Everett Withers signed a historic class at Texas State last Wednesday. Looking beyond that, how have the Bobcat's performed in the past five seasons? Glad you asked, let's take a look.
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.
Withers came in late in 2015 and immediately set about turning over his roster, with a late start the result was the worst class in four years. Not surprising when a new coach comes in at or near the December dead period. From a recruiting rankings standpoint you could argue Franchione didn't do poorly, but his last three years his teams won 44% of their games including a 3-9 2015 that cost him his job. Still his classes were consistently top five in the Sun Belt.
This 2017 class is fully Withers. He had a year to plus to put the class together and at the end of the day, it is, by the numbers the most talented class in Texas State history. Just like Withers promised.
The Sun Belt is Bananas
I don't know how else to put it. The Sun Belt is bananas. Typical prognosticative indicators don't matter. Two of the three winningest programs over the past three years both elevated from the FCS in that time. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern arrived from the FCS and promptly started kicking the hell out of everybody. Georgia Southern took a step back this season once Willie Fritz left for Tulane, but they've still won 62% of their games. In fact in year one of the Eagles' existence in the Sun Belt they ran the table. You could argue that both schools weren't FBS level FCS programs, but they still had to increase numbers and compete day and day out vs. established Sun Belt squads. They not only competed, but turned the conference on its ear.
Add to that, two schools that have been invited to leave in Idaho and New Mexico State. Idaho, for whatever reason has decided to start winning games as they head out the door. New Mexico State? Well, they continue to do New Mexico State things.
We bring all this up to tell you that recruiting rankings simply haven't mattered as much in the Sun Belt. Troy won 10 games in 2016 with one class that broke triple digits the preceding four seasons. App. State in spite of their success including back to back 10 plus win seasons and 74% winning percentage has recruited one class that was ranked better than 109th.
It doesn't work like that in other leagues.
As a reference point, Mountain West power Boise State consistently ranks first in league in recruiting, with an average class ranking of 65. That translates to 75% win percentage. 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 CUSA Marshall has a composite average of 67 over the last five years, easily the best in league. In that time the Herd have won 36 and lost 17, a 68% win percentage even factoring in a three win 2016 campaign.
Spanning college football, the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, there is a correlation between class rank i.e. perceived or real quality of athletes and winning. The Sun Belt, particularly when it applies to Texas State, bucks that trend. The Bobcats have the best five year class average from a ratings standpoint, but a 38% four-year winning percentage.
Did Franchione miss on guys? Yep. Have there been transfers, academic casualties, etc? Yep. But this program should be further along. Maybe Withers gets them there. There is reason for hope.
A better brand of athlete
For a Non-Power 5 school, three stars are the key to success. The Power 5'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 Broncos last three seasons almost 60% of their signed classes were 3-Star caliber athletes.
Withers and his staff were able to sign 11 three star rated recruits, or 46% of their class. That's the most in the Sun Belt and the most the Bobcats have ever signed. That number also continues a trend upwards of accumulating three star talent.
Three star recruits aren't the be all in all, but they are an indicator of how well you're perceived and or how you're able to compete for higher regarded recruits. If you believe the offer lists on the recruiting websites, Texas State beat out Texas Tech, Houston, Purdue, Illinois, Navy, Air Force, and SMU for the services of players on the Bobcat's list. Were it not for a couple late defections, this class would have been even better.
The average player rating for Withers' class this cycle was .795 according to 24/7. That's within striking distance of schools like SMU, South Florida, San Diego State and Navy. None of those teams had to recruit after a two win season. So we know Withers can sell, even in the worst of times.
Texas State is headed in the right direction, even after a disastrous start to the Withers era. Will the administration have the patience to let Withers put three or four of these classes together and get the program turned around? We'd hope so. Withers has been very clear that the only way this program turns around is through turning over the roster with better players. The 2017 class is a step in the right direction.