Re-Ranking the Top 10 Recruiting Classes of the 2015 Cycle

With the benefit of four years of hindsight, who won a 2015 recruiting cycle that was loaded with future first-rounders on the defensive side of the ball? Plus, the transfer portal's continued redistribution of quarterbacks, dream bowl game sponsors and the rest of this week's Punt, Pass & Pork.
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I blame my lack of foresight for my lack of hindsight. For nine consecutive years, I re-ranked the recruiting classes from three years prior. It was always one of the most fun—and educational—exercises of the year, and it allowed us to do what coaches always suggest: Use on-field results to determine which classes were the best.

Then, last year, I forgot to do it. It was a fairly newsy early offseason in college football, and I had to help out a little more on college hoops than usual. If I planned everything 18 months in advance like Nick Saban does, I wouldn’t have missed last year. So I’m already making a note in my calendar to re-rank the classes of 2017 this time next year. And as penance for my forgetfulness, I’ll re-rank the classes of 2015 (which I was supposed to do last year) in this column and 2016 (which I’m supposed to do this year) later this week.

As you’ll see from the variations in original rank and new rank, the recruiting services did fairly well in most cases. But you’ll also see which programs have developed their players the best.

The rankings you see come from the 247Sports Composite, which combines rankings from 247 Sports, Rivals and ESPN. Here we go… 


1. Clemson

Original rank: 9
Record since 2015: 55–4
Conference titles: 4
College Football Playoff appearances: 4
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 4
National titles: 2

Major contributors: WR Deon Cain, OT Mitch Hyatt, DT Christian Wilkins, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, DT Albert Huggins, DE Clelin Ferrell, DE Austin Bryant, TE Garrett Williams, QB Kelly Bryant, S Van Smith, S Tanner Muse, OG Gage Cervenka.

This class is an absolute monster. The signing of quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2014 set the table for Clemson’s ascension into college football’s elite class, but this group provided many of the key pieces that would win the Tigers half of the national titles since this class signed. Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant were three-fourths of the nation’s best defensive line, and when 2016 signee Dexter Lawrence got suspended for this season’s College Football Playoff, Huggins replaced him with no drop-off. Bryant got beat out by 2018 signee Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and left for Missouri, but he still went 16-2 as the starter and led the Tigers to an ACC title. Hyatt was a four-year starter at left tackle. The hit rate from this class was tremendous, and it needed to be, because only an all-time class was going to beat out…

2. Alabama

Original rank: 1
Record since 2015: 55–4
Conference titles: 3
College Football Playoff appearances: 4
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 4
National titles: 2

Major contributors: WR Calvin Ridley, DT Da’Ron Payne, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, RB Damien Harris, S Deionte Thompson, G Lester Cotton, TE Hale Hentges, LB Anfernee Jennings, DB Ronnie Harrison, OT Matt Womack.

In almost any other year, a group this talented would easily take the top spot. That’s how good the Clemson class above it was. Still, this is an incredible group that features a truly dominant defensive tackle (Payne), an ultra-versatile DB (Fitzpatrick) and a stalwart back (Harris). As long as Saban works at Alabama, it’s a safe bet the Crimson Tide will land in the top two on this list every year.

3. Ohio State

Original rank: 7
Record since 2015: 48–6
Conference titles: 2
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 4
National titles: 0

Major contributors: RB Mike Weber, LB Justin Hilliard, OT Isaiah Prince, DT Dre’Mont Jones, WR K.J. Hill, CB Denzel Ward, LB Jerome Baker, DT Davon Hamilton.

This is a pretty typical class for Urban Meyer-era Ohio State. There’s a first-rounder (Ward) who had to wait his turn behind another first-rounder. There is a player who was a force from the moment he set foot on the field (Jones). There are uber-athletes who got better as their careers progressed (Baker and Prince). This class also has paid dividends for other schools. Cornerback Jamel Dean was medically disqualified at Ohio State—his high school coach said he was pushed off the team—but was ultimately cleared to play and went on to a productive career at Auburn. Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Burrow lost out to Dwayne Haskins for the Ohio State starting job—no shame in that—and led LSU to the Fiesta Bowl in his first season there.

4. Georgia

Original rank: 6
Record since 2015: 42–13
Conference titles: 1
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 2
National titles: 0

Major contributors: DT Trenton Thompson, WR Terry Godwin, LB Roquan Smith, DE Jonathan Ledbetter, LB Natrez Patrick, DE D’Andre Walker, CB Deandre Baker, DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, LB Juwan Taylor, LB Tae Crowder.

A solid portion of the core that took Georgia to within a hair of a national title in the 2017 season was signed in the 2014 class, but Mark Richt’s final recruiting class brought more key pieces. The most important was Smith, who had originally intended to sign with UCLA but changed his mind when he learned Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was heading to the Atlanta Falcons (something no one at UCLA had bothered to disclose). This group also included Georgia’s best coverage player (Baker) and pass rusher (Walker) in 2018. 

5. Oklahoma

Original rank: 15
Record since 2015: 46–8
Conference titles: 4
College Football Playoff appearances: 3
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 4
National titles: 0

Major contributors: DT Neville Gallimore, RB Rodney Anderson, OT Bobby Evans, WR Dede Westbrook, OG Dru Samia, S Kahlil Haughton, OT Cody Ford, DE Kenneth Mann, K Austin Seibert.

This class contained a Biletnikoff Award winner (Westbrook in 2016) and three-fifths of the offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best in 2018. It also included perhaps the most complete back in an incredible recent line of Oklahoma backs, but Anderson’s career was snakebit by terrible injury luck. 

6. Notre Dame

Original rank: 13
Record since 2015: 36–15
Conference titles: Not applicable
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 2
National titles: 0

Major contributors: TE Alize Mack, RB Dexter Williams, DT Jerry Tillery, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, WR Miles Boykin, LB Te’Von Coney, LB Asmar Bilal, RB Josh Adams, K Justin Yoon.

Everybody stopped making the dumb NOTRE DAME DIDN’T BELONG IN THE PLAYOFF comments after Clemson beat Alabama by more than it beat Notre Dame, right? This class included some of the best players on a team that went 12–0 in the regular season and then ran into a team that was going to beat anyone it played. It also included the top back and top receiver (Adams and Brown) on a 10–3 team. 

7. Texas

Original rank: 10
Record since 2015: 27–24
Conference titles: 0
College Football Playoff appearances: 0
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Major contributors: LB Malik Jefferson, CB Holton Hill, LB Anthony Wheeler, RB Chris Warren, DB Kris Boyd, OG Patrick Vahe, S DeShon Elliott, CB Davante Davis, OT Connor Williams, DE Charles Omenihu, S P.J. Locke, DE Breckyn Hager.

After Charlie Strong was fired at Texas, he said he had “baked the cake” and that Tom Herman needed only to apply the icing. That wasn’t entirely true, but a look back at Strong’s penultimate class shows that he at least acquired many of the key ingredients. Jefferson, Warren, Elliott and Williams had already moved on to the NFL before this season, but the rest provided the backbone for a team that went to the Big 12 title game and won the Sugar Bowl. 

8. Washington

Original rank: 26
Record since 2015: 39–15
Conference titles: 2
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 3
National titles: 0

Major contributors: QB Jake Browning, LB Benning Potoa’e, CB Austin Joyner, OT Trey Adams, RB Myles Gaskin, WR Chico McClatcher, LB Ben Burr-Kirven, LB Tevis Bartlett, CB Jordan Miller, WR Quinten Pounds.

The Huskies had the lowest original rank of the teams on this list, but Chris Petersen proves year after year that he knows exactly what he’s looking for when he’s selecting players. This was Washington’s first class after a full recruiting cycle under Petersen, and it paid huge dividends. It helped the Huskies win two Pac-12 titles and established the program as one of the nation’s most consistent. It included a four-year starter at quarterback (Browning), the first player in Pac-12 history with four 1,000-yard rushing seasons (Gaskin) and the guy who led the nation in tackles in 2018 while winning the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year award (Burr-Kirven). 

9. USC

Original rank: 2
Record since 2015: 34–19
Conference titles: 1
College Football Playoff appearances: 0 
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 2
National titles: 0

Major contributors: CB Iman Marshall, DL Rasheem Green, OT Chuma Edoga, RB Ronald Jones II, LB Porter Gustin, S Marvell Tell, QB Sam Darnold, LB Cam Smith, WR Deontay Burnett.

It’s easy to say “Well, this is Steve Sarkisian’s last class” and not give any credit to current USC coach Clay Helton, but that would be incorrect. Helton, an assistant on the staff that signed this class, was instrumental in signing the most important player (Darnold). This group also included some dominant defenders (Marshall, Green, Gustin, Smith). Now that nearly all of this class has cycled out at USC, it will be interesting to see if Helton can reverse last season’s slide with exclusively his recruits.

10. Penn State

Original rank: 14
Record since 2015: 38–15
Conference titles: 1
College Football Playoff appearances: 0
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 2
National titles: 0

Major contributors: RB Saquon Barkley, CB John Reid, S Garrett Taylor, WR Juwan Johnson, OT Ryan Bates, DE Shareef Miller, QB Tommy Stevens, DT Kevin Givens, DT Robert Windsor.

The first name on that list was a game-changer for the Nittany Lions. Barkley was one of the most dynamic backs in recent college football memory, and he combined with talent already on the roster (QB Trace McSorley and TE Mike Gesicki, for example) to help turn Penn State into a program that could regularly compete for Big Ten titles. Stevens, who has chipped in as a Swiss Army knife player on offense, is expected to replace McSorley as QB1 for his final college season.

A Random Ranking

Sometimes, the readers just drop great topics out of the sky.

1. Waffle House

@HistoryOfMatt is correct. The Waffle House Scattered, Covered and Smothered Bowl is a no-brainer. It will be held in Atlanta and match two SEC teams that didn’t play during the regular season.

2. Kalik

The Bahamas Bowl shouldn’t be sponsored by an industrial park near O’Hare. (No, really. It was last year.) It should be sponsored by the brand of beer consumed by most of the people in the stands.

3. Goldfish Crackers (Pepperidge Farm)

If Cheez-It can get that much street cred off a game that might have set football back 100 years, imagine what the Goldfish Bowl would do for Cheez-It’s chief competitor.

4. Uncle Jones Bar-B-Que

If the Citrus Bowl needs a new sponsor, it should find the Uncle Jones truck somewhere in nearby Altamonte Springs. Uncle Jones, which used to have a brick-and-mortar place on State Road 436, was my go-to spot in high school. How good was it? So good even the Florida Department of Health couldn’t kill it.


Yes, this is a real organization. And when it finally sponsors a bowl game, that game must match two 6–6 teams.

6. Mons Venus

If Outback ever stops sponsoring the game in Tampa, another homegrown business—located just south of Raymond James Stadium on Dale Mabry Highway—should pick up the baton.


Because the company—motto: “Like it never even happened”—still hasn’t sponsored a bowl game that was played to completion.

8. Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

O.K., so there isn’t a Del Frisco’s in Frisco, Texas. (There is one in nearby Plano). But who wouldn’t watch the Del Frisco’s Frisco Bowl?

9. Los Pollos Hermanos

Yes, it’s a fictional chicken restaurant. But are we certain the New Mexico Bowl is real?

10. Sears

Belk has a bowl game and seems to be thriving. Perhaps a sponsorship could restore awareness of America’s oldest mall anchor store.

Three and Out

1. New Miami coach Manny Diaz continues to be the master of the transfer portal. Last week, former five-star linebacker recruit Jaelan Phillips announced he would transfer to Coral Gables

Phillips told Manny Navarro of The Athletic that UCLA’s medical staff wouldn’t clear him to play because of two concussions suffered while playing for the Bruins. Because Phillips is an undergraduate, he must sit out a season unless the NCAA grants him a waiver.

2. Meanwhile, the Transfer Portal Quarterback Swap Meet continues. Former Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson announced he’s transferring to Maryland.

Former Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister will head to Blacksburg, where Jackson’s departure created an opening in the QB room.

3. SI’s Ross Dellenger examined the future of junior college football.

What’s Eating Andy?

If all Oscar acceptance speeches featured a fart noise, I’d probably watch the Academy Awards. (Related: I need to binge Broadchurch now.) The only question now is who did it better.

Was it Olivia Colman?

Or Mike Gundy?

What’s Andy Eating?

The dining options in Utah become a little more restrictive once children enter the equation. I once ate a delicious bison burger at the No Name Saloon in Park City, but I knew that when I took my family to Park City last week that I wouldn’t be able to eat that burger if I brought the miniature humans along.

No Name is run as a bar, meaning it derives more than 30% of its revenue from alcohol sales. That also means no one under 21 is allowed inside. Why? Presumably, Utah lawmakers think children will burst into flame if they lay eyes on a bottle of Fireball. But we should expect quirkiness from a society that relishes dunking fries in a disgusting concoction called “Fry Sauce”—which the rest of the world would recognize as a poor man’s Thousand Island dressing.

Fortunately, Wasatch Brew Pub—located just a few steps down Park City’s Main Street from No Name—does allow children. Greg Schirf, the Park City resident who created Utah’s first craft brewery in 1986, spearheaded a change in the law in 1989 to make brew pubs legal and opened Wasatch. Today, the place serves Wasatch beers such as the nutty, sweet Polygamy Porter and a burger that, once tweaked a little, provides a satisfying end to a day spent falling down the slopes*.

*I realize others prefer to ski down. That became obvious last week as I watched four-year-olds zoom past me. But I grew up in the South, and my family spent vacations in places we could drive to that prominently featured sand and water. So I tried skiing for the first time last week at age 40. I’m going to need a tad more practice.


Once you unclip your ski boots, head to Wasatch and order the Devastator. It’s a ground chuck burger topped with pastrami. It comes with cheese sauce, but you don’t want that. Ask your server to replace it with the spiced cheddar that comes on the Wasatch burger. Then add bacon to your creation. The savory beef and salty bacon will hug the spicy pastrami, and the gooey melted cheddar will hold it all together beneath an asiago bun that adds another cheesy dimension.

Feel free to sample the Fry Sauce provided on your plate. Then toss it aside and dip your fries in ketchup the way the good Lord intended. Your burger will require no condiments. Once consumed, it will warm you from the inside even as the temperature plunges toward zero.