Credit - IU Athletics

IU football’s 2021 recruiting class is currently the program’s most talented during the rankings era

IU head football coach Tom Allen likes to say that you “control what you can control.”

When it comes to recruiting, Allen can’t control what other teams in the Big Ten are doing.  He also can’t control for the most part the amount scholarships he has available in a given cycle.

If you simply look at the team recruiting rankings, you might conclude that IU is falling behind its peers.

The Hoosiers are No. 53 nationally in the class of 2021, and No. 11 in the Big Ten according to the 247Sports Composite as of this writing.  Those are rankings that reflect what IU fans might have grown accustomed to over the years, rather than an indication of a program on the rise.

After a 2019 class that placed IU at No. 36 nationally and No. 8 in the Big Ten, IU dropped in the rankings to No. 57 and No. 12 in 2020.  Now in 2021, IU is nowhere near the standards set in 2019.

Here we go again, right?

You have to peel back the data another level.

The first variable to consider is the size of Indiana’s 2021 class.  Only three Big Ten programs have a class smaller than Indiana’s 14 verbal commits to this point.  That is a variable that contributes to IU’s current spot in both the national and the league 2021 rankings.

“It’s definitely a smaller class since I’ve been here. We knew that going in,” Allen said in a Zoom call with reporters a couple weeks ago. “I’m very, very excited about the (players) we have been able to join on board and to be able to build off that and continue to build off the momentum of last season.”

While Allen cannot control the quantity of players he can bring on board in 2021, he does have a say when it comes to the quality.

And that’s where things get interesting.

As it stands right now, IU’s 2021 class is the most talented group of players the program has secured during the recruiting rankings era.

When you look at the Big Ten 2021 rankings based purely on quality and ignore quantity, Indiana jumps up to No. 8 in the league rankings.  Based on our review of the data, IU has never finished that high in the league rankings based only on average player talent.

Similarly, IU is currently tied for No. 33 nationally in 2021 based purely on the average rating of the players in its class, and ignoring class size.

Headlining the group is a pair of 4-stars in Georgia receiver Jaquez Smith and Indianapolis quarterback Donaven McCulley.  You can see all 14 members of the 2021 class here.

The caliber of pure talent in Indiana’s recruiting classes has been on the rise in each of the last four years with Allen leading the way.

Here is the average player rating of Indiana recruits according to the industry aggregated 247Sports Composite since such data was first compiled in 1999.

Indiana average player rating 1999-2021 (via 247Sports)

2021 – 86.56

2020 – 85.00

2019 – 85.77

2018 – 84.90

2017 – 83.19

2016 – 83.67

2015 – 83.78

2014 – 82.35

2013 – 83.35

2012 – 82.42

2011 – 81.13

2010 – 82.68

2009 – 82.34

2008 – 81.36

2007 – 80.45

2006 – 78.25

2005 – 77.05

2004 – 77.56

2003 – 78.07

2002 – 77.54

2001 – 70.00

2000 – 71.14

1999 – 70.00

To be sure, the pattern of bringing improving talent to Bloomington preceded Allen.

After some stagnation from 2002-2005 under Gerry DiNardo, head coach Terry Hoeppner brought some new energy and excitement to the program before he passed away.  That boost can clearly be seen in the numbers.

Although the results on the field did not always follow suit, Bill Lynch was able to maintain a higher level of recruiting when he took over for Hoeppner in 2007.  Kevin Wilson was then able to ratchet things up a notch further during his tenure from 2011 to 2016, and the results could be seen on the field as IU made two bowl games at the tail end of the Wilson regime.

But purely based on talent, Allen is recruiting better than anyone before him at IU during the rankings era.  And he is doing that consistently, year-after-year, to ensure that the well doesn’t run dry.

It is precisely the approach Allen described after the early signing period in December, 2018.

“Stacking these classes, to me, is the whole key to building the program, Allen said.

“That’s why recruiting is the lifeblood of your program. You have to recruit quality players who fit what you want well, and you can’t just have a few of them. You need a lot of them. And you have to do it year after year.”

Allen is indeed stacking the classes, and the results are beginning to follow.

Back in 2019, when the Big Ten still wanted to play football, IU recorded its first eight win season since 1993 and achieved its first national ranking since 1994.  That 2019 squad was built on the remnants of Wilson’s success and the new young talent that Allen has since brought in the door, such as quarterback Michael Penix and cornerback Tiawan Mullen.

Looking forward, Allen now has the opportunity to be selective as the Hoosiers look to finish off their 2021 class with more higher-end talent and keep the trend going.

“Right now we’ve got a few more spots,” Allen said, indicating that offensive line, defensive line, defensive back, and perhaps a versatile skill position athlete are the likely priorities for the three or four more players that are added to the class.

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