Rivals released their "Top 25 Recruiting Schools" list today, and there are multiple ways to look at the numbers, but in the end, when you look at the numbers and factor out some "known quantities", the link between recruiting rankings and results on the field doesn't really stand up. Ten of the schools in the top 25 of "recruiting" the last ten years have significantly underwhelmed on the field, with a winning percentage ranked much lower than their recruiting would indicate. Ten schools not on the Rivals list did show up in the top 25 schools in terms of winning percentage over the last decade, meaning that, well, the link is hard to fathom.
If you look at the top five, you could theoretically try to make a correlation: Southern Cal, Florida, and Texas all have had great success in both recruiting and on the field, but take a step back. All three schools sit in talent-rich areas, so it's tough for them NOT to have a good recruiting class. Look back ten years ago at USC and Texas; both schools were considered top recruiting schools, yet both languished on the field. So it wasn't recruiting that improved those schools, it was coaching. Both schools have always recruited well, no matter who was the coach. (Can you say John Mackovic?) But what about Florida, you say? They were good in the 90's, so that disproves my theory, right? Not really. Florida was a really good team under Spurrier, not so good under Ron Zook, and unbelievably good under Urban Meyer. All three recruited well. But there's a reason why Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer are considered coaching legends, and that Ron Zook is considered, well, the Zooker.
Big Red Network took the perspective that the rankings are just fine, it's just the coaches that underperformed. I suppose you could look at it that way, if there evidence the recruiting rankings had merit. We see this all the time: some of the Rivals top players turn out to be great, sometimes they are busts. It's about a 50/50 split. Does anybody still believe that Harrison Beck was a four-star pro-style quarterback? How about Marlon Lucky as the five-star "next Adrian Peterson" We saw this same situation in 2007 when Terry Bowden compared the recruiting rankings with the 2007 final results.
This isn't to suggest that it doesn't take talent to win football games; that's absolutely false. The question is, do services like Rivals accurately rate talent? Sometimes they do; sometimes they don't. The relationship simply isn't there, except in ancedotal instances. In the 2010 NFL draft, 18 four-and-five star recruits went in the first round. 13 were two or three star recruits. One wasn't even ranked by the recruiting services. Everywhere you look, the results of recruiting services are the same: inconclusive.
I suppose, in the end, it is the coaches that actually did underperform. Some coaches, like Nebraska's Bill Callahan, made the same bad calls on talent that the recruiting services made. In the end, they paid the price with their jobs. However, the recruiting services don't seem to pay the price; they still get more and more people to buy into their services.