There aren't any championship trophies handed down on national signing day, but that doesn't mean it isn't one of the most important dates of the year in college football. For the top programs, the foundation for success is built on solid recruiting hauls year in and year out.
Not every four-star high school athlete will become a household name in his career, and unheralded recruits become college football stars every season. But in the big picture, recruiting classes matter. The SEC has won six straight national championships, and heading into each of those seasons the eventual champion ranked among the top 10 in five-year weighted recruiting rankings.
Success begets future success as well, and strong recruiting classes are frequently coupled together. That's a big reason why program power remains relatively consistent from year to year in college football. But there are outliers, teams that have consistently overachieved or underachieved relative to expectations based on recruiting.
We combed the results of the last five seasons to identify how frequently each team won games against opponents who boasted stronger recruiting success and how often each team lost a game in which it fielded the more talented team. Nationally, teams with a five-year recruiting advantage in a given game won 67 percent of the time. These five teams broke that mold.
Since 2007, 29 wins as less talented team
The Cardinal lead all teams in victories over the last five seasons in games in which they had a recruiting disadvantage. Of those 29 wins, 22 have come in the last three seasons with quarterback Andrew Luck at the helm. Luck was a highly touted quarterback coming out of high school (he ranked seventh among QBs nationally and 61st overall in the ESPNU 150), and he's the most significant reason for Stanford's meteoric rise over the last few years.