Clemson Tigers: Recipe of Champions (Recruiting) Part III

The final ingredient to a recipe of champions is the players that choose to come to Clemson University. As the well-known football saying goes, “It’s about Jimmies and Joes, not X’s and O’s”. Any college football team needs depth and talent in order to compete for conference and national championships, and recruiting is how the players are acquired. Since there is no draft, it is up to coaches to convince teenagers into playing for their program for the next few years. Once the players are on campus, the coaches must help the players develop to the best of their ability. While rankings don’t matter once you are on campus, the talent base a team draws in has a correlation to their level of success. Regardless, recruiting is the lifeblood college football and if you can’t recruit, you can’t coach.

In order to fully appreciate how far Clemson football has come, lets take a look at the recruiting classes from 2002 onwards (when data was consistently available). It is worth noting that in 2001, Clemson signed the third best player in the country in WR Roscoe Crosby whom had a mental breakdown and did not pan out. Here is a chart of the recruiting classes from 2002 until 2008, when Coach Tommy Bowden was fired. The data is drawn from 247Sports Composite Rankings:

Year National ACC 5 Star 4 Star 3 Star Total
2002 29 5 0 3 13 21
2003 43 9 0 2 14 18
2004 46 10 0 3 9 22
2005 18 4 0 2 18 25
2006 13 3 2 4 13 22
2007 17 5 0 4 14 24
2008 10 2 1 8 12 23

Swinney first came to Clemson in 2003 and was the WR coach and recruiting coordinator. It is obvious that it took some adjustment for him to get the hang of the job because the 2003 and 2004 classes were mediocre. It appears that in 2005 he finally found his niche, because he pulled in top twenty classes ever since. The trend setter of the five stars was CJ Spiller, and in 2006 he proved that it was okay for a five star (especially from out of state) to sign with Clemson. Teams will not regularly contend for the ACC with 9th and 10th ranked (in the conference) classes, let alone national championships. However, a few top five conference classes in a row will enable a team to compete for the conference and begin to become relevant on the national stage. Keep in mind that this was while Coach Bowden was the head coach. The next chart shows the recruiting classes throughout Coach Swinney’s tenure:

Year National ACC 5 Star 4 Star 3 Star Total
2009 31 5 0 5 6 13
2010 28 4 0 2 18 23
2011 10 2 3 6 17 28*
2012* 15 3 0 7 13 20
2013 15 3 1 10 10 22
2014 17 3 0 10 8 18
2015 9 2 3 9 12 26*
2016 11 2 1 12 7 20

*2012 is sourced from Rivals, which uses a different ranking system. This means that this is not the same data set as the other years, and is here to provide an idea of the recruiting class.

**This at first appears to exceed the 25 per year limit, but there is an NCAA rule stating that you can ‘gray shirt’ a player (delay his enrollment) in order to have him count for the next year’s class numbers. This is why these class sizes were allowed.

The first year’s class in nicknamed “Dabo’s Dandy Dozen”, because after he took over as the interim, only a dozen players came (13 was a long snapper). This shows how Clemson has developed conference contending classes year after year, and what is important is the increase in four star players. Along with coaching, this is why Clemson beats most of the conference soundly every year: if Clemson executes on the field, the Tigers’ talent and depth will take over the game and earn Clemson the win. Five star players are extremely rare, and any team is lucky to win over a composite five-star player. Four star players are what seperates the contenders from the pretenders in recruiting when aiming to be at the level Clemson is at. This is not to minimize three star players, because many great starters are found among them. However, four stars usually comprise the top talent in any given recruiting class and they are more numerous. An imperfect (but useful) analogy would be, “You win because of four star players, and you win with three star players.”

To compete on a national level, a different level of depth is required. While Clemson is approaching this level, it has not cemented itself on the level that Alabama has. To take a look at how Alabama has recruited lately; go to (http://alabama.247sports.com/Season/2016-Football/Commits). A quick look at this shows that Alabama has five stars every year, and the bulk of its class is four stars with three stars rounding out the classes. The best way to summarize this is that within the starting 22, Clemson and Alabama have a roughly equal talent base. When you look at the two and three deep, Alabama’s depth stands out and beats Clemson’s depth. This is not to say that Clemson cannot beat a team the caliber of Alabama. Florida State recruits just as well as Alabama (http://floridastate.247sports.com/Season/2016-Football/Commits) and Clemson beat Florida State last year while taking Alabama down to the wire. All that this means is that Clemson has to play an A+ game and seize the day for a win. The future of Clemson recruiting looks extremely bright and it looks as if Clemson will start recruiting at the Alabama level soon (http://clemson.247sports.com/Season/2017-Football/Commits).

The other encouraging piece of news is that lower ranked players (three stars especially) can still turn into great players. Lots of Clemson’s three stars have played above their ranking, showing that Clemson has a great eye for talent and a great method for developing players. This is extremely helpful and it helps us contend for the national title year in and year out. While recruiting rankings are extremely important, what matters more is what the players do on campus, not in a recruiting showcase. The goal is to find talented players that will improve and take your team to the next level – the final ingredient in a Recipe of Champions.

Back to Part II

*Top image is snapshot of website: http://www.clemsontigers.com/SportSelect.dbml