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Which Conference Improved Its Football Recruiting The Most From 2013 To 2014?

...along with which didn't.

Yesterday, we showed you the 15 teams that had the biggest improvements in recruiting from 2013-14, and the five teams that fell off the most during this recruiting cycle. Today, we examine how the conferences performed as a whole. As a reminder, we averaged the rankings from Scout and Rivals to prepare our data.

Conference

2013 Average

2014 Average

Difference Per Team

ACC

45.93

37.64

+8.29

Conference USA

94.96

92.08

+2.88

Big 12

39.45

36.75

+2.70

Mountain West

92.29

91.00

+1.29

SEC

17.61

18.04

-0.43

Sun Belt

100.71

102.42

-1.71

Pac-12

34.54

37.08

-2.54

MAC

98

101.33

-3.33

Big Ten

38.96

43.00

-4.04

AAC

71.5

76.63

-5.13

ACC:

It may come as a bit of a surprise that the ACC made the biggest gains out of any conference, but between the three teams that are new to the league being able to tout their new affiliation, as well as the Florida State national championship, there are a lot of positives for the league right now. The ACC had the most teams that moved up from the 2013 rankings in 2014 with nine total, and had four of the top ten teams on our list yesterday (Boston College, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Syracuse). National champion Florida State comes in fifth in the conference, moving up from an average ranking of 13 in 2013 to 3.5 this season. Miami, UNC, Duke, and Louisville all saw modest gains as well.

The two teams that drag the ACC’s average down the most are Virginia and Pittsburgh, which finished with averages of 44.5 (down 10.5 from 2013) and 43 (-15). Pitt was able to leverage the ACC move better in 2013 than moving-partner Syracuse, which saw its score rise this year, while Virginia's on-field struggles under coach Mike London have halted a run of strong classes for the Cavaliers.

Conference USA:

Big risers FIU (+28.5) and Louisiana Tech (+15.5) help keep CUSA in the positives as a league. The Panthers and Bulldogs both moved from average rankings of over 100 into the mid-80s, while Middle Tennessee and North Texas each improved by 10.5 spots. Marshall continues to be the class of the league in recruiting, finishing with an average of 64 after last year’s 64.5, 19 spots better than Tulsa, which saw a bit of a decline from 2013, dropping 6.5 spots. Despite winning 10 games this season, ECU dropped 12.5 points in our average rankings from 79 to 91.5, and once-consistent winner Southern Miss suffered Conference USA’s biggest drop, from 77.5 to 93. Southern Miss has won one game in the two seasons since Larry Fedora left for UNC, after winning at least six games every season since 1993.

Big 12:

Texas Tech led the way for the Big 12 this year, and snuck into our Top 15 yesterday, as the Red Raiders tied with Wisconsin for the 15th spot. Kansas State was right behind Tech with an average rise of 15.5. KSU has a unique recruiting strategy that relies on picking up a lot of top junior college players, and the Wildcats landed two four-star JUCOs in Terrell Clinkscales and Dvonta Derricott. Filling classes in with a lot of JUCO players isn’t always a strategy that does well in rankings, but it has helped Bill Snyder win a ton of games in Manhattan, which is obviously what’s really important.

No Big 12 team had a huge fall, and only three programs saw any decline at all—TCU, Kansas, and West Virginia. Despite the move to the Big 12 being fairly fresh, TCU has seen its rankings slip for a few years now, and its Scout/Rivals average fell again this year from 37 to 44.5. Kansas had the biggest drop-off in the league, going from 50.5 to 58.5, after a 3-9 campaign under Charlie Weis. After a disappointing end to 2012, in which West Virginia finished 7-6 after a 5-0 start, WVU had its first losing season since 2001 in 2013 with a 4-8 record. There might be some serious pressure on Dana Holgorsen if he can’t turn things around.

Mountain West:

The MWC and AAC are the two strongest leagues outside of the “Power Five” conferences, and while the AAC had the better recruiting cycle on average, the Mountain West schools did more to improve their rankings on average.

San Jose State finished tied for sixth yesterday, as they surged ahead from a very poor 118 average in 2013 to a more-respectable 89 this year. Nevada (+15.5) and Utah State (+9.5) also made solid gains. 

Only three schools finished with negative numbers, with Boise State suffering the largest drop. The Broncos fell from a 52.5 average in 2013 to 69 in 2014, and you can probably point to the departure of head coach Chris Petersen for the noticeable decline.

SEC:

Showing SEC football with a negative rating in some statistic is sure to draw some ire, but it makes sense in context. The SEC is such a recruiting powerhouse as a whole, that there is very little room to move up. Six of the top 10 schools in our average 2014 rankings are from the SEC, and 10 make it into the top 25.

The schools that do have room for improvement are those at the bottom of the conference standings, and a couple of them did just that. Tennessee’s huge 2014 class saw a meteoric rise of 22.5 places, as covered in yesterday’s post, and Kentucky just missed out on being in the Top 15 after putting together its best class in recent memory. The Wildcats average 2014 class ranking is 19, 15 spots ahead of an impressive 2013 haul.

The usual suspects in the league—Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Georgia, and South Carolina—all saw little-to-no movement in their rankings. These programs consistently recruit well, so there isn’t a ton of wiggle room there.

The biggest drops come from Ole Miss (-10), whose well-publicized 2013 class was one of the nation’s best, Mississippi State (-16), and Vanderbilt (-31), which had the second-biggest fall of any school in the nation.

Sun Belt:

Three Sun Belt teams finished with exactly 15 spot improvements in the average rankings this year: Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, and Louisiana-Monroe. Western Kentucky’s rise to the top of the Sun Belt recruiting rankings is even more impressive considering the loss of Bobby Petrino to Louisville after just one season at WKU. Louisiana-Lafayette, which finished with the league’s best record after pulling in the top Sun Belt recruiting class in 2013, saw the biggest fall in 2014, plummeting 22 spots from 78.5 to 100.5.

PAC-12:

A few Pac-12 schools had huge signing days, but the league as a whole tailed off a bit in 2014. Stanford was the nation’s big winner in terms of a year-to-year rise, and led the Pac-12 by a significant margin. Arizona State parlayed its Pac-12 South championship and 10-4 record into a 12.5 spot gain from 2013. The announced Sun Devil Stadium upgrades, which made waves on the internet a few weeks ago, probably didn’t hurt either. USC always recruits well, and got a late bump when highly coveted recruits Adoree Jackson, Damien Mama, and Juju Smith all committed to the Trojans on Wednesday.

Five Pac-12 schools saw drops of at least 12 spots from the 2013 rankings: Cal, UCLA, Utah, Washington State, and Washington. For UCLA, the fall from 5.5 to 19 is likely a case of being unable to maintain such a high ranking for two straight years, but Bruins fans should not fret. Utah (-19) and Wazzu (-19.5) have a bit more to worry about, as they’ve struggled to get a foothold in the league. Declines in recruiting will not help. Washington experienced the Pac-12’s worst decline, falling from a 15.5 average in 2013 to 36 in 2014. Steve Sarkisian may have been more of a problem for UW recruiting than his departure wound up being. Only two players that committed to Sarkisian wound up signing with the Huskies, while Chris Petersen was able to lock up 21 players after taking the job on December 9.

MAC: 

Yesterday we discussed the huge strides made by PJ Fleck and Western Michigan in the face of a 1-11 record. The rest of the league was not as impressive on National Signing Day. Buffalo (+7.5), Ball State (+5), and Northern Illinois (+4.5) all parlayed strong seasons into modest advancements on the recruiting front, but Bowling Green, which knocked off then-undefeated NIU in the MAC Championship, fell 14 spots after losing head coach Dave Clawson to Wake Forest. Six MAC schools fell by double-digit spots, with Central Michigan experiencing the league’s biggest decline at -22.

Big Ten:

The Big Ten is well-represented by both teams that made big gains and those that fell off significantly. Only three of the league’s members remain within 10 spots of their 2013 team rankings. After Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin, which were all represented in the our Top 15 programs with the greatest recruiting gains, Minnesota also saw a solid jump from 67.5 to 52 after Jerry Kill (and his staff) led the team to an 8-5 record and a Texas Bowl berth.

On the flip side, seven schools saw significant drops. After a disappointing injury-riddled 5-7 season, Northwestern slid 12.5 spots. Despite the fact that they are joining the Big 10 next season, both Maryland (-16.5) and Rutgers (-18) saw big drop-offs, which is interesting since both moves are perceived to be big conference upgrades for those programs. At -19, Nebraska slides in just ahead of Michigan and Illinois, which were both among the Top 5 in the nation in ranking decline. 

AAC: 

Overall, the American Athletic Conference teams fared decently well on the recruiting trail, with four teams seeing a rise in their recruiting. Temple’s improvement was among the best in the nation (17.5), while South Florida (+11) and Memphis (+10) both saw modest gains as well. Interestingly, these three schools finished at the bottom of the conference standings in 2013, and combined for just seven wins total.

However, no conference would have been able to overcome the precipitous drop of UConn, which fell 54 spots from 62.5 to 116.5 from 2013 to 2014. Without UConn's number, the AAC would have finished at +5.92 as a conference, which would have been second best in the nation behind the ACC. Add in Houston’s fifth-worst -22.5 fall, and the AAC comes out at the bottom among all 10 conferences when it comes to the difference in recruiting from 2013 to 2014.