6 teams that dramatically outperformed their roster talent in 2020
Signing Day is Wednesday, so let’s start with an unwritten rule/reminder: For most teams, there is no straight-line correlation between team recruiting rankings and the final conference standings.
Clearly, 4 programs have separated themselves from the pack: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia all were in the top 4 teams in terms of roster talent, according to 247Sports.com. Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State made the Playoff.
But Texas was No. 5. USC was No. 10. Texas finished 7-3 and ranked No. 19. USC finished 5-1 and No. 21. But we’re not going to focus on the underachievers.
Today, in comparing the talent rankings to actual AP rankings, these 6 teams stood out as overachievers. That’s worth circling, considering their recruiting ranking won’t create headlines Wednesday.
A few things to know before you scoff at the Scarlet Knights’ 3-6 record:
- Rutgers won 3 games (each vs. Group of 5) combined in the previous 2 seasons.
- Rutgers hadn’t won a Big Ten game since 2017.
- Rutgers had never won more than 3 Big Ten games since joining the conference in 2014.
Greg Schiano did all of that in Year 1 with a roster that ranked No. 61 nationally and a distant last in the Big Ten.
Pick an obstacle, the Tigers overcame it in 2020. First-year head coach, rotating quarterbacks early, an all-SEC schedule, etc.
Missouri’s roster talent ranked No. 50 in 2020 — 13th in the SEC and just a few spots ahead of Vanderbilt. The Tigers had the same number of 4- and 3-star players (72) as the Commodores yet managed an impressive 5-5 campaign, highlighted by a victory over 2019 national champion LSU.
Before you dismiss the Bearcats as a Group of 5 team, remember that they very nearly took down Georgia in the Peach Bowl. And before you dismiss that game as the result of several Georgia players opting out, remember that Georgia had 67 blue-chip players (4- and 5-stars) on its roster in 2020. JT Daniels, Zamir White and George Pickens were among the 5-stars who played.
Cincinnati had a grand total of 7 4-star players on a roster that ranked No. 59 overall.
What a year for Tom Allen’s Hoosiers.
There were all kinds of firsts or first-time-in-decades achievements.
The Hoosiers were picked to finish 4th in the B1G East and very nearly upset Ohio State.
They did so with a roster that ranked No. 53 — sandwiched between Duke (2-9) and Vanderbilt (0-9).
IU finished 6-2 with a No. 12 ranking — its best since the 1967 Rose Bowl team finished No. 4.
Over the past decade, nobody in America has done more with less than the Wildcats, who again reached the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Wildcats’ roster talent ranked No. 48. The 2020 roster included just 1 5-star player and 3 4-star players.
That doesn’t need much context, but just for kicks, here’s how the Cats compared with the other Power 5 teams that reached their conference title game:
- ACC: Clemson No. 4, Notre Dame No. 8
- Big Ten: Ohio State No. 3, Northwestern No. 48
- Big 12: Oklahoma No. 9, Iowa State No. 57
- Pac-12: USC No. 10, Oregon No. 12
- SEC: Alabama No. 2, Florida No. 7
1. Iowa State
Remember, this is a 2020 ranking. Northwestern might hold the edge as the decade’s grand overachiever, but Iowa State held the honor in 2020.
Iowa State has never won 10 games in a season. Matt Campbell’s 5th year was his best yet, as the Cyclones finished 9-3 and a program-high No. 9 with a roster that included 0 5-stars, only 4 4-stars and 74 3-stars.
Want a quick comparison? Vanderbilt’s roster had more talent.
The trick for Campbell is to keep raising the roof. That won’t be easy.
There hasn’t been much of a recruiting bump. This year’s class heads into Wednesday’s Signing Day ranked No. 53 — 1 spot below Northwestern. Each member of the class is a 3-star — and the roster still doesn’t include a single 5-star.