Commentary

Programs closing the elite talent gap

Stanford, MSU, A&M, Texas Tech and UCLA are gaining ground on the nation's best

Updated: February 7, 2012, 2:20 PM ET
By Brian Fremeau | Football Outsiders
Tommy TubervilleMatthew Emmons/US PresswireTommy Tuberville has quietly assembled one of the Big 12's most talented programs.

National signing day is in the rearview mirror and we'll have to be patient before we get to see any of the nation's best recruits hit the field. Still, the seeds of future national championship programs have been planted. Even if we can't count on perfect results, the expectations for college football's power class remain lofty.

Expectations are rising for the second tier as well. Programs like Stanford and Michigan State are turning solid, surprising seasons on the field into recruiting successes off the field. But what will it take to officially break through into the elite, ruling class?

It isn't a coincidence that the top programs in the country consistently draw the top recruits. We use five-year weighted measures as the foundation of our projections at Football Outsiders. The teams at the top of the Program FEI list overlap the teams at the top of the recruiting rankings year in and year out. That's partly due to geography and other factors, but it's largely due to the top athletes seeking out other top athletes with whom to compete.

As we discussed a couple of weeks back, recruiting success isn't any kind of guarantee of wins and losses on the field, but it helps. Based on multiyear recruiting success, we picked the Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks to be on the verge of a breakthrough heading into last season. The following five teams won't field a roster full of elite athletes like their conference brethren, but they are closing the gap.

Stanford Cardinal

PFEI: No. 10
Weighted recruiting rating: No. 25
2012 ESPN recruiting class rank: No. 12

Stanford made the most of the Andrew Luck era, appearing in back-to-back BCS bowl games and winning 31 games over the past three seasons with Luck at the helm. For a program that was at the bottom of the Pac-12 only a short time ago, it has been a dramatic climb. The question is whether that momentum can be sustained going forward.

Brian Fremeau

ESPN Insider
• Has been a contributor to ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine since 2009
• Creator of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a measure of college football team efficiency
• Contributor to Football Outsiders and his own site, bcftoys.com