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Re-ranking top 2007 classes based on -- gasp! -- on-field production

The annual recruiting rankings came out on National Signing Day, and they naturally touched off a new debate over which team won the recruiting national title.

Since we live in an instant-everything society, the major recruiting services as well as publications such as SI and ESPN.com quickly provided rankings that generally agreed Florida and USC signed the best two classes, and Texas and Alabama also put together impressive groups. But what do we know? For that matter, what do the coaches know?

There's a huge difference between an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old, and it's almost impossible to predict how a group of 18-year-olds will produce as 21-year-olds. Like grits or pot roast, the better recruiting rankings take a lot longer to produce. That's why, here at the SI.com Diner, we give you the best slow-cooked recruiting rankings.

Last year, we re-ranked the class of 2006 based on -- I know this may sound crazy -- actual on-field production. Today, we bring you the re-ranked class of 2007. Why three years later and not four? Because it's a little more fun when most of the players are still in college.

As was the case last year and earlier this year in SI.com's all-time recruiting rankings, championships and successful seasons counted far more than NFL potential. After all, the coaches are recruiting players to win in college; if those players wind up top draft picks, that's just a happy coincidence.

While last year's re-rank didn't stray too far from the original Rivals rankings, this year's deviated quite a bit -- especially at the top. Keep reading to find out how the No. 68 class wound up the No. 2 class three years later.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 1Record since 2007: 35-62009 record: 13-1Conference titles: OneBCS titles: One

2009 Starters: S Ahmad Black, DE Carlos Dunlap, CB Joe Haden, P Chas Henry, TE Aaron Hernandez, C Maurkice Pouncey, OG Mike Pouncey, RB Chris Rainey, WR Deonte Thompson, S Major Wright.

Analysis: Florida's class of 2006 (No. 1 in last year's re-rank) produced the three most important players (QB Tim Tebow, LB Brandon Spikes, WR Percy Harvin) on the Gators' 2008 BCS title team, but this class provided the raw materials for a championship. When Florida beat Oklahoma to win that title, Dunlap -- who has since become better known for his DUI arrest before the SEC title game -- was named the MVP, and Black intercepted Sam Bradford to seal the win. While NFL potential isn't a huge factor in these rankings, it's interesting to note that this class could produce as many as four 2010 first-round draft picks (Dunlap, Haden, Hernandez, Maurkice Pouncey). Meanwhile, back in Gainesville, John Brantley, another member of this class, stands ready to take over for Tebow at quarterback.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 68Record since 2007: 36-42009 record: 14-0Conference titles: Two

2009 Starters: DT Chase Baker, C Thomas Byrd, DE Shea McClellin, QB Kellen Moore, WR Austin Pettis, OT Nate Potter, LB Aaron Tevis, CB Brandyn Thompson, DE Billy Winn, WR Titus Young.

Analysis: Want to know why the Broncos are such a trendy pick to bust into the BCS title game next season? This class. The class of 2007 produced a nucleus of 10 starters who have led Boise to a pair of undefeated regular seasons and won a BCS bowl game. This class brought quarterback Moore to the blue turf as well his top three receivers (Young, Pettis, Efaw), who combined to catch 173 passes for 2,340 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2009. Add a few key members of the defense that shut down TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, and you have a class that could make history.

So how did the evaluators at Rivals -- and Scout and SI and everywhere else -- so badly underestimate this class? Simple. Boise State doesn't have a huge fan base. There aren't as many potential subscribers, so, from a business perspective, it doesn't make sense to spend as much time evaluating Boise State recruits as Alabama or Texas recruits. That's probably the biggest flaw in recruiting rankings; the teams outside the traditional power structure can be vastly underestimated. Because if you look only at the teams that traditionally finish in the top 15, the rankings are usually pretty accurate.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 18Record since 2007: 27-132009 record: 11-3Conference titles: One

2009 Starters: S Morgan Burnett, CB Mario Butler, RB Jonathan Dwyer, OG Joseph Gilbert, LB Brad Jefferson, RB Roddy Jones, WR Tyler Melton, DE Derrick Morgan, QB Josh Nesbitt, CB Jerrard Tarrant, DT Logan Walls.

Analysis: Chan Gailey signed a great class in 2007, only neither he nor anyone else realized just how good it could be. The Yellow Jackets brass fired Gailey after the 2007 season and brought in Paul Johnson, a coach who knew how to unlock the potential in Nesbitt, Dwyer and Jones. It didn't hurt that this class also included Burnett and Morgan, two defenders who would have become stars under any coach.

Who knows? Maybe Gailey, now coaching the Buffalo Bills, will draft one or both players in April so he can spend more time coaching them.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 5Record since 2007: 35-52009 record: 13-1Conference titles: One

2009 Starters: DE Sam Acho, CB Curtis Brown, OT Kyle Hix, WR James Kirkendoll, LB Keenan Robinson, S Earl Thomas, WR Malcolm Williams.

Analysis: Texas classes probably need five years to properly evaluate. Mack Brown has stockpiled so much talent in Austin that it takes a long time for players to earn starting jobs. This makes it seem as if some classes underachieve at first.

Still, this class has produced legitimate stars in Acho and Thomas and solid receivers in Kirkendoll and Williams. It also included tight end Blaine Irby, who would have started in 2009 had he not suffered an offseason knee injury.

To better evaluate this class, place it at another school. For instance, if quarterback-turned-receiver John Chiles -- another 2007 Longhorn -- played anywhere else, how quickly would he have gotten on the field at some position? Immediately.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 15Record since 2007: 32-72009 record: 11-2Conference titles: Two

2009 Starters: DE Cameron Heyward, S Jermale Hines, LB Brian Rolle, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, CB Devon Torrence, WR Taurian Washington.

Analysis: Ohio State classes suffer from the same issues as Texas classes. With so many good players stacked up for so many years, it takes a while to get on the field. So it's tough to sign a class that will produce 10 starters just because of the quality of players already in the program.

That said, the fact that this class has produced seven starters is pretty amazing considering the Buckeyes only signed 15 players in 2007. Another member of the class, tailback Dan "Boom" Herron, isn't officially a starter, but he gained 600 yards and scored seven touchdowns as Saine's backup in 2009.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 11Record since 2007: 29-102009 record: 10-3Conference titles: One

2009 Starters: OG Mark Asper, WR D.J. Davis, CB Talmadge Jackson, WR Jeff Maehl, LB Casey Matthews, LB Eddie Pleasant, DE Kenny Rowe, DE Will Tukuafu, OG Carson York.

Analysis: Several four-star headliners in this class (Davis, Rowe, Tukuafu, York) made a big impact, but so did some of the less heralded players. Two-star Asper became a starter, and the Ducks probably don't beat Oregon State for the conference title without three-star Maehl, who caught six passes for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Beavers.

On defense, Rowe led the Pac-10 in sacks with 11.5, and Jackson led the Ducks with four interceptions in 2009.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 29Record since 2007: 31-102009 record: 10-3Conference titles: Two

2009 Starters: OG Jaymes Brooks, LS Collin Carroll, OT Blake DeChristopher, LB Barquell Rivers, QB Tyrod Taylor.

Analysis: For some reason, coach Frank Beamer's classes never get the respect they deserve. Rivals has ranked the Hokies' past five classes 22nd, 23rd, 18th, 29th and 32nd, yet all Beamer's teams do is crank out double-digit win seasons.

This class produced the Hokies' most potent offensive weapon (Taylor) and two stud linemen. It also included backs Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby. Remember, Evans -- not Ryan Williams -- was supposed to carry the rushing load for the Hokies in 2009 after gaining 1,265 yards in 2008, but missed the season after injuring his knee in camp.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 28Record since 2007: 26-122009 record: 11-2Conference titles: Zero

2009 Starters: TE Christian Ballard, LB Broderick Binns, OT Bryan Bulaga, WR Marvin McNutt, S Tyler Sash.

Analysis: This is another example of quality over quantity. The Hawkeyes' classes of 2005 and 2006 brought in most of the starters on the 2009 squad, but Bulaga and Sash played huge roles in Iowa's 2009 success.

After the NFL combine later this month, it should be pretty obvious why Bulaga left Iowa City after his junior season. Meanwhile, Sash will return and team with defensive end Adrian Clayborn to lead a group that should be one of the nation's best.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 2Record since 2007: 32-72009 record: 9-4Conference titles: Two

2009 Starters: WR Brandon Carswell, LB Chris Galippo, DE Everson Griffen, WR Ronald Johnson, RB Joe McKnight, Kris O'Dowd, DT Christian Tupou.

Analysis: As usual, this USC class produced some great individual players, but this group didn't enjoy the same success as its predecessors when it matured. That might not necessarily be this class' fault, though. The Trojans dominated the Pac-10 for seven seasons. At some point, USC was bound to have a team that, for whatever reason, just didn't click.

Still, Galippo, Griffen, Johnson and McKnight would have been stars for any program in the nation. We'll have to watch next season to learn whether 2009 was a hiccup or if the rest of the Pac-10 has caught up to USC on the recruiting trail.

2007 Rivals rank: No. 10Record since 2007: 33-82009 record: 14-0Conference titles: OneBCS titles: One

2009 Starters: WR Darius Hanks, CB Kareem Jackson, WR Marquis Maze, LB Rolando McClain, C William Vlachos.

Analysis: Most of coach Nick Saban's first Alabama class got overshadowed by the members of the class of 2006 (Andre Smith, Javier Arenas, Greg McElroy) and the class of 2008 (Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Terrence Cody, Dont'a Hightower, Jerrell Harris, Mark Barron, Barrett Jones), but the Crimson Tide don't win the 2009 BCS title without this class -- most of which was stitched together after Saban was hired on Jan. 4, 2007.

Still, predecessor Mike Shula deserves a thank you for securing linebacker Rolando McClain, the best player in the class and the best player on the national title team. (I realize the reigning Heisman winner played on that team as well. I stand by my statement, and I'm pretty sure Saban would agree with me.) McClain was so brilliant during his three seasons at Tuscaloosa that even though this class produced just five starters, it belongs on this list.

Just missed the cut: North Carolina, TCU, Nebraska, Penn State, LSU.

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