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How much do recruiting rankings correlate to wins in the Mountain West?

Jordan Love
Utah State has overcome lower recruiting rankings to win the third most games in the Mountain West since 2013 by finding gems like Jordan Love. (Wade Denniston/Utah State athletics)

National signing day has come and gone in college football and while teams might still add a player or two (Nevada still has one available scholarship), the recruiting rankings are more or less set. As you might expect, Boise State reeled in the top class among Mountain West teams for the 10th straight season, per 247Sports' rankings. UNLV, under first-year coach Marcus Arroyo, put together the second-best class. Nevada's class ranked 11th out of 12 MW teams and 123rd nationally (there are 130 FBS teams). How much does this mean? I've never been a fan of recruiting rankings given how often heralded recruits flame out (see Malik Henry) and under-recruited prospects turn into stars (see Joel Bitonio).

Do recruiting rankings matter? I took a look. I went through the last 10 recruiting classes of all 12 MW schools (from 2010-19) prior to this season and ranked the teams in terms of their average recruiting rank. I then compiled the numbers of wins each team has had since 2013 when the MW formed its current membership. I went back to 2010-12 for the recruiting classes because those players would have formed much of the teams in the 2013-15 seasons. Here is the breakdown of where each MW team ranked in recruiting class from 2010-19 along with their wins since 2013.

1. Boise State – 72 wins (first in MW)

2. San Diego State – 64 wins (second in MW)

3. Colorado State – 46 wins (sixth in MW)

4. Fresno State – 47 wins (fifth in MW)

5. Nevada – 41 wins (tied for seventh in MW)

6. Hawaii – 36 wins (ninth in MW)

7. San Jose State – 27 wins (12th in MW)

8. New Mexico – 31 wins (10th in MW)

9. UNLV – 29 wins (11th in MW)

10. Utah State – 52 wins (third in MW)

11. Air Force – 51 wins (fourth in MW)

12. Wyoming – 41 wins (tied for seventh in MW)

The recruiting rankings have been somewhat predictive. Boise State has had the highest average recruiting class and lead the MW in wins. San Diego State has had the second-best classes and is No. 2 in wins. But things break down after that. Utah State is third in wins since 2013 but have had the 10th-best classes. Air Force is fourth in wins with the second-worst recruiting classes. Wyoming has had the worst classes, per the rankings, but is mid-pack in wins (tied for seventh).

The biggest underachievers are San Jose State, which is No. 7 in recruiting class but have the fewest wins. Colorado State also struggles to meet expectations, rankings third in recruiting classes and sixth in wins. UNLV, New Mexico and Nevada have underachieved their recruiting ranks, each placing two spots lower in wins compared to their recruiting rankings. While the top-end classes of Boise State and San Diego State have produced the most wins, the recruiting rankings don't hold firm thereafter, especially when you look at Utah State, Air Force and Wyoming. The difference between recruiting classes and win with those programs are stark.

Should you put much stock into the recruiting rankings? They matter to a degree, but a team's future clearly is not defined by what happens on signing day.

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