Evaluating on-campus team talent
Earlier this week, 247Sports released a new recruiting ranking tool that relies on the years of data collected for the popular 247Sports Composite. This new ranking, the 247Sports College Talent Composite, is intended to account for the level of talent actually present on each college campus, by amalgamating individual talent rankings for enrolled players and then distributing those rankings using a Gaussian (Bell curve) formula.
Based on that [Gaussian] distribution, the top 40 percent of each roster based on their prospect ratings account for roughly 80 percent of the team's point total. This formula (as opposed to a simple average of player ratings) allows us to tell a more representative story of each team's talent.
In essence, we're saying that the top 40 percent of a roster represents the players that make the most impact on the game and are therefore weighted more than the back half of the roster which generally consists of redshirts, scout team players and special teams contributors. Our formula also contends that the highest rated prospects in every class will have a disproportionate positive impact than any negative impact that lower rated prospects may have.
Recruiting ranking limitations and caveats
It's important to remember here that relying on recruiting rankings to measure total roster talent has all of the limitations of relying on recruiting rankings to measure individual talent-- LaDarrell McNeil's four stars count quite a bit more than Cam Sutton's three stars in both rankings. In addition, while 247Sports has done yeoman's work in keeping track of player movement, they make no effort to track or weight by class year or whether or not a player starts. Once a player steps foot on campus, his recruiting ranking follows him in full, as we should expect from a system designed to capture talent with high school rankings. Teams that rely on player development, like Missouri, will tend to be underrated, and teams that have underperforming but highly rated talent, like Texas, will tend to be overrated. Despite these flaws at the margin, recruiting rankings are still generally predictive of future performance.
Evaluating Tennessee's roster
The Vols currently have 85 scholarship players: a single composite five-star player (defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie), most of the team split almost evenly between four- (36) and three- (39) star players, and a small remainder of two-star or unranked players (9). It's a bit unclear how 247Sports deciphered which players received scholarships and should be counted among the walk-on and former walk-on players like linebacker Colton Jumper (two stars), tight end Alex Ellis (unrated), and punter Trevor Daniel (unrated), but the Tennessee Sports Information Department may have helped out. You can check out the whole roster as rated by 247Sports here: Tennessee Volunteers' Roster 2015.
For those of you keeping an eye on SBNation Recruiting El Jefe Bud Elliot's Blue Chip Ratio, the current Tennessee roster is sitting at 43.5%, well within striking distance of a 50% ratio with another good recruiting class or two. Compared to fellow SEC teams Florida and Ole Miss, both within a few spots in the ranking, Tennessee has a more concentrated roster with fewer five-star and three-star players than either rival and a higher average player ranking.
Tennessee's composite talent ranking overall
The Vols rank 14th nationally, but 7th in the SEC, behind four SEC West teams (#1 Alabama, #5 LSU, #6 Auburn, and #10 Texas A&M) and two SEC East teams (#7 Georgia and #12 Florida). Tennessee plays Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, but for the first time in the last few years, the Vols will not play any of the other teams from the SEC West with more talent. Instead, Tennessee plays #26 Arkansas, already struggling with injuries to a thin depth chart.
Evaluating Florida's roster
The Gators rank 12th nationally in the talent composite, with 6 five-stars (DL Jonathan Bullard, RB Kelvin Taylor, CB Vernon Hargreaves, DL Cece Jefferson, and OT Martez Ivey), 25 four-stars, 44 three-stars, and 10 two-star or unranked players. Compared to Tennessee, Florida's roster is more of a dumbbell-- heavily weighted at both the top and bottom ends of the scale. Florida's talent base also skews a bit older, with sophomores and freshman making up 54.8% of blue chip players, compared to Tennessee's 67.5% ratio.
Although it's still way too early to make any conclusions, Florida head coach Jim McElwain needs to close with a number of highly ranked prospects in this year's recruiting cycle if he's going to close the gap that's starting to develop between the two teams. Tennessee is currently ranked #15 for the 2015 cycle, with 6 blue chip players out of 17, while Florida is ranked #14, but the Gators are lagging behind with 5 blue chip players out of 20 committed recruits.
For the first time since at least the early 2000s, Tennessee has a significant young talent advantage over Florida. The Vols have a higher average recruiting ranking and more blue chip (five- and four-star) players. No pressure, Butch.