Wednesday is Decision Day in college football.

Thousands of teenage boys are making choices that have the rapt attention of millions of fans across the nation.

It's no different here in central Pennsylvania. Some members of Nittany Nation have an insatiable appetite when it comes to information about Penn State's 2014 recruiting class.

But just how important is National Letter of Intent Day? What is the correlation between recruiting success and on-field triumphs?

Well, there's a correlation, but it's certainly not absolute.

At least that's what the numbers tell us when examining the last five recruiting classes for the teams that finished in the top five of the final 2014 Associated Press college football poll. All the recruiting rankings come from

Florida State won the national championship this past season, and you can easily see why when examining the Seminoles' recent recruiting classes. FSU has landed a top-10 class in each of the last five years, with an average ranking of No. 7. That kind of consistent excellence will win national titles.

The same goes for Auburn, which finished No. 2 in the final AP poll. Four of the Tigers' last five classes were ranked in the top 10, and their average ranking during that period was No. 10.

After those two teams, however, the correlation drops significantly.

Michigan State was No. 3 in the final AP poll, but the Spartans' average recruiting ranking was only No. 32. South Carolina, which finished No. 4, had an average recruiting ranking of No. 18. And Missouri, which claimed the No. 5 spot, had an average recruiting ranking of No. 36.


In fact, neither Michigan State nor Missouri had a single recruiting class ranked in the top 15 during the last five years. Yet they produced top-five teams this past season.

It just goes to show that you don't have to wow the recruiting experts to put an outstanding team on the field.

But as Florida State and Auburn also proved, outstanding recruiting can help you earn a berth in the national title game.

By the way, the No. 1 recruiting team over the last five years is, not surprisingly, Alabama, which had four No. 1 classes and a No. 5 class, for an overall average ranking of No. 2. The Crimson Tide finished No. 7 in the final 2014 AP poll, but they had won three national championships in the four previous seasons.

As for Penn State, the ranking correlates pretty closely to the on-field results. The Lions' average recruiting ranking for the last five years was No. 33. The 2013 Lions finished 7-5, while the 2012 Lions were 8-4. Of course, the NCAA sanctions in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal caused the Lions to lose some key players to transfers before the 2012 season.

This year, had Penn State ranked No. 21 as of Tuesday evening. That would be PSU's best recruiting class since a No. 12 ranking in 2010.

Will that mean that the Lions will return to the top 25 in a few years?

Possibly, but as the numbers above show, there's no guarantee.

One thing that does seem fairly certain, however, is that new PSU head coach James Franklin and his staff are completely committed to bringing in the best recruits possible. As long as Franklin — the ultimate salesman — remains in Happy Valley, you can expect more top-25 classes to follow. And a few top-10 classes are very possible, especially when the scholarship and bowl sanctions are completely gone.

Of course, as Bill O'Brien showed last month, there's no guarantee that Franklin will be here when that occurs. A lot can happen in a couple years.

But if Franklin does stay, you can expect Penn State's recruiting ranking and national ranking to slowly begin to rise.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at