There's a new sheriff in San Antonio, his name is Frank Wilson and he's here to bring order and talented recruits to the River City. The rest of CUSA is taking note. Frank ain't playing. Let's look at his 2017 class and UTSA's five year trend.
A disclaimer or two to start...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 a high level of talent tend to perform well. So, yes, better players yield better results. Plus we assess talent much better now than five or ten years ago. Swag parties like the Opening, regional combines, and satellite camps give better exposure and lead to better evaluations than ever before. Elite recruits and even everyday Joe's are poked, prodded, timed and measured. Unlike the old days when an in-home or on-campus visits were the first opportunity to see if the 6'3 290 pound guard is actually 6'1 220, most players are tracked from their sophomore year or before. The wind aided coach's stopwatch has been replaced by electronic timing and game tape is more readily available than ever before.
Are there misses? Sure, but the misses don't mitigate the fact that recruiting is the life blood of any program nor do they undermine the evaluative advances. We'll go a step further, if you recruit better than league brethren, from the Fun Belt to the SEC, you're likely beating those conference partners on the regular. Lastly, we use 24/7 composite rankings for no good reason accept they are easier to track over the date ranges we're looking at.
Frank Wilson came on late in the 2016 recruiting cycle but he came to UTSA as a bonafide recruiting legend. He rose from the high school ranks to become one of Ed Orgeron's and Les Miles' top lieutenants charged with bringing elite, SEC level talent to Ole Miss and LSU. That's the deep end of the pool. In 2015 Texas A&M put together the number 11 class in the country, a pretty good class for A&M. That was good enough for fourth in the SEC West. When you're top 12 in the country but you're staring up at 3/4 of your division, that's cut throat, do or die stuff. That's the environment Wilson came from, the world he lived in.
At UTSA meanwhile, things were different. Larry Coker had been the steward of a Miami mini-dynasty before coming to a start-up in UTSA. Coker's first game against a Division II opponent drew 50,000 plus in a city starved for college football. By 2015 the honeymoon was ending. UTSA recruiting had never broken triple digits in terms of rankings. And for as genius a hire Coker was to start the program, by most metrics the Roadrunners had bogged down.
Enter Frank Wilson and in year two, with a full year to develop relationships with players, coaches, even office administrators, UTSA signed a historically good class. A full 30 spots higher than UTSA's previous best class. The number 1 or 2 class in CUSA, a height the Runners had never even sniffed. Prior to 2017, UTSA best finish in CUSA was ninth, twice.
Translating into winning
If our not-so-revolutionary hypothesis is that better recruiting directly translates into wins, the CUSA is a nice test subject. In CUSA Marshall has a composite average of 62 from 2013 to 2016 years. In that time the Herd have won 22 and lost 10 conference games, a 68% win percentage even factoring in a two win 2016 conference campaign. 22 wins is tied with Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee for the most win during that time period. (We've removed Western Kentucky, Old Dominion, Charlotte, and UAB from the chart as none have played four years in league.) Louisiana and Middle Tennessee finished second and fourth in average recruiting ranking from 2013-2016. The outlier is Southern Miss, who endured a 2-14 conference stretch despite recruiting numbers that were in the top four. They've gone 11-5 since.
Back to UTSA, The Roadrunners overachieved a bit with their 17 conference wins, a number that includes 6 conference wins 2013. Last season UTSA arguably overachieved as well, making a bowl game and finishing second in the CUSA West. If Wilson is successful in turning over his roster and maintaining the schematic advantage he enjoyed in 2016, the future is bright for UTSA.
Three Star Talent
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.
UTSA's history of attracting 3-Star talent is spotty at best. In the last five years the Roadrunners, like most of their CUSA brethren, have failed to sign significant numbers of 3-star or better athletes. The five year low came in 2014 when the Runners signed just two 3-star players in a classes that ranked dead last in CUSA and 126th nationally. That number/percentage has slowly risen. Wilson's 2016 class actually was somewhat historic in it's own right as 44% of his athletes were 3-star or better.
This cycle he and his staff knocked it out of the park with 65% of the 2017 Roadrunner class evaluated at a 3-star level or seventeen of twenty-six new additions. Coker's last three classes combined for seventeen 3-stars. By the way, four of the top five classes in terms of most 3-star talent in CUSA the past seven years were signed by FAU, UTSA, and Southern Miss this season. You have to go back to two mammoth Southern Miss classes in 2009 and 2010 to find a year when more 3-stars came to CUSA.
Does all this mean that UTSA is suddenly a Group of Five juggernaut? No, but based on projected ability alone, this may be UTSA's most talented roster in school history. More importantly, if Wilson a) stays in San Antonio and b) continues at his current pace, the Roadrunners are going to cause Conference USA and anyone else who puts them on the docket a lot of problems.