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How is BYU recruiting compared to the rest of their 2016 schedule?

BYU could have a good 2016 recruiting class lined up, but how does it compare to who they'll be playing next season?

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BYU has finished up one of their biggest recruiting weekends of the season now, and even casual followers of recruiting are starting to look towards the upcoming National Signing Day to see how BYU finishes off the 2016 class. The year's group looks to have a little stronger star power at the top than in the past few classes (Troy Warner is a four-star player ranked in the top 300 recruits in the country, and JUCO DT Handsome Tanielu also has a four-star designation), but with multiple spots still open, and with BYU's coaching staff still a bit in flux, it's hard to say exactly where the class will end up once the dust settles.

As of Sunday, per the 247 Composite rankings, BYU has 13 members in the class, good for a 153.00 composite score, and a ranking of 60th in the country. That relatively lower national ranking is more a reflection of the fact that BYU's class is smaller right now than most others in the country (Western Michigan, , ranked two spots above BYU, for example, has 25 commits), and depending on how many kids BYU is able to take this year, it could rise a bit more, even if the Cougars aren't able to flip another elite prospect to join this group.

Those star rankings aren't a 100% perfect indicator of BYU's, or any other program's talent level, but they do matter, and can tell us quite a bit about program depth, or which players are more likely to grow into consistent, high-level contributors. BYU may have a good chance of finishing with a decent class, but what about their opponents next year? After all, finishing with a class in the mid 50's, is fine, but if you're playing against ten teams with classes in the 20s and 30s, it could be a problem.

We went ahead and crunched the numbers, comparing BYU's ranking with the recruiting rankings over the last four seasons for everybody on their 2016 schedule, with the exception of Southern Utah. Let's just assume that BYU has a higher talent level than an FCS program. Here's what the data shows (as of 1/23), with some explanations below

SCHOOL 2016 Rating 2016 # of Blue Chips 2015 Rating 2015 # of Blue Chips 2014 Rating 2014 # Blue Chips 2013 Rating 2013 # Blue Chips Average Rating Total # of blue chips
BYU 153 2 165.21 0 160.55 1 153.42 1 158.046 4
Arizona 162.74 2 186.56 1 211.66 4 186.75 1 186.93 8
Utah 192.57 1 183.29 0 160.27 1 180.94 0 179.27 2
UCLA 230.72 7 268.66 13 239.47 9 276.26 19 253.78 48
West Virginia 177.09 2 197.43 3 196.51 2 200.75 1 192.45 8
Toledo 123.41 0 134.06 0 117.53 0 144 1 129.75 1
Michigan State 237.79 10 222.45 5 217.41 4 194.39 4 218.01 23
Mississippi State 170.96 1 238 7 200.03 3 212.84 5 205.46 16
Boise State 139.45 0 171.45 1 159.21 1 172.95 0 160.77 2
Cincinnati 119.85 0 163.32 0 166.11 0 159.05 0 152.09 0
UMass 94.19 0 120.17 0 90.2 0 118.77 0 105.83 0
Utah State 93.11 0 162.23 0 97.71 0 105.32 0 114.59 0

A few quick takeaways, and notes to make sense of what all this means:

  • One, it goes without saying that we need to take the 2016 data with a grain of salt, since that class isn't finished yet. I'm not expecting BYU's class rating to jump 20 points or anything, but even small tweaks could make differences in the data. Kids can flip at any time before NSD, after all.
  • Based on this data, seven teams that BYU plays in 2016 have recruited at a higher level than BYU over the last four years. Depending on how 2016 class shakes out for BYU and Boise State, that could shrink to six. The two programs are very close to each other, and BYU probably finishes higher in 2016.
  • The fact that UMass and Utah State recruit at very similar levels was surprising to me, seeing as UMass is one of the very worst football programs in all of FBS, and Utah State clearly isn't. To see such a disparity on the field tells me that either UMass has done a very poor job at coaching and talent development, Utah State has overachieved relative to their talent level, or some combination of the two.
  • Five programs recruited at a higher level than BYU on the 2015 schedule (Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, Michigan and Missouri), with Boise State being the closest to BYU's level. BYU went 2-3 in those games, with the two wins requiring, well, you know. You watched them.
Tracking four year recruiting data is a good back of the napkin way to track overall talent level for 2016, but it isn't perfect. After all, many of the players, especially blue chip players, recruited in the 2013 class could be off to the NFL, and won't be playing in 2016. Others who were recruited might transfer, or otherwise not be on the roster. Recruiting data also doesn't tell you about players who joined the program via transfer. Cincinnati, after all, hasn't recruited a blue chip player, but QB Gunner Kiel, who transferred in from Notre Dame, was a five-star.

247 has another tool to help approximate the overall talent level of a roster, while taking this into account. It's called the Team Talent Composite, which assigns a number based on the weighted prospect rankings of the entire roster. The 2016 edition isn't finished yet (that will happen after National Signing Day), but if you want a back of the napkin approximation of where BYU stands, here's what those numbers looked like last year for the teams BYU faces.

Talent Composite Rankings Rating Rank # Blue Chips
UCLA 810.51 16 36
Michigan State 728.45 23 19
Mississippi State 703.39 26 17
West Virginia 639.53 41 9
Arizona 621.55 43 9
Utah 587.97 50 6
BYU 574.81 53 6
Boise State 567.63 55 4
Cincinnati 537.98 62 2
Toledo 433.9 82 0
Utah State 348.42 109 0
Massachusetts 342.53 110 0

Again, that's the 2015 data. UCLA is losing a ton of players to the NFL draft, as is Michigan State, so those numbers won't be the same, but given recruiting trajectories, this order is probably about what it will be for 2016 too.

These numbers illustrate why many think BYU's 2016 schedule will be their hardest yet. Even if you take Boise out of the equation, BYU will face six teams that by most measures, will have more talented rosters up and down the field, and are bringing in talent at a superior clip. Some of those talent gaps are small (Utah), some project to be much bigger (UCLA, Michigan State). And it's not like the other teams are cupcakes either. Boise, Cincinnati, Toledo and Utah State all made bowls last season, and three of them beat P5 programs last year. They're all well coached, and could beat BYU if the Cougars play poorly or are unlucky.

And then they're UMass. Sorry, Umass. You're probably going to lose no matter what.

That isn't to say that BYU will lose every game they face against teams that recruit better than they do. After all, BYU beat two of those programs last year and came very close to beating both UCLA (who probably won't be as good in 2016), and Missouri. In fact, I think there is a good argument that nearly every single one of those teams BYU plays in 2016 will be worse than they were in 2015. I don't think any of them, on paper, are unbeatable.

But the math shows that teams that recruit better players, over time, beat the teams with worse players more often. This trend has borne out with BYU over recent seasons as well. BYU's depth will certainly be tested over the course of the 2016 season, even if this schedule isn't quite as hard as it looks, and for BYU to win nine games or more, they'll need to beat the odds. That isn't impossible. Ask Utah, Kansas State or Michigan State, rare programs that have found ways to do this in recent years. But it is very hard.

BYU's ability to raise their talent level via recruiting will be even more important over the years, as their Independent schedules get tougher and tougher. Can BYU find a way to recruit at a different level, now that they have a new coaching staff? Can they find ways to beat the odds in 2016 and beyond?

We'll have to see. But either way, this year's National Signing Day should be very interesting.