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Talent Development Rankings: Huskies Among Elite For 2014-16 Classes

Was there anyone better in the last half decade than Chris Petersen at helping players reach their potential?

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Peach Bowl - Washington v Alabama Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the last month I’ve put out several articles detailing where Washington has ranked among other programs in the country at getting the most out of their players relative to the recruiting rankings. In case you missed any of it, go back and read my primer explaining my methodology coming up with the rankings, the 2014 retrospective, 2015 retrospective, and 2016 retrospective.

We’re going to bring it all together today by combining all 3 classes. We’ll look at the data 3 different ways: Observed over Expected, Observed minus Expected, and just overall Observed.

Using O/E rankings tells us how many times better a class was than the recruiting rankings suggest should have been expected. For example, if a class was expected to wind up with 30 career score points and instead finished with 60 then they would have an O/E ratio of 2.0. Anything better than 1.0 can be considered above average.

If you read through the previous editions of each individual year then it should come as no surprise whatsoever that Utah finishes at #1 as they were the top team in the country in both 2014 and 2016. The Utes combined were 44th among power conference teams in their expected career score points. For an average coaching staff with that array of talent you would have anticipated exactly 1 All-American and 4 players drafted. Instead, Utah had 6 All-Americans and 11 players drafted.

The Washington Huskies aren’t very far behind them as the Dawgs were 2nd in the country with a more accomplished class but higher expectations. Those 3 classes combined put the Huskies 27th nationally in expected career score and the results were 3.2x better than that.

The rest of the top of the rankings using O/E is filled with several programs that you wouldn’t necessarily consider among college football’s upper crust but are mostly successful with little recruiting clout. Schools like Boston College, Iowa, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Kansas, West Virginia, and Iowa State are in the bottom half of recruiting rankings every year and so a few standout players gets them into the mix.

On the other side of things the bottom end of the rankings for the most part make sense. The bottom team in each conference is: Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Baylor, Arizona, and Vanderbilt. Baylor has had several good seasons but they also went 1-11 in 2017 which is the season that was most informed by these 3 classes. Nebraska is a big name but has gone 28-34 since 2014. And you’d be hard pressed to name very many players who became national stars in the last half decade from Georgia Tech, Arizona, and Vanderbilt other than Khalil Tate who had about 5 spectacular games then burned out like a comet entering the atmosphere.

Now we’ll take a look at the numbers using the surplus rankings which are just the observed career score minus expected career score totals. It’s harder for a school like Kansas to show up near the top of this list because going from bottom of the barrel to slightly below average isn’t good enough.

The Huskies ascend to the top of the rankings using this method and we start to see some programs near the top that are among the true elite of college football. Washington was expected to have 1.8 AP All-Americans, 5.1 1st or 2nd team all-conference players, and 5.7 players drafted. Instead they ended up with 5 All-Americans, 17(!!) all-conference standouts, and 13 draftees.

Clemson rises to the #2 spot with Ohio State, Michigan, and Oklahoma not too far behind. They’re now part of a dynasty under Dabo Swinney and one of the elite recruiting programs in the country. But remember that at the beginning of this run they were viewed as a fringe top-10 to top-15 program and their combined expected career score during this period was just 11th overall.

For the most part though we’ve cut away the plucky overachievers with this ranking format. North Carolina State hasn’t won double digit games since 2002 but has gotten 9 twice since 2014 and had 5 straight winning seasons before this most recent one. Boston College at #10 is the only other one that stands out as a program you wouldn’t call consistently above average during that 5-year stretch before you get to Kansas at #18.

On the flip side this view also has 3 programs that have run away from the pack at the bottom of the rankings. Or maybe more accurately 3 programs that took a long nap in the starting gates while everyone else in the country began running. It’s appalling how badly UCLA, Tennessee, and Florida State mangled their talent advantages from the 2014-16 classes. Those schools were 4th, 7th, and 14th in total expected career score during this 3-year stretch. With average talent development they would have combined for 12 AP All-Americans, 33 all-conference selections, and 37 players drafted.

Instead, they wound up with 3 AP All-Americans, 18 all-conference selections, and 24 players drafted. There were some bright spots. Players that mostly lived up to their billing included: Dalvin Cook, Derek Barnett, Derwin James, Brian Burns, and Josh Rosen. However an astounding 84 players with at least a 0.9 composite rating (clear 4* and above) never made even honorable mention all-conference and were never drafted. Talk about Rock(y Top) Bottom [insert groan here].

Finally we get to the overall career score rankings. These are in no way weighted for expectations. The programs at the top of the list we would expect to be the titans of college football.

And that’s pretty much the case. It’s tough to argue that schools 1 through 3 up above haven’t been the most consistently excellent in the country. At least 2 of those 3 schools have been in the College Football Playoff in all 6 years since its inception and obviously Alabama and Clemson met in the title game 3 years in a row.

Bama had the #1 recruiting class at least by expected career score in each of the 3 seasons included in this analysis and they certainly backed it up by finishing #1 overall in the end. Given where expectations were for them it was almost impossible for Bama to overachieve. And yet they still finished 13th in the surplus rankings.

They finished with 0.5 fewer AP All-Americans than expected but 3.3 more all-conference selections and 8 more draftees. There were plenty of highly ranked players that never got on the field at Alabama but during what may have been the peak of the Saban dynasty if you bet on yourself and ended up playing meaningful minutes at any point there was a good chance you’d make an NFL roster.

Washington’s ranking at #4 on this list would likely come as a surprise to your average college football fan. There’s no question that the next several programs behind them such as LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Georgia all got more hype and with the exception of Michigan have all had higher peaks than the Huskies over the last several years. When it comes to player development it’s clear that Chris Petersen’s teams were either #1 or very close to it. However, when you take into account the level of that development it’s disappointing that Washington went 0-3 with this core in premium bowl games. Part of that is bad luck and small sample sizes but it’s not unreasonable to say that Coach Pete was perhaps the best in the sport at helping players reach their potential but further down the ranks with regards to in-game coaching and preparation.

That concludes our look at the 2014-16 classes. In future off-seasons these rankings will get updated to include the most recent new year of results and hopefully will also include some refinement to the career score formulas. However, the fun isn’t done quite yet. In upcoming editions we’ll have entries on how the Huskies appear to be shaping up in the yet to be concluded 2017-19 classes, which schools have done the best job at recruiting and developing at each position, and some analysis about which positions are most accurately forecasted by the recruiting experts.

If you would like any more details about an individual school’s placement in any of the above charts or the rankings in general please drop them in the comments and I’d be happy to respond.