Flash forward to Jan. 7, 2013, to the BCS National Championship Game at that sure-to-be-renamed-yet-again stadium in Miami.
The teams: Florida and USC.
The buildup for this clash has been tremendous. The schools have been dominating both on the field and in recruiting since the mid-2000s, but are meeting on the field for the first time in 30 years. On one sideline stands
Each has paid his conference $40,000 in fines since this matchup was announced.
USC enters the contest averaging a staggering 55 points per game on offense. Heisman quarterback
On the other side, Florida's record-setting defense has allowed fewer than seven points per game. Behind a dominant defensive front led by All-Americas
It is the ultimate clash of offense vs. defense. And it's the first-ever, long-overdue SEC vs. Pac-10 BCS Championship matchup.
Now, flash sideways to this alternate reality: Jan. 7, 2014 in Pasadena. Once upon a time, UCLA and Tennessee played an ugly Labor Day evening game here that marked a low point for both programs; now, five years later, they're meeting in a national championship matchup serving as the coronation of these two fallen powers' return to national prominence.
It wasn't easy getting here, but both coaches -- the Bruins'
There is UCLA's All-America safety
On which path will the Class of 2010 lead us? Are we boarding another familiar flight with the same, tried-and-true characters? Or will the sport soon come to know a whole other set of leaders?
In this year's annual recruiting derby, Florida and USC finished with the nation's two best classes, according to Rivals.com. We've seen this show before. Over the past five years, these same two schools hold the highest cumulative rankings
The interesting twist, however, was the absurd collection of talent each power assembled on opposite sides of the ball.
Florida's defensive haul included Rivals.com's No. 1 (Powell), No. 3 (Floyd) and No. 7 (Easley) overall prospects, as well as five-star defensive back
USC, meanwhile, brought in three of the nation's four highest-rated receivers (Prater, Woods and Ambles), the top offensive lineman (Henderson) and the No. 1 all-purpose back (Baxter). "You would be hard-pressed to ever find a greater collection of athletes at the skills positions," said SuperPrep's
You'll have to excuse the recruiting analysts for being prone to hyperbole and/or lacking in long-term memory -- because it sure seems like we've seen this before. In 2003, USC recruited a similar collection of offensive talent -- running backs
And Florida's latest binge of defensive superstars serves mainly to replenish a similar one from 2007, which brought lineman
If history is any indication, we'll be seeing one or the other -- and maybe, finally, both -- back on the big stage in the very near future.
"I give it up to Florida for their recruiting class," the monstrous Henderson (6-foot-8, 300 pounds) told SI.com following his nationally televised announcement Wednesday, "but I think it's going to be Florida-USC for the next three national title games."
Don't go pushing buttons just yet, Seantrel. There will be plenty of others who have a say in that --- including the Gators' and Trojans' chief rivals.
Meyer and Kiffin certainly deserve proper due for their spoils (especially considering one semi-resigned in the middle of it and the other got a late start), but they already had more to sell than most. Tennessee and UCLA, though, were two of Wednesday's more surprising victors.
Dooley arrived in Knoxville on Jan. 16 in the wake of fans rioting in the streets following Kiffin's abrupt departure and a group of jilted early enrollees being pulled in two directions. Two-and-a-half weeks later, he landed a top 10 class.
"What he accomplished is pretty darn extraordinary," said Rivals.com analyst
Dooley not only retained all eight committed players already on campus when he arrived, he added a slew of players previously thought to be headed elsewhere -- five-star receiver Rogers (a longstanding Georgia commit) and quarterback
If Dooley can pull that off in less than three weeks, what might he accomplish over the next three years?
"It was an easy sell," said the former Louisiana Tech coach. "All I had to do was make them feel confident about the direction of the program."
UCLA's Neuheisel has been on the job two years longer, during which time the Bruins have gone just 11-14 -- but you'd never know it by the deluge of youngsters donning UCLA caps Wednesday. Within the span of about two hours, the Bruins landed Portland, Ore. defensive end
It was arguably the strongest finish of any team in the country, lifting UCLA to a top 10 class and putting the Bruins in better position to "end the football monopoly" in L.A., as Neuheisel famously pledged upon his arrival.
"The USC and UCLA programs as they exist now are not very friendly [toward each other]," said Wallace. "UCLA is doing a very good job of taking USC head on. They're taking recruits away from USC for the first time in a while."
Even then, it's no certainty that we're even talking about the strongest programs going forward within their own conferences.
As always, the SEC dominated the recruiting rankings, landing four of Rivals.com's top six classes. Auburn added to what was already one of the most remarkable classes of the season by staving off Miami and Alabama to retain five-star tackle
But we've come to expect late pushes from the SEC's recruiting juggernauts. What we don't necessarily expect is to see four Pac-10 teams (USC, UCLA, Cal and Oregon) in Rivals' top 15, with Scout.com listing Washington just outside the top 10.
Cal had previously landed five-star defensive end
"[Allen] is a huge get for Tedford," said Newberg. "You could make a case for him as the top prospect in the country. He's an
While USC landed its customary star-studded class, its ascension back to the top of the Pac-10 no longer seems as certain as it did under Carroll. Kiffin is walking into a much tougher conference than the one he left in 2006, just as Meyer's SEC competition isn't getting any easier.
So which will it be? Is the continued dominance of Florida and USC predetermined? Or can suddenly renewed figures like Auburn and Tennessee, Cal or UCLA, change the coming course of history?
Check back in three or four years to find out.
Fisher truly began closing the class upon his official ascension in late November, when he immediately landed commitments from five-star cornerback
The 'Canes, meanwhile, "have got to be the biggest story nobody's talking about," said Newberg. "We had 28 players ranked four stars or higher in Dade or Broward Counties. How many [signed] with Miami? Two. It's a head-scratcher." Fourth-year coach
"Of our 13 classes at Texas, this group addresses every position more so than any other class we've had," said Brown, who clearly gets more time to golf than his counterparts. "We were fortunate enough to sign a talented young player at every position."
Part of the league's poor showing was unavoidable -- Ohio State and Iowa had fewer scholarships to give this year -- but there's no avoiding the fact that most schools whiffed on their top targets. Most notably, the top players in the states of Illinois (USC's Prater), Indiana (North Carolina OL
"We want to get back to the top in the Big East," said Strong, "and with the players we have assembled we feel like we can make that run."
"At this point in time, you have to give Brian Kelly the benefit of the doubt," said Wallace. "All of us who've watched his career can tell he knows how to evaluate talent. He's doing things his way. I admire it."
But hey, give credit where credit is due. Smith, who chose the Lobos over Florida State, credited his close relationship with Locksley. And for his part, Locksley landed one more four-star prospect than Illinois, which, two years after landing consecutive top 20 classes with Locksley on staff, finished ... 69th.