Clemson Football Recruiting: Class rankings don't always translate to success

The 2024 Class is ranked 12th by 247, but that doesn't impress some fans. The truth is that some highly-ranked classes turn out great, but the Tigers' most recent elite classes haven't lived up to expectations.
Clemson football Coach Dabo Swinney talks about Early National Letter of Intent Signing Day.
Clemson football Coach Dabo Swinney talks about Early National Letter of Intent Signing Day. / MCKENZIE LANGE/ Staff / USA TODAY

Clemson Football has wrapped up its Class of 2024. There is always a chance that the Tigers could add someone else between now and the February signing window, but it doesn’t seem likely.

The results are fairly consistent with past years. 247Sports Composite ranks Clemson’s class as the 12th best right now. This is how previous classes have ranked in that system since the 2012 Class

2024: 12th - Average Rating = 90.37

2023: 11th – Average Rating = 90.78

2022: 10th – Average Rating = 89.83

2021: 5th - Average Rating = 94.03

2020: 3rd - Average Rating = 93.44

2019: 10th - Average Rating = 89.88

2018: 7th - Average Rating = 93.45

2017: 16th – Average Rating = 92.10

2016: 11th – Average Rating = 90.30

2015: 9th – Average Rating = 89.12

2014: 16th – Average Rating = 88.69

2013: 15th - Average Rating = 88.46

2012: 20th - Average Rating = 89.03

Dabo Swinney is reasonably pleased with this class.

"“It’s a really good group. A lot of these guys have won championships throughout their tenure, and I think that’s something that we always look at as far as where they’re coming from.”"

Dabo Swinney

Not everyone is pleased with this class. There is an element of Clemson Nation that feels this kind of class isn’t strong enough to compete with elite programs that are bringing in Top 10 classes every season. Schools like Georgia and Alabama routinely score Top 5 classes.

I am not as concerned about where this class ranks because I don’t think you can make a great argument that Clemson Football has seen success from its most highly-ranked classes, at least relative to what their other classes have delivered.

Using the Composite, Clemson has four classes that ranked in the Top 10: 2015, 2018, 2020, and 2021. The latter three classes also had the top three average ratings.

The Class of 2015 turned out to be one of the best in Clemson history. Christian Wilkins and Mitch Hyatt were starters from Day 1. Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud saw the field quickly. Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, and Albert Huggins all evolved to become part of the Power Rangers. Tanner Muse was eventually drafted into the NFL. This was probably the most successful class on the list: two Nattys, four CFP appearances, and four ACC titles.

The Class of 2018 were true freshmen when Clemson last won a national championship. Trevor Lawrence was a key part of that championship run. Justyn Ross had a great season. BT Potter was the starting kicker from day one. Jackson Carmen and Jordan McFadden ultimately succeeded Hyatt at left tackles. It wasn’t a big class (17 players) but eventually, they found a Natty, three CFP appearances, and three ACC titles.

Contrast that success with the two classes that were arguably the best in Clemson history: 2020 and 2021.

2020: zero Nattys, one CFP appearance as freshmen, two ACC titles

2021: zero Nattys, zero CFP appearances, one ACC title

I understand that many people look at this and feel it is a very surface-level analysis, and to an extent, I agree. Several would criticize the coaching from the past two seasons and point to that as a reason why the 2020 and 2021 classes weren’t able to reach their potential, and some of that argument is correct.

Sometimes, though, one can get diverted from the simplest truths when one tries to find deeper meaning behind what one sees on the surface. I won’t put you through my entire rant on ‘advanced metrics’, but for the sake of this discussion, advanced doesn’t always mean better or more relevant.

I don’t think you need to look past the surface on this subject. The bottom line is that class rankings aren’t always a direct indicator of future success, and I see two reasons.

The first is pertinent to Clemson specifically. Rankings by recruiting services can be directly relevant for most programs. That’s why the phrase ‘Stars matter’ has been coined. The reality is that Clemson, in so many ways, whether you and/or I like it or not, is not most programs.

The other is more broadly true and, in my humble opinion, is the most relevant to why we see such a difference in success between the recruiting classes from 2012 through 2018 and the ‘best’ classes from 2020 and 2021:

Sometimes classes were overrated by the recruiting services, and they simply weren’t as good as we thought.

Clemson Football doesn't always see their best results from their highest-ranked classes

Maybe it is because some individuals from those classes didn’t pan out the way the recruiting services expected. Sometimes the 5-star and high 4-star players turn out to be good, but not great.

Fans tend to not say what I just said, and I think it is because they feel like it is a shot at the players. It isn’t – it’s a shot at the recruiting services who got it wrong.

Coach Swinney will always tell us Clemson knocked it out of the park. You can point the finger at him if you want but if you’ve listened to him in the past, you already know what he is going to tell you.

It’s the recruiting services that paint the picture for fans. Not only have they overrated some players and classes, but they have underrated others. You can make a strong case that the 2013 and 2014 classes were drastically underrated. I wouldn’t be surprised if we say the same about the Class of 2023 one day. We have already seen multiple 3-star prospects in that group overachieve as freshmen.

The Class of 2024 could be one of those classes that just hits. Time will tell.