or are going through program overhauls (Michigan and Texas).
I don't know what the main problem is with USC and maybe it's several problems, but they should be better than they are. The should have beaten a Stanford team that had its own issues. The should be good enough to win out the rest of this season. Should is the key word, though. Should and will are two very different words and it's tough to believe that they will do it even with all of the talent on the roster.