Rice added 17 players to their roster on Wednesday with National Signing Day. Let's take a look at Rice's five year recruiting trends. It's not pretty. Fair warning.
David Bailiff enters his 11th season with his 11th class. Obviously Rice has some constraints that 95% of FBS schools don't with the rigorous academic requirements. Fit is critical. With the academic atmosphere at the school, its size, and lack of historical athletic success Bailiff and his staff aren't able to rundown the ESPN top 300 and offer anyone. If you're going to win at Rice you're going to do it by combining talent evaluation with academic fit.
Thus Bailiff's classes won't look like everyone else's in CUSA or the state. How many other schools have a World Champion Bagpipe Player from Nova Scotia in the fold?
So how does Rice's last five recruiting classes compare on a national, conference, and talent level? Rice's 2017 roster is made up almost entirely of players recruited in that range. A brief disclaimer or two, first, it's recruiting i.e. an inexact science, zero star players go on to great NFL careers. We acknowledge that. But, if you look at trends, especially the top ten to fifteen classes each year you find that schools that recruit that level of talent tend to perform well. Second, we use 24/7 composite rankings for no good reason accept they are easier to track over the date ranges we're looking at.
From a national ranking perspective, if a Group of Five team can fall into the top 70, that's real good. This cycle 6 G5 teams were in the top 70. As a reference point, Mountain West power San Diego State has an average national ranking of 76 in the last five years. They've also won 69% of their games including back to back eleven win seasons in that time. In CUSA Marshall has a composite average of 67 over the last five years. In that time the Herd have won 36 and lost 17, a 68% win percentage even factoring in a three win 2016 campaign.
Western Kentucky is the oddity here. The Hilltoppers have never recruited that well from a rankings perspective, but with Petrino and Brohm at the helm they had a conference best 38 wins in the past four years. These numbers don't tell the whole story obviously with transfers, early defections, hits on lower rated players and whiffs on higher rated players, but they give us a pretty good idea.
Rice's recruiting has taken a bit of a nosedive in the last five years, from a respectable for a CUSA squad 93rd in 2014 to dead freaking last in 2016 and 123rd this season. Rice's five year class average is 109th.
For 2017, CUSA's average from a national perspective was 97th. FAU led the group at 72, UTEP brought up the rear at 128.
Isolating Rice's last five classes as compared to the rest of CUSA the picture doesn't get too much better. The Owl's haven't finished better than 10th in the last three seasons, finishing last in 2016 and second to last in 2017. Since 2013 the Owls have finished a combined 17-15 in league. That includes 2013 and 2014 where Rice went 12-4. Since then the Owls are 5-11.
For a non-P5 school, three stars are the key to success. The P5's are going to take the VAST majority of four and five-star talent. Of 24/7s 335 four or five-star ranked recruits, only six signed outside the Power 5. (BYU grabbed two, Boise, UCF, Cincy, and Memphis each scored one) Great Group of Five schools will land the majority of their recruits in the 3-star range. Boise State has won 75% of their games the past four years and does so by signing classes that are 85% 3-star recruit or higher. PJ Fleck built his Western Michigan juggernaut not by Rowing the Boat, but rather by recruiting better players. In the Bronchos last three seasons almost 60% of their signed classes were 3-Star caliber athletes.
Don't expect the next Western Michigan or Boise to come out of West U. Rice's 2017 class is comprised of only three 3-star recruits or just 18% of it's signing class.