Re-ranking 2012 recruiting classes based on their on-field production

Re-ranking 2012 college football recruiting classes: Florida State, Ohio State boast the top on-field production.
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Recruiting team rankings matter. Of this, there is no doubt. When compiled the four-year (2012-15) recruiting rank of every FBS program using the composite ranking, the top three looked like this:

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Florida State

Hmm. How did those three programs finish the 2014 season? That’s right. Taking part in the inaugural College Football Playoff. As a general predictor of success, recruiting team rankings fare pretty well. But because they attempt to predict how large groups of 17-year-olds will perform as 20-year-olds, they aren’t perfect. Add to that the fact that some college coaching staffs are far superior to others at developing talent, and the rankings get even more predictably unpredictable.

That’s why it’s fun every year to go back and re-rank the classes. On the list that SBNation compiled, Oregon finished No. 18. But the Ducks have clearly selected and developed players better than almost every other program in the country. So, it’s time to give the Oregons—as well as the Alabamas and Florida States, which win on Signing Day and in November—their due. Every year, we look back three years and examine what the team rankings got right and what they got wrong based on actual college production from the players.

The class of 2012 was odd. Several good teams got huge contributions from their ’12 signees. They’re at the top of this list. But beyond No. 5, I struggled to find ’12 classes that made major contributions on successful teams. Either they produced a ton of starters on a mediocre squad or a few key players on a successful one.

But, as you’ll see, the teams at the top absolutely cleaned up in 2012 … 

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1. Florida State

Original rank: 6
Record since 2012: 39-3

BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 3 

Conference titles: 3 

National titles: 1

2014 major contributors: K Roberto Aguayo, P Cason Beatty, DE Chris Casher, CB Ronald Darby, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Eddie Goldman, LB Reggie Northrup, CB P.J. Williams, QB Jameis Winston

This class was the final piece Jimbo Fisher needed to return Florida State to national prominence, so we can safely say this is the class that brought the Seminoles … back. (If you began following college football after 2012, that joke probably sailed over your head. Sorry.) The success rate for this 19-man class was excellent. Nine players made significant contributions to the national title run in ’13 and an unbeaten regular season in ’14. Winston won the Heisman Trophy. Williams won the Defensive MVP award after the BCS title victory over Auburn. Aguayo might be the best kicker in the country in ’15. Another ’12 signee, British basketball player-turned-offensive tackle Menelik Watson, started one season in Tallahassee and then was selected in the second round of the ’13 NFL draft. He started nine games for the Oakland Raiders in ’14.

2. Ohio State

Original rank: 4

Record since 2012: 38-3

BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 2 

Conference titles: 2*

National titles: 1

*Though 12-0 in 2012, Ohio State could not play for the Big Ten championship or in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions.

2014 major contributors: C Jacoby Boren, OT Taylor Decker, OT Pat Elflein, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, S Tyvis Powell, Nickel Armani Reeves, WR Michael Thomas, DL Adolphus Washington

#DearAndy: Should there be an early signing period for football recruits?

The 2013 Ohio State recruiting class is the prohibitive favorite to be No. 1 in next year’s re-rank, but let’s not overlook the contributions of Urban Meyer’s first class in Columbus. The timing of Meyer’s hire in November ‘11—plus the loyalty of some recruits originally targeted by Jim Tressel’s staff—made it a little easier to assemble a full class, but this is still a remarkable group for a program that underwent a regime change. Three-fifths of the reigning national champ’s offensive line came in this haul. So did the player who led the Buckeyes in receptions (Thomas). So did Jones, who won three postseason games after getting buried at third on the depth chart in the preseason. Jones graduated from high school in ’11, but his high school coach suggested he attend Fork Union Military Academy to separate him from ’11 signee Braxton Miller. In prep school, Jones roomed with Thomas. Washington made one of the biggest contributions to the ’14 defense when he agreed to play nose tackle even though he is probably better suited for the three technique or even defensive end. With Washington at nose, Michael Bennett at three technique and Joey Bosa at end, the Buckeyes boasted one of the nation’s most formidable defensive lines. With Bennett bound for the NFL, Washington will move to three technique in '15.

3. Alabama

Original rank: 1

Record since 2012: 36-5

BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 3

Conference titles: 2 

National titles: 1

2014 major contributors: LB Ryan Anderson, S Landon Collins, WR Amari Cooper, LB Denzel Devall, RB Kenyan Drake, CB Cyrus Jones, LB Reggie Ragland, RB T.J. Yeldon

A two-year national title drought for the Crimson Tide may be cause for alarm in Alabama, but most programs would be thrilled with this three-year run. Many from this group contributed to Alabama’s 2012 national title as freshmen, and this class played a major role in the Tide’s SEC title this season. It included the nation’s best receiver (Cooper) and the back (Yeldon) whose touchdown catch against LSU in ’12 may have saved the national title run. Ragland’s decision to return to campus in ’15 should bolster a defense that was already set to be positively salty. This haul also included another starter on that ’12 national title team: Cornerback Deion Belue was a juco transfer who played right away opposite Dee Milliner.

4. Oregon

Original rank: 16
Record since 2012: 36-5
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 2
Conference titles: 1
National titles: 0

2014 major contributors: WR Bralon Addison*, DE Arik Armstead, DT Alex Balducci, TE Evan Baylis, TE Pharaoh Brown, DE DeForest Buckner, S Reggie Daniels, WR Byron Marshall, WR Dwayne Stanford

Oregon transfer Vernon Adams out to show he's more than FCS sensation

*Missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL.

This class didn’t produce the biggest stars on a team that reached the national title game, but it produced a healthy chunk of the receptions and the biggest contributors on the defensive line. The 6’6” Buckner and the 6’8” Armstead could double as a front line for Oregon’s basketball team, and they gave opposing quarterbacks fits by creating a forest through which to throw. Meanwhile, Marshall’s move from tailback to receiver gave the Ducks’ offense another versatile weapon—as if it needed one.

5. Missouri

Original rank: 31
Record since 2012: 28-12
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 0
Conference titles: 0
National titles: 0

2014 major contributors: C Evan Boehm, DT Harold Brantley, RB Russell Hansbrough, DE Markus Golden, QB Maty Mauk, LB Donavin Newsom

Members of this class played key roles in capturing back-to-back SEC East titles, and some will have an excellent chance at winning a third next season. Mauk improved as the 2014 season progressed and will enter ’15 as one of the SEC’s most seasoned passers. Golden teamed with Shane Ray to keep the Columbia Pass Rusher Factory humming. This class also included’s No. 1 overall recruit, but he didn’t finish his career at Mizzou. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was as good as advertised and helped the Tigers reach the SEC title game as a sophomore ’13, but was thrown off the team for a variety of infractions—including a domestic violence accusation—and spent ’14 essentially preparing for the NFL draft at Oklahoma.

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6. Oklahoma

Original rank: 11
Record since 2012: 29-10
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 1
Conference titles: 0*
National titles: 0

*The Big 12 recognizes the Sooners as co-champions for the 2012 season, but Kansas State won the head-to-head matchup that year and therefore won the league. One True Champion and all.

2014 major contributors: C Ty Darlington, QB Trevor Knight, WR Durron Neal, RB Alex Ross, CB Zack Sanchez, WR Sterling Shepard, LB Eric Striker, DE Charles Tapper

The Sooners had a disappointing 2014 season, but let’s not forget that this class provided many of the key players for the ’13 team. That group went 11-2 and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. All of these players will be back in ’15, and if the Sooners’ coaching staff shake-up produces better results, this group could lead Oklahoma to another special season. This class also included juco tailback Damien Williams, who led the Sooners in rushing in ’12 but was dismissed from the team during the ’13 campaign.


Original rank: 13
Record since 2012: 29-11
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 0
Conference titles:  0
National titles: 0

2014 major contributors: CB Ishmael Adams, CB Fabian Moreau, K Ka’imi Fairbairn, WR Devin Fuller, S Randall Goforth*, FB Nate Iese, RB Paul Perkins, WR Jordan Payton

National Signing Day 2015 winners and losers: USC, UCLA lead the way

*Missed most of the 2014 season with a shoulder injury.

Perkins led the Bruins in rushing last fall with 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns. Payton led UCLA in catches (67) and receiving yards (954), while Fuller finished second in receptions (59). Adams started at cornerback and averaged 22.7 yards a kickoff return. Meanwhile, Fairbairn made 18 of 21 field goals inside 50 yards.

8. Auburn

Original rank: 10
Record since 2012: 23-16
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 1
Conference titles: 1
National titles: 0

2014 major contributors: S Joshua Holsey, CB Jonathan Jones, OG Alex Kozan*, WR Ricardo Louis, LB Cassanova McKinzy, DE Gimel President, OT Avery Young

*Missed the 2014 season with a back injury.

I was tempted to rank the Tigers higher because of the presence of two members of the All-Name Team (McKinzy and President), but this 21-man class simply didn’t produce enough major contributors to justify it. This group also has some strong opinions about food. On National Signing Day 2012, offensive lineman Robert Leff celebrated inking with the Tigers by attempting to devour a 7 ½-pound seafood platter at a restaurant near his home in Fairhope, Ala. Meanwhile, the Tigers have Chick-fil-A to thank for McKinzy. He was considering Clemson, but was displeased with the proximity of Clemson’s Chick-fil-A locations to the football facilities. The distance to waffle fries was more to McKinzy’s liking at Auburn.

9. USC

Original rank: 8
Record since 2012:  26-14
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 0
Conference titles: 0
National titles: 0

2014 major contributors: WR Nelson Agholor, S Gerald Bowman, OT Zach Banner, CB Kevon Seymour, OT Max Tuerk, DT Leonard Williams

This class—limited to 16 players because of NCAA sanctions—had a great success rate. Williams was one of the best defenders in college football last season and might be the first defensive lineman selected in this year’s NFL draft. Agholor gave the offense a reliable playmaker, and he’ll probably also make some NFL team happy. The rest of this group will stay and try to build on a foundation laid in 2014. The Trojans return a lot of talent on offense while needing to rebuild their front seven, but they can finally begin to collect depth after signing their first full class following the sanctions. This haul helped ensure the program didn’t fall off the map during the period when the sanctions did the most damage.

10. TCU

Original rank: 37
Record since 2012: 23-15
BCS/CFP bowl appearances: 1
Conference titles: 0*
National titles: 0

*Again, One True Champion.

2014 major contributors: RB B.J. Catalon, WR Deante' Gray, WR Kolby Listenbee, S Derrick Kindred, OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, K Jaden Oberkrom

After the Horned Frogs switched to a hurry-up offense in 2014, it was Listenbee’s speed that helped stretch defenses. He averaged 18.4 yards a catch and teamed well with leading receiver Josh Doctson, the son of a TCU vice chancellor who arrived with this class as a transfer from Wyoming. Kindred made 80 tackles, intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles. Oberkrom hit a game-winning field goal at West Virginia and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.