Ranking the top 15 recruiting classes in college football history
On Feb. 3, after the fax machines have spit out their last signed national letters of intent and the recruiting services have finished tallying points to determine the winner of the mythical recruiting national title, some fan base will declare its 2010 haul the greatest recruiting class of all time. Chances are, that fan base will be wrong.
But the inevitability does raise an interesting question: What set of signees
After days spent poring over media guides and historical databases, I've come up with the answer. In compiling the 15 classes that represent the pinnacle of college football recruiting, I established a few criteria:
• It's all well and good if the class produced a group of future NFL stars, but college success trumps pro success. After all, college coaches are recruiting players to win college games.
• The class had to contribute to a national title -- and not one of those suspect titles. If Dunkel or Football Thesaurus was the only poll to rank your team No. 1, your classes don't stand a chance.
Beyond that, the rankings are completely subjective. As with most historical rankings, these tend to be biased toward more recent events. That's a problem in most cases, but not here. Recruiting a superstar class actually has become much more difficult in the past 30 years. The NCAA began imposing scholarship limits in 1977 (the limit has been 85 since 1994), and the proliferation of cable television has tilted the balance of power considerably. Thirty years ago, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Nebraska were certain to show up on television. Mississippi State wouldn't have played a nationally televised game unless aliens had landed on the 50-yard line in Starkville. Now, every team in a power conference plays almost every game on television, meaning the Boise States and Toledos of the world appear regularly in front of a national audience.
So the recruits who would have flocked to one of the name-brand schools in the past may now elect to star at a school with a lower profile rather than compete with two dozen fellow blue-chippers for playing time. That makes it even more impressive when a school puts together a class that wins or competes for multiple national titles, and it makes it increasingly less likely that a school will ever assemble a class that can outperform SI.com's No. 1 recruiting class of all time.
It seems premature to rank a class that has played only two seasons, but consider the facts: Alabama's 2008 class produced the program's first Heisman Trophy winner (tailback
The highlight of the class on Signing Day was receiver
If we revisit this project in 10 years, this class could wind up ranking much, much higher.
In modern recruiting, a coach who gets a significant contribution from 60 percent of a class had a good year. If half his signees develop into regular starters, he's working miracles.
Several players also helped the Buckeyes win the 2002 national title as fifth-year seniors. Nickey, Grant, Peterson and offensive tackle
Miami's 1984 recruiting class got a shock more than three months after Signing Day, when Hurricanes coach
Some recruits were angry. One took it in stride. Guess which class of 1984 signee gave the following quote to
Irvin was one of a host of stars Schnellenberger's final class produced. The Hurricanes also signed receiver
The fact that this class included All-America heroback
Nittany Lions assistant
Conlan and classmates
Seven members of this class were selected in the NFL draft, but it was the player who wound up in the USFL that made it one of the best recruiting hauls ever.
As a freshman, Walker was instrumental in helping the Bulldogs win the SEC and national titles. He and his classmates -- including tight end
Plenty of great players came through Tallahassee as the Seminoles racked up 14 consecutive top five finishes between 1987 and 2000, but this group provided the building blocks for the best team of the
The members of this class played for the national title three times. The Seminoles lost to Florida in the 1997 Sugar Bowl and Tennessee in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, but coming into the 1999 season, Florida State was loaded. Class of 1995 star
The class also included junior college transfer
Simon didn't originally sign with Florida State. He signed with Georgia, but the Bulldogs released him from his scholarship after it was discovered that Georgia gymnast
Miami had signed two full classes since emerging from the shadow of NCAA sanctions, but this class launched the Hurricanes back into the nation's elite and helped lay the foundation for the 2001 BCS title team, which is on a
The group would have won two BCS titles if not for a controversial pass interference call late in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that allowed Ohio State to pull off an upset.
At the turn of the century, Longhorns coach
The group included nine players (quarterback
Young split time with
Young got his revenge against Bush and the Trojans in the BCS title game with the most dominant individual performance in college football history. He threw for 267 yards and ran for 200 and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score on a fourth-down play late in the game.
Shortly after he was hired in December 2000,
Carroll truly hit his stride in 2003, when he brought in a group that included offensive tackle
Players from this class helped the Trojans win the AP national title in 2003 and the BCS title in 2004. They might have helped USC win the BCS title in 2005 if not for the members of the 2002 Texas class.
The Gators wound up second to USC for the mythical recruiting national title that day, but four years later, Florida's class was clearly the best of 2006 and one of the best ever. The group went 48-7 and won two national titles.
The crown jewel was quarterback
The end of World War II saw a return to normalcy for college football, and Michigan's first postwar recruiting class helped the Wolverines return to the top of the college football world for the first time since 1933. A group that included quarterback/halfback
In 1947, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the final regular season Associated Press poll, but Michigan moved to No. 1
This class produced only three NFL players, but one was center
In 1979, class member
The seeds of this class were planted in 1970 when ace Sooners assistant
Defensive linemen Dewey and Lee Roy were the cornerstones of the 1972 class, and they joined linebacker
Davis, already an ordained Baptist minister as a collegian, won the starting job in 1973 when presumed starter
The Cornhuskers can thank Bobby Bowden,
Determined to play quarterback, Frazier went to Lincoln, where he teamed with classmates such as offensive tackle
In true Nebraska fashion, the contributors to the two national title teams didn't all arrive in Lincoln as scholarship players. Tomich, fullback
The class also produced a No. 1 overall draft pick -- just not in the NFL draft.
It's unlikely another group will ever be as successful as this class. Coach
From 1946-49, Notre Dame went 36-0-2 and won three national titles. The best known player in the class is end
According to Notre Dame historian