Re-ranking 2011 recruiting classes based on actual production

Thursday February 13th, 2014

Kelvin Benjamin had 15 touchdown catches for a Florida State team that won the BCS title last season.
Louis Lopez/CSM/Landov

Ohio State's Urban Meyer admitted last week what most coaches only say privately. Recruiting rankings matter to them. "I hear people say it's not important," Meyer told reporters on National Signing Day. "I disagree. As long as you're keeping score, we're going to try to win. I'm disappointed we weren't the No. 1 recruiting class in the country."

The problem is that the recruiting rankings don't really matter when they're released. At that point, they're only educated guesses. Puberty, culture shock and chemistry can make all the difference as a group of 17- and 18-year-olds grows into a group of 20- and 21-year-olds. That's why, after each National Signing Day, looks back three years to see which recruiting classes truly deserved praise. This is a measure of coaching evaluation as well as player development. That's why it's no accident that the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw staffs at Stanford appeared on this list a couple of years before they began appearing near the top of Signing Day class rankings. The Cardinal have remained a fixture ever since.

Today, we'll go back to 2011, when, at least near the top of the list, did an excellent job predicting the future.

Rivals100: Top college football prospects in 2014 l Top 25 team recruiting rankings

1. Florida State

Original rank: 2
Record since 2011: 35-6
BCS bowl appearances: 2
ACC titles: 2
National titles: 1

2013 starters: WR Kelvin Benjamin, RB Devonta Freeman, WR Rashad Greene, OT Bobby Hart, S Tyler Hunter, OG Tre Jackson, DT Timmy Jernigan, OG Josue Matias, TE Nick O'Leary, RB James Wilder Jr.

Jimbo Fisher knew when he signed this class that he had something special. I was in Tallahassee on National Signing Day 2011, and Fisher was convinced he had brought in the group that could put Florida State on top again. He was correct. This was a deep group that would become major contributors on teams that won ACC titles in '12 and '13 (and the national title last season). It also included a junior college transfer already in the NFL (defensive end Tank Carradine) and the guy most likely to be the starting quarterback at Alabama this fall (Jacob Coker). The class could look even deeper next year. Karlos Williams moved from safety to tailback in September and averaged 7.9 yards a carry.

2. Alabama

Original rank: 1
Record since 2011: 36-4
BCS bowl appearances: 3
SEC titles: 1
National titles: 2

2013 starters: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, LB Trey DePreist, LB Xzavier Dickson, C Ryan Kelly, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, S Vinnie Sunseri

This group contributed much more to the 2012 national title than it did to the '11 championship, and it included two players who could be first-rounders (Clinton-Dix and Kouandjio) in this May's NFL draft. Defensive tackle Jesse Williams, now with the Seattle Seahawks, also came in with this class. Alabama's recent two-game losing streak has raised some questions about its personnel, but let's not forget that the Crimson Tide went 36-2 prior to that skid.

3. Auburn

Original rank: 7
Record since 2011: 23-16
BCS bowl appearances: 1
SEC titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: WR Sammie Coates, C Reese Dismukes, RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson, S Robenson Therezie, TE C.J. Uzomah, S Jermaine Whitehead

A year ago, when Auburn was coming off a disastrous 3-9 campaign, we might have wondered why on Earth originally ranked this class so high. Now, the original ranking makes sense. With the exception of quarterback Nick Marshall, who signed with Georgia as a defensive back in this class, the most important cogs in the Tigers' 2013 offense came from this group. Mason was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Coates led the Tigers in receiving yards. Robinson and Dismukes were the team's two best offensive linemen. The way these players responded to the return of Gus Malzahn further illuminates how huge a mistake Gene Chizik made when he hired an offensive coordinator (Scot Loeffler) who ran a scheme that didn't fit the personnel on the roster. Clearly, then offensive coordinator Malzahn knew what he was doing when he first recruited these guys.

4. Stanford

Original rank: 22
Record since 2011: 34-7
BCS bowl appearances: 3
Pac-12 titles: 2
National titles: 0

2013 starters: DE Kevin Anderson, WR Devon Cajuste, QB Kevin Hogan, CB Wayne Lyons, WR Ty Montgomery, LB James Vaughters

Stanford had already broken through on the field in Andrew Luck's redshirt sophomore year in 2010, but it wouldn't be until the class of '12 -- with its monster offensive line haul -- that the Cardinal cracked the top five in the recruiting rankings. The '11 group included four-star recruits (Lyons, Montgomery and Vaughters) who lived up to their billing, and a three-star quarterback (Hogan) who now looks as if he had been drastically underrated.

5. Oregon

Original rank: 9
Record since 2011: 35-5
BCS bowl appearances: 2
Pac-12 titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, OT Jake Fisher, LB Rodney Hardrick, OT Tyler Johnstone, QB Marcus Mariota, RB De'Anthony Thomas

This class brought the Ducks two quality offensive tackles and a playmaking corner with an NFL future. It also brought Thomas, a speedster who impacted games from day one. The crown jewel, however, was Mariota, now the best returning quarterback in the country not named Jameis Winston. And here's the crazy part: For two and a half months, Johnny Manziel also planned to be part of this class.

6. Louisville

Original rank: 29
Record since 2011: 30-9
BCS bowl appearances: 1
Big East/AAC titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: QB Teddy Bridgewater, OT Jamon Brown, CB Terrell Floyd, CB Charles Gaines, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, OG John Miller, WR Devante Parker, S Calvin Pryor

You've probably noticed that Texas was in the original top 10 of's 2011 recruiting rankings, but that it did not make this list. The inclusion of the Cardinals should give Longhorns fans hope that Texas will appear here in the future. This was Charlie Strong's second recruiting class at Louisville, meaning that it was the first class in which he had an entire recruiting cycle to work. It included a program-hoisting quarterback (Bridgewater), a dynamo of a safety (Pryor) and the guy who would lead the team in receiving last season (Parker). It also featured plenty of other building blocks. Led by this group, the Cardinals won the Big East and the Sugar Bowl in the '12 season, and went 12-1 in '13.

In three seasons at Clemson, Sammy Watkins had 3,391 receiving yards and scored 28 TDs.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

7. Clemson

Original rank: 8
Record since 2011: 32-8
BCS bowl appearances: 2
ACC titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: LB Stephone Anthony, WR Martavis Bryant, DE Corey Crawford, WR Adam Humphries, DT Grady Jarrett, C Ryan Norton, TE Stanton Seckinger, S Robert Smith, WR Sammy Watkins

The three receivers listed above caught a combined 184 passes for 2,775 yards in 2013. As important as Tajh Boyd was to the Clemson offense, the Tigers wouldn't have piled up so many yards without Watkins, Bryant and Humphries. Meanwhile, Anthony led Clemson in tackles, and Crawford provided a bookend for ACC sack leader Vic Beasley.

8. Ohio State

Original rank: 11
Record since 2011: 30-9
BCS bowl appearances: 1
Big Ten titles: 0 (But we all know what went down in 2012)
National titles: 0

2013 starters: DT Michael Bennett, LB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant, DT Joel Hale, TE Jeff Heuerman, QB Braxton Miller, LB Ryan Shazier, WR Devin Smith, WR Evan Spencer

This group dealt with a lot of uncertainty early. These players expected to play for Jim Tressel, but Tressel was pushed out amid an NCAA scandal only a few months after signing day. After a rough freshman year with interim coach Luke Fickell, these players blossomed for Urban Meyer. They won 24 consecutive games. Shazier emerged as the Big Ten's best defensive player. In 2012, Miller became the first 1,000-yard rusher to play for Meyer. With the exception of Shazier, who should be a first-round NFL draft pick, these guys will all be back next season.

9. LSU

Original rank: 6
Record since 2011: 33-7
BCS bowl appearances: 1
SEC titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: WR Odell Beckham Jr., OT La'el Collins, DT Anthony Johnson, WR Jarvis Landry, S Roland Martin, QB Zach Mettenberger, DE Jermauria Rasco, OG Trai Turner

Mettenberger originally signed with Georgia in 2009, but he was dismissed and went to a Kansas junior college for a year before signing with the Tigers in '11. His favorite targets, Beckham and Landry, joined him that same year. Star players don't usually stay long at LSU, though. Just three years after they signed, Beckham, Johnson, Landry and Turner are all preparing for the NFL draft. That's fine with the Tigers' coaching staff. "We play a lot of people," defensive coordinator John Chavis said in '12. "We don't recruit guys to redshirt ... If you've recruited the right kind of people, they're not going to be here for four years anyway."

10. Michigan State

Original rank: 31
Record since 2011: 32-10
BCS bowl appearances: 1
Big Ten titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: C Jack Allen, DE Shilique Calhoun, QB Connor Cook, OT Fou Fonoti, LB Taiwan Jones, CB Trae Waynes

None of the players listed above garnered more than three stars during the recruiting process, yet they all contributed mightily to a team that went 13-1, and that won both the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl last season. It proves, once again, that Mark Dantonio and his staff are among the best at evaluating players as high schoolers and developing them once they get to campus. The biggest get in this class was Cook, a three-star prospect from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Before Cook took ownership of the quarterback job, the Spartans had an elite defense and a barely passable offense. By the end of this season, they had a team that probably would have made the playoff had it been in effect. So why is Michigan State listed below Ohio State here in spite of the result of the Big Ten title game? That particular Buckeyes' class made a bigger impact than this Spartans' one did. Remember, Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard, Marcus Rush, Denicos Allen and Jeremy Langford were already in East Lansing when the class of 2011 arrived.

11. South Carolina

Original rank: 18
Record since 2011: 33-6
BCS bowl appearances: 0
SEC titles: 0
National titles: 0

2013 starters: TE Rory Anderson, WR Damiere Byrd, DE Jadeveon Clowney, S Kadetrix Marcus, DT Kelcy Quarles, OT Brandon Shell, S Brison Williams (for the second time; he went to prep school in 2010)

Steve Spurrier usually dismisses the recruiting rankings -- unless he lands a good class. He had a great one in 2010, which is why the Gamecocks came in second in last year's class of '10 re-rank. In '11, Spurrier signed the top-rated recruit in America (Clowney) and a quality supporting cast. Quarles turned into an excellent inside complement to Clowney and also left school early. Shell is growing into a quality offensive tackle, and Byrd gives the offense a dash of speed in the slot. (Also, before you send emails, I realize that South Carolina beat Clemson again this year. That doesn't mean the Gamecocks should be ranked above the Tigers on this list. Clemson happened to sign more key contributors in '11.)

12. Texas A&M

Original rank: 27
Record since 2011: 27-12
BCS bowl appearances: 0
Big 12/SEC titles: 0
National titles: 0

2013 starters: LB Donnie Baggs, WR Mike Evans, CB Deshazor Everett, LB Steven Jenkins, QB Johnny Manziel, S Howard Matthews, S Floyd Raven

The presence of so many members of the Aggies' porous 2013 defense docked this class a few spots. But the two huge offensive stars produced enough to land Texas A&M on this list. Manziel and Evans helped the Aggies charge into the SEC, and the pair of three-star prospects wound up being the cream of Mike Sherman's final Texas A&M recruiting class. Not that Sherman realized what kind of talent he signed. He redshirted both of them.

13. Notre Dame

Original rank: 10
Record since 2011: 29-10
BCS bowl appearances: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: RB George Atkinson III, WR DaVaris Daniels, S Matthias Farley, OG Connor Hanratty, C Nick Martin, TE Troy Niklas, DE Stephon Tuitt

This class might have been ranked higher had one of its members not made a mistake that cost him his redshirt sophomore season. Quarterback Everett Golson, who helped the Fighting Irish reach the BCS title game in 2012, was suspended for the fall semester after he was caught cheating in a class. With him under center, the Irish might have been a win or two better this season. This class also included defensive end Aaron Lynch, who had a great freshman year in South Bend but transferred to South Florida in '12. Also in this class was tailback Cam McDaniel, the nation's most smoldering player last fall. This was Brian Kelly's first crack at a full recruiting cycle as Notre Dame's coach, and he delivered.

14. Oklahoma State

Original rank: 28
Record since 2011: 30-9
BCS bowl appearances: 1
Big 12 titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: DE Jimmy Bean, DT James Castleman, RB Des Roland, LB Ryan Simmons, WR Josh Stewart, QB J.W. Walsh

This class included the Cowboys' leading rusher (Roland) and their best receiver/punt returner (Stewart) in 2013, as well as two key linemen for the Big 12's stingiest scoring defense. Walsh lost the starting quarterback job to Clint Chelf in October, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said last week that Walsh will get first crack at winning the spot for '14.

15. UCF

Original rank: 39
Record since 2011: 27-12
BCS bowl appearances: 1
Conference USA/AAC titles: 1
National titles: 0

2013 starters: DT Demetris Anderson, C Joey Grant, LB Troy Gray, WR Rannell Hall, DE Thomas Niles, DE Miles Pace, WR Breshad Perriman, LB Terrance Plummer

This class delivered Blake Bortles' favorite 2013 target (Hall) and much of the defense that slowed -- for long enough -- Baylor's high-powered offense in the Fiesta Bowl. That group also handled Teddy Bridgewater and company at Louisville earlier in the season. The players listed above all maxed out at three-star ratings. They didn't play like three-stars prospects last season, though. original 2011 recruiting class rankings
1AlabamaSpot on: This class kept Alabama playing at an elite level.
2Florida StateSpot on: The class of 2010 provided the foundation for the '13 national title, but the class of '11 provided the manpower.
3TexasWay off: Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are good, but this class just hasn't won enough games.
4USCOff, but could improve: Wide receiver Marqise Lee was as good as advertised, but the rest of this group hasn't lived up to the hype. A coaching switch could change that.
5GeorgiaOff: The "Dream Team" has produced some good players (WR Chris Conley, DE Ray Drew, LB Amarlo Herrera), but it hasn't brought an SEC title -- unless you count the one signee Nick Marshall helped Auburn win in 2013.
6LSUSpot on: The Tigers are great at reloading and avoiding major year-to-year drop-offs.
7AuburnSpot on: Though we wouldn't have guessed it at this time last year.
8ClemsonSpot on: The Tigers' hyped recruits have generated wins.
9OregonSpot on: Just imagine if Johnny Football had stayed in this class.
10Notre DameSpot on: Brian Kelly's second class laid a nice foundation.
11Ohio StateSpot on: After a tough first year, this group would go on to win a ton of games.
12FloridaWay off: Cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson will play on Sundays, but there were no offensive weapons or standout linemen to help class member Jeff Driskel.
13TennesseeWay off: Offensive tackle Tiny Richardson and linebacker A.J. Johnson were excellent, but the majority of this class has struggled to make an impact in the SEC. (Though dismissed tight end Cam Clear may do it all at Texas A&M in 2014.)
14OklahomaOff: The Sooners signed only 17 players in this class, and while the program has remained in great shape, this group didn't help as much as its ranking suggested. Five-star running back Brandon Williams transferred to Texas A&M, and dismissed former five-star receiver Trey Metoyer continues to have legal issues.
15NebraskaOff: This class included running back Ameer Abdullah, so it gets major points just for him. But beyond Abdullah, linebacker David Santos and linebacker Jamal Turner, the Cornhuskers haven't received huge contributions from this class. The star of this group was quarterback Bubba Starling, who was always a longshot to report to campus. Starling was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft.

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