Signing day has played a major role in determining which teams make the College Football Playoff — and ultimately who wins the championship. Where teams finish when the ink dries on a recruiting class has determined the past playoff participants and the title winners, and with enough data, we can try to predict who will be the final teams standing.
Winning the title
Each of the past seven national champions have averaged a top-10 recruiting class the four years prior to winning the national championship, and all seven have landed at least one recruiting class ranked in the top four in the two years prior to their title win.
Based on that criteria, here are the teams that have accomplished both data points and now have an excellent shot at winning the championship:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Average class rank: 2.5
The Crimson Tide are a no-brainer, as the past four recruiting classes have been ranked: 6, 1, 2 and 1. While there will be some turnover, especially in the secondary, the coaches added some important pieces to help get them back to the playoff again next season. Five-star defensive back Patrick Surtain Jr., ESPN 300 defensive backs Josh Jobe and Jalyn Armour-Davis, as well as top-50 junior college prospect Saivion Smith will all help fill those voids in the secondary and help Alabama in another playoff run.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Avg. class rank: 3.75
The Buckeyes finished the 2018 class ranked No. 2 overall and played 14 freshmen last season, which tied a high for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are losing quite a bit defensively, especially along the line, but retain Nick Bosa and add ESPN 300 defensive tackle Taron Vincent, Tommy Togiai, Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday and junior college DT Antwuan Jackson Jr. on the defensive line. With a young roster and 19 ESPN 300 prospects from the 2018 class, Ohio State should be right back in the playoff and title hunt.
Avg. class rank: 4.75
The Dawgs made it to the title game this season with a true freshman at quarterback. Georgia played 16 true freshmen overall and, similar to Ohio State, are adding 19 ESPN 300 prospects. That includes the No. 1 overall player: quarterback Justin Fields. Georgia is losing a lot of production in the ground game, with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel moving on, but they will be replaced by ESPN 300 running backs Zamir White and James Cook, who are the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked running backs, respectively. They’ll join D’Andre Swift and try to pick up where Chubb and Michel left off.
Florida State Seminoles
Avg. class rank: 4.5
This one is the anomaly, with the way the Seminoles went 7-6 last season. With new coach Willie Taggart, it might be difficult, but the talent is there. Prior to this year’s class, which finished ranked No. 11 overall, Florida State finished in the top four the past three years, including a No. 1 class in 2016. On offense, Taggart will get back quarterback Deondre Francois and James Blackman. The staff is losing quite a bit on defense, though, which is why the defensive side was such a big focus of the 2018 class. Of the nine ESPN 300 commitments in the class, six are on defense, including defensive backs Asante Samuel Jr., A.J. Lytton, Jaiden Woodbey and Isaiah Bolden. The results on the field might not be there this season, but the talent will be.
Making the playoff
Since the playoff’s inception, almost every team that has played in a CFP semifinal has averaged a recruiting class ranking of 15 or better for the four years prior to their playoff berth. The only exceptions to that rule have been Michigan State, Washington and Oregon.
Based on that data, the teams that have a shot at winning the title would qualify, and these teams have the recruiting numbers to put them in the playoff:
Southern California Trojans
Avg. class rank: 6.75
On offense, the Trojans lose quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Ronald Jones II and wide receiver Deontay Burnett. The good news is that most of the defense is back and is also adding some big pieces in the 2018 class, including ESPN 300 linebackers Palaie Gaoteote, Solomon Tuliaupupu and Talanoa Hufanga and defensive backs Olaijah Griffin and Isaac Taylor-Stuart. Offensively, to try to replace some of the lost production, the Trojans were able to get quarterback J.T. Daniels to reclassify from the 2019 class and added wide receivers Devon Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown to go along with running back Markese Stepp.
Avg. class rank: 6.75
The only reason Clemson didn’t qualify for a shot at winning the title is because they don’t have a top-four class in the past two classes. The 2018 class finished at No. 5 overall, which might mean that Clemson could buck the stat and still win the championship. Dabo Swinney’s staff will have a lot to work with, especially on the defensive line, where Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant all elected to come back to school to join up with Dexter Lawrence and 2018 five-stars Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry.
Avg. class rank: 9.25
The Tigers had an up-and-down season, finishing 10-4 while losing the SEC championship game. Auburn returns quarterback Jarrett Stidham as well as much of the receiving production. The coaches are losing running back Kerryon Johnson and quite a few defensive backs. The staff added safety Quindarious Monday and cornerback Christian Tutt, as well as ESPN 300 running back Shaun Shivers.
Avg. class rank: 13.75
The Longhorns didn’t have the season they wanted, finishing 7-6 and losing to rival Oklahoma. However, the staff has quite a bit coming back, especially on offense, and is now adding the No. 3-ranked recruiting class. Texas was able to pull in 19 ESPN 300 prospects, including the top three safeties in the country with in-state prospect B.J. Foster, DeMarvion Overshown and Caden Sterns. Cornerbacks Anthony Cook, D’Shawn Jamison and Jalen Green will all help improve a defense that will need to get better if the Longhorns are going to have a shot at the playoff.
Avg. class rank: 14
The Sooners made it to the playoff this past season, losing to Georgia, and, numerically, they have a shot at doing it once again in 2018. Losing Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield will be a lot to overcome. However, former ESPN 300 QBs Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall are on the roster, and coach Lincoln Riley added ESPN 300 quarterback Tanner Mordecai in the 2018 class. It will also be tough to replace star left tackle Orlando Brown, but the Sooners have a few options on the roster and were able to reel in ESPN 300 tackle Brey Walker as well.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Avg. class rank: 13.25
The Nittany Lions finished the 2018 season 11-2 but are going to have some challenges in 2018. Losing Saquon Barkley is the biggest blow, but Penn State also sees offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, running backs coach Charles Huff and wide receivers coach Josh Gattis leaving for other jobs. With that, new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has his hands full. The staff was able to land ESPN 300 running back Ricky Slade to go along with Miles Sanders to try to replace Barkley’s production. On defense, five-star Micah Parsons and ESPN 300 defensive linemen Jayson Oweh and P.J. Mustipher could be called on to play early.
Avg. class rank: 8.25
It’s the same old story in Baton Rouge. The Tigers need to figure out the quarterback position with Danny Etling gone and will also need to replace the production from running back Derrius Guice and wide receiver D.J. Chark. This could be a daunting task for the Tigers, especially since they just made a change at offensive coordinator. Sophomore Myles Brennan was an ESPN 300 prospect at QB, and the staff added ESPN 300 wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. as well as Jaray Jenkins and Ja’Marr Chase. But the roster losses on both offense and defense might make the Tigers a playoff longshot.
Avg. class rank: 14.75
Tennessee meets the numerical qualifications, but the Vols have a lot to work out on the field, and coach Jeremy Pruitt had very little time to fill needs in recruiting. Pruitt landed junior college prospects in defensive end Jordan Allen, tight end Dominick Wood-Anders, defensive tackle Emmit Gooden and offensive tackle Jahmir Johnson, which could jump-start things quickly. Pruitt will need immediate help from those prospects as well as ESPN 300 wide receiver Alontae Taylor and linebacker J.J. Peterson.