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Re-ranking the recruiting classes of 2014: Who actually got the best class?

Led by Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott and a little-known walk-on named Hunter Renfrow, Clemson's 2014 recruiting class was the best in the country.

Recruiting rankings get ripped a lot this time of year. Whether it’s a college coach trying to rationalize a lower ranked class or a potential first-rounder who fell through the cracks as a high-schooler, recruiting rankings are easy targets.

But the truth is that in the aggregate, recruiting rankings do a decent job of determining which programs have a chance to play for the national title.

Still, the most accurate way to rank recruiting classes remains hindsight. That’s why every year, we look back three years to determine which programs evaluated and developed players better than their peers. Why three years and not four? Because it’s more fun when most of the players are still in college. So here are the new team rankings for the classes of 2014…

1. Clemson

Record since 2014: 38–5
Conference titles: 2
Playoff appearances: 2
National titles: 1

Original composite ranking: 17

Major contributors: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Artavis Scott, DE Richard Yeargin, RB Adam Choice, LB Kendall Joseph, OG Taylor Hearn, K Greg Huegel

Alabama’s class produced more starters, but this class brought the player who made the biggest impact on college football each of the past two seasons. Watson elevated Clemson from ACC contender to nationally elite program, and the Tigers’ appear in position to stay in that echelon for the foreseeable future. Also, one of the most important members of this class wasn’t included in the rankings—which only count scholarship players. Receiver Hunter Renfrow walked on in 2014. As Alabama’s secondary will attest after facing Renfrow in two national title games, he’s a quite valuable member of this class.

2. Alabama

Record since 2014: 40–4
Conference titles: 3
Playoff appearances: 3
National titles: 1

Original composite ranking: 1

Major contributors: OT Cam Robinson, CB Tony Brown, CB Marlon Humphrey, LB Rashaan Evans, OG Ross Pierschbacher, OT Dominick Jackson, LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, DT Jarran Reed, DE D.J. Pettway, P JK Scott, RB Bo Scarbrough

As we’ve come to expect in coach Nick Saban’s tenure, this class filled a multitude of needs. Robinson stepped in immediately at left tackle and manned the position for the next three seasons. Reed, a junior college transfer, was a critical component of the defensive line on the 2015 national title team. Scarbrough didn’t play for the Crimson Tide in 2014. Academic issues kept him from joining until January ’15, but he played a huge role in Alabama’s playoff run in ’16. Scott, meanwhile, has been a major field position weapon for Alabama since he set foot on campus. This class also included DE Da’Shawn Hand, the top-ranked player in the nation according to Hand hasn’t been bad at Alabama; he’s simply been waiting his turn. He should step into a big role as a senior in ’17.

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3. Stanford

Record since 2014: 30–10
Conference titles: 1
Playoff appearances: 0
National titles: 0

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Original composite ranking: 13

Major contributors: RB Christian McCaffrey, DE Solomon Thomas, QB Keller Chryst, TE Dalton Schultz, LB Bobby Okereke, LB Joey Alfieri, OT A.T. Hall, DT Harrison Phillips, C Jesse Burkett, CB Alameen Murphy, FB Daniel Marx

This class only had 20 members, but 11 of them started for the Cardinal last season. That includes McCaffrey, who led the nation in all-purpose yards as a sophomore and as a junior. That also includes Thomas, the reigning Pac-12 defensive player of the year. That’s an incredible hit rate—even for a coach (David Shaw) whose hit rate has been excellent since he took over the program.

4. Ohio State

Record since 2014: 37–4
Conference titles: 1
Playoff appearances: 2
National titles: 1

Original composite ranking: 3

Major contributors: LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Jamarco Jones, RB Curtis Samuel, DE Sam Hubbard, WR Noah Brown, S Malik Hooker

If we re-ranked these classes again next year, this one might move up higher. The recruiting machine that Urban Meyer has built in Columbus has made it so that some very good players have had to sit and wait their turns. Hooker, for example, would have started for three years at most programs. He started for one at Ohio State and is headed to the NFL. There may be more members of this class who will become major contributors as redshirt juniors or seniors.

5. Oklahoma

Record since 2014: 30–9
Conference titles: 2
Playoff appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Original composite ranking: 14

Major contributors: RB Joe Mixon, TE Mark Andrews, RB Samaje Perine, WR Jeffery Mead, OT Orlando Brown, CB Jordan Thomas, S Steven Parker, FB Dimitri Flowers

The offensive backfield portion of this class made huge on-field contributions—though Mixon’s huge off-field transgression created a cloud over his entire Oklahoma career—but the most important member of the class that arrived in 2014 didn’t sign a National Letter of Intent. Quarterback Baker Mayfield came as a walk-on transfer from Texas Tech. He turned down a scholarship offer from East Carolina to play for the Sooners, the team he pulled for as a child. Who was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina who offered Mayfield that scholarship? Lincoln Riley, who would join Oklahoma in the same role prior to the 2015 season. Two Big 12 titles later, Mayfield and Riley are saddling up for one last ride.


6. Florida State

Record since 2014: 33–7
Conference titles: 1
Playoff appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Original composite ranking: 4

Major contributors: RB Dalvin Cook, S Ermon Lane, WR Travis Rudolph, LB Jacob Pugh, DT Derrick Nnadi, OT Rod Johnson, DT Demarcus Christmas, S Trey Marshall, TE Mavin Saunders, C Alec Eberle, TE Ryan Izzo, OG Kareem Are, OT Brock Ruble

Cook was the headliner of this class, and he didn’t disappoint during his career in Tallahassee. Even with Jameis Winston still on the team, Cook was Florida State’s most important offensive weapon in the second half of his freshman season. He then carried the offense as a sophomore and for most of his junior season. Much of the rest of this class will peak in ’17, which could be great for the Seminoles in an ACC Atlantic Division they no longer have to share with Deshaun Watson.

7. Penn State

Record since 2014: 25–15
Conference titles: 1
National titles: 0
Playoff appearances: 0

Original composite ranking: 24

Major contributors: WR Saeed Blacknall, WR Chris Godwin, TE Mike Gesicki, S Marcus Allen, LB Koa Farmer, QB Trace McSorley, CB Grant Haley, LB Jason Cabinda

This class is a mix of players who committed to play for outgoing coach Bill O’Brien and for James Franklin. Even more impressive is the fact that when each of these players committed, Penn State’s NCAA sanctions hadn’t been lifted. The O’Brien and Franklin staffs did some excellent evaluation from a much smaller pool of recruits willing to go to Penn State even if they might face bowl bans and scholarship limits. The Nittany Lions got big contributions from the O’Brien recruits (e.g. Godwin) and the Franklin recruits (e.g. McSorley, who originally committed to play for Franklin at Vanderbilt) in this class.

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8. USC

Record since 2014: 27–13
Conference titles: 0
National titles: 0
Playoff appearances: 0

Original composite ranking: 10

Major contributors: CB Adoree’ Jackson, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, OG Damien Mama, DE Claude Pelon, OG Viane Talamaivao

Steve Sarkisian’s first class at USC didn’t produce a ton of starters, but it did produce two of the best players on the team that Clay Helton would win the Rose Bowl with this past season. Jackson and Smith-Schuster came to USC during a tumultuous time and may wind up being the foundation for a Trojan renaissance.

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9. Washington

Record since 2014: 27–14
Conference titles: 1
Playoff appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Original composite ranking: 37

Major contributors: S Budda Baker, OT Kaleb McGary, DT Greg Gaines, S JoJo McIntosh, WR Dante Pettis, CB Sidney Jones

The commitments of all of the major contributors listed above were obtained after Chris Petersen and his staff took over the program in December ’13. That’s some impressive scrambling for a new staff. It’s even more impressive considering the group contains three-quarters of the nation’s best secondary in ’16.

10. Wisconsin

Record since 2014: 32–9
Conference titles: 0
National titles: 0

Original composite ranking: 33

Major contributors: DT Conor Sheehy, S D’Kota Dixon, CB Derrick Tindal, OG Beau Benzschawel, K Rafael Gaglianone, LB T.J. Edwards

It was a tough call between this class and Brady Hoke’s final Michigan class, which only produced three ’16 starters. (They were important starters: LB Jabrill Peppers, QB Wilton Speight and C Mason Cole.) This one produced three starters on an excellent defense and gets extra points for identifying Gaglianone’s wiggle.

A random ranking

Since I’m in a re-ranking mood—and since it was so much fun re-ranking a Billboard Hot 100 from 1999 a few weeks ago—we’re going to re-rank the Billboard Hot 100 singles from 30 years ago this week. Just like last time, the songs on that week’s Hot 100 are the only one’s eligible to make the new top 10. This, by the way, was an absolutely loaded Hot 100.

1. “Livin on a Prayer,” Bon Jovi

Original rank: 1

2. “Fight For Your Right,” The Beastie Boys

Original rank: 17

3. “Control,” Janet Jackson

Original rank: 31

4. “Keep Your Hands To Yourself,” The Georgia Satellites

Original rank: 5


5. “Open Your Heart,” Madonna

Original rank: 2

6. “The Way It Is,” Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Original rank: 81

7. “Deep River Woman,” Lionel Richie

Original rank: 71

8. “You Give Love A Bad Name,” Bon Jovi

Original rank: 98

9. “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Crowded House

Original rank: 44

10. “Love You Down,” Ready For The World

Original rank: 12


1. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has been receiving outpatient treatments for throat cancer, Snyder revealed Monday.

"I have been diagnosed with throat cancer and have been receiving outpatient treatment at the KU Medical Center for about three weeks and am getting along very well. The doctors and staffs at both KU Med and M.D. Anderson (in Houston, Texas) have been great; working so very well together to finalize the overall treatment plan which is being conducted in Kansas City,” Snyder said in the statement. “Both ‘teams’ have projected a positive outcome and have worked out a schedule that allows me to be in Kansas City for my regular treatments and still be back in the office on a regular basis through the first week of March. Sean [Snyder, Bill Snyder’s son and Kansas State associate head coach], along with our coaching and support staffs, remain highly productive in carrying out their responsibilities keeping us on track.”

Snyder plans to be ready for Kansas State’s spring practice next month.

2. Alabama still hasn’t hired an offensive coordinator to replace Steve Sarkisian, who lasted all of one game before leaving for the Atlanta Falcons. But there is no need for Nick Saban to rush. The Crimson Tide’s army of analysts can help the new guy prepare for spring practice. The pie-in-the-sky choice remains Chip Kelly, but that job is a tough sell for a guy collecting two NFL buyouts who likely will be a college head coach by early December. That didn’t stop me from making the case for why that union would be good for both parties, though.

What makes this job difficult to hire for is that Alabama’s offense can’t be placed into a box like most of them. It has evolved to that point that it’s pretty much whatever the Crimson Tide need it to be based on their personnel. So the Tide aren’t choosing a coordinator and his system. They’re choosing a coach who will have to be a bit of a chameleon. This person needs to be able to run a pro-style scheme and then toggle to a hurry-up, read-option spread. There will be a bit of a learning curve no matter who gets the job.

3. Redditor tjelliott12 has applied for the job in Tuscaloosa, and his run-first, run-second, run-third philosophy should make him the people’s choice.

4. Team recruiting rankings for the next cycle just after National Signing Day tend to look a little odd because the sample size of committed players doesn’t begin to fill out until June. Still, no one expected to see Kansas—owner of exactly one FBS win the past two seasons—sitting in the top 10 at any point. But there are the Jayhawks at No. 8, anchored by five players, including two four-stars, from the state of Louisiana.vThe Jayhawks’ man in Louisiana is running backs coach Tony Hull, a former New Orleans-area high school coach.

Will Kansas actually sign all these players? That remains to be seen. Receiver Devonta Jason, for example, has offers from most of the SEC. But David Beaty’s Kansas staff will fight to keep them. Beaty also likely will have to fight to keep Hull, whose Louisiana recruiting chops make him quite valuable. Last week, Hull was promoted to associate head coach (with an accompanying raise).

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5. Rest in peace, former Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses. Moses, 33, was one of three people who died in a house fire Sunday morning in Monroe, Ga.

6. Colorado athletic director Rick George admitted in a statement last week that he did not handle the situation involving former football assistant Joe Tumpkin as well as he could have. An SI story by Michael McKnight brought the school’s handling of the allegations against Tumpkin into the light on Feb. 3.

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, who promoted the since-dismissed Tumpkin in December after Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend accused Tumpkin of multiple incidents of physical abuse, also released a statement. Last month, Tumpkin was charged with five felony counts of second-degree assault and three misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault.

7. In much better news, Louisiana Tech back Jaqwis Dancy learned last week that he is cancer-free.

8. Receiver Freddy Canteen, another member of Brady Hoke’s final class at Michigan in ’14, plans to graduate this spring and transfer to Notre Dame, where he’ll have two years to play.

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9. Speaking of Hoke, he was officially announced as Tennessee’s new defensive line coach last week.

10. Gene Chizik stepped down last week as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator, citing a need to spend more time with his family. Chizik, who served as Auburn’s head coach from ’09–12, had been working in Chapel Hill for two seasons while his family remained in Alabama.

"Personally, it has been extremely difficult on my family and me," Chizik wrote in a letter to fans "We have been apart for the past two years for the first time in my 30-year coaching career. I have been a long-distance husband to my devoted wife, Jonna. I missed my twin daughters' entire senior year of high school, along with sending them off to college. My son, Cally, is a high school football and baseball player. I have only seen two of Cally's baseball games and two of his football game in two years. As every parent can imagine, being a long-distance dad to my children has been extremely difficult on everyone.”

Tar Heels linebackers coach John Papuchis, a former Nebraska defensive coordinator, will take over the North Carolina defense.

What’s eating Andy?

Don’t you hate when you’re driving for the game-winning layup in overtime and the ball just sits on the rim? Oh, this hasn’t happened to you, either? Well, it happened to Virginia on Sunday night, and the result was a double-overtime win for Virginia Tech.

What’s Andy eating?

We’re going to tackle a very serious topic today. My purely anecdotal research has found a condition that afflicts at least half of our nation’s pitmasters, and we need to stop judging and start offering help. If we don’t, Low Barbecue Self-Esteem could spread to the rest of the barbecue community.

What is Low Barbecue Self-Esteem? It’s a condition that forces pitmasters to dump sauce on meat before serving it instead of proudly serving it naked and letting the diner choose whether it needs sauce. Properly cooked meat requires no sauce, but this affliction creeps inside the brains of even the most proficient barbecue cooks and whispers It Dumps The Sauce On The Meat Or Else The Diners Will Retreat. This is an awful lie, and it can lead to pools of sauce masking the flavor of perfectly cooked pig.

I ran into a case a few weeks ago at Hot Spot Barbecue in Pensacola. Hot Spot is a wonderful place with thick, meaty ribs and juicy pulled pork. The service is sublime. The place might have the nicest staff of any barbecue joint in America. (I promise I thought this even before I learned every first-time diner gets a free cookie.) But I should have staged an intervention when I read the menu.

It stated that meat would be served sauced unless requested. I was so shaken by this statement that I forgot to order my two-meat combo unsauced. Also, I was a little worried the meat would be dry or otherwise substandard. After all, why would anyone try to hide perfectly good ribs under sauce?


I had forgotten, of course, about Low Barbecue Self-Esteem. LBSE is an insidious creature. It can worm its way into the psyche of even the best pitmasters, and the only way to fight it is to beg those pitmasters to take the sauce bottles out of the kitchen and leave them on the tables in the dining room.


The ribs and pulled pork at Hot Spot needed no sauce. The Brunswick Stew was divine. The lemon pie provided the ultimate exclamation point. Everything about Hot Spot was excellent except the forced saucing. Every time they prepare a plate, the proprietors need to repeat the following, which was adapted from the late 20th century philosopher Stuart Smalley:

The ribs are meaty enough.

The pork is moist enough.

And doggone it, people like it.


Either that or I just need to remember to ask for no sauce next time I visit. But I think that would be a cop-out. It would solve my individual problem, but it wouldn’t stop the spread of LBSE. And if we band together, we can eliminate this awful malady.