Every Signing Day produces a top-rated class, flush in four and five-star jewels. But with a chance to revisit and reevaluate each of those classes from 2002-2013, who lived up to expectations and who was living a lie?
Ranking Top-Rated Recruiting Classes Since 2002
A handful of the usual suspects, from LSU and Ohio State to Alabama and Michigan, are jockeying to be crowned 2016’s top class on Signing Day. All of the contenders are filling their campus pipelines with terrific athletes from across the country, but only one will stand above the rest. But getting there and staying there are two distinctly different goals, the latter of which actually equals results on Saturdays.
To illustrate this point, we’ve ranked each of Scout.com’s dozen No. 1 classes from 2002-2013 to determine which schools were worthy of the hype and who crumbled beneath the weight of sky-high expectations.
12. Texas (2012)
Signing talent was never Mack Brown’s shortcoming in Austin. Developing that talent, though, was his eventual downfall. And although he only had this class for two years, it wound up being symbolic of his late struggles with the Longhorn. With the exception of current Pats DT Malcom Brown, most of Texas’ most heralded recruits either left the program or fell far short of their ranking. WR Cayleb Jones transferred to Arizona following a suspension, Daje Johnson was routinely in the doghouse, OT Kennedy Estelle got booted, QB Connor Brewer was a bust, CB Bryson Echols, OG Curtis Riser and DE Shiro Davis were journeymen. Just a general mess that typifies this program’s current malaise.
11. USC (2006)
The seeds of the Trojans’ gradual slippage by the end of the decade were sown in 2006, with this class failing to even approach its full potential. There were an unusual number of transfers, including WR Vidal Hazelton, WR Jamere Holland, RB Emmanuel Moody, S Antwine Perez and LB Josh Tatum. And those that stuck around, like backs Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable, WR David Ausberry and OG Zack Heberer, wound up being shells of their high school achievements. A few years before sanctions were levied by the NCAA in 2010, this underachieving class was the true beginning of the end of the USC dynasty under Pete Carroll.
10. Tennessee (2005)
In many ways, this class, touted as the one that would surely lead UT back up the SEC mountain, epitomized the program’s issues since winning the 1998 national championship. Nah, it wasn’t entirely awful, thanks to the development of DT Dan Williams, LB Rico McCoy, OT Chris Scott and RB Montario Hardesty. But it wasn’t the nation’s top performing class either, which contributed to the firing of Phil Fulmer in 2008. Five-star QB Jonathan Crompton didn’t contribute until his senior season, and touted recruits Demetrice Morley, LaMarcus Coker and Slick Shelley either transferred or were dismissed at some point in their Volunteer careers.
9. Florida (2010)
Urban Meyer’s top-rated recruiting class ended up being a housewarming gift for Will Muschamp, who arrived in 2011. Unfortunately, Muschamp was unable to fully maximize all of the raw talent he inherited, lasting just four seasons in Gainesville. On the plus side, defenders Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley used the Swamp as a stepping stone to the NFL. However, this group, which suffered through demoralizing college careers, were characterized by knee injuries to No. 1 overall recruit Ronald Powell and nearly a dozen transfers to other programs. By 2014, this class was a shell of what it was supposed to become when Meyer assembled it four years earlier.
8. Ohio State (2009)
Jim Tressel’s penultimate recruiting class in Columbus did not go down as one of his finest moments at the university. While other classes under his leadership overachieved, this one produced the opposite effect, largely falling short of the bar. All-Big Ten performers and next-level draft picks were scarce from 2009, whose narrative was scripted by flameouts like Duron Carter, Melvin Fellows, Dorian Bell and Storm Klein, among others. The 2009 crop was, however, deep on capable linemen, like John Simon on defense, and Carlos Hyde did erupt into one of the nation’s top backs as a senior in 2013.
7. USC (2004)
The Trojans boasted the top-rated class in back-to-back years, building on the momentum Pete Carroll and his staff were creating. But unlike in 2003, this talent haul was much smaller and less reliable. Five-star studs Jeff Schweiger and Jeff Byers didn’t materialize; Byers endured serious injuries before finally cracking the lineup in 2007, while Schweiger transferred to San Jose State after struggling for reps. However, Troy was not without its stars from 2004. WR Dwayne Jarrett was a two-time All-American, TE Fred Davis won the Mackey Award, LB Keith Rivers and OG Chilo Rachal were selected in the first two rounds of the draft and OG Deuce Lutui and S Scott Ware were key JUCO pickups.
6. Texas (2002)
This was Vince Young’s class, the foundation of the squad that would go on to defeat USC to win the 2005 national championship. In the five years subsequent to 2002, the Longhorns went 55-9 in the heyday of the Mack Brown era on the Forty Acres. A few years before Baylor and Texas A&M would gain traction in the state, Brown cleaned up in Texas. Much more than just Young, all-leaguers Justin Blalock, Rodrique Wright Aaron Harris and a bunch of bedrock veterans were born out of the 2002 crop. DE Bryan Pickryl and DB Edorian McCullough failed to carry their blue-chip weight.
5. Florida (2007)
It wasn’t 2006, the year of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. But it was really close. The combination of the two signing classes helped form the cornerstone of a Gator program that would win a pair of national championships under Urban Meyer and populate plenty of NFL rosters. The 2007 ensemble, which included Cam Newton before he transferred, was littered with all-leaguers, such as DE Carlos Dunlap, CB Joe Haden, S Ahmad Wright, TE Aaron Hernandez and the Pouncey twins up front. The rare bust from 2007 was DT John Brown, the one-time jewel who never quite panned out in Gainesville.
4. Ohio State (2013)
The paint isn’t dry on this class portrait. But even three years is enough time to realize that Urban Meyer’s haul was as good as advertised. A whopping six Buckeyes, CB Eli Apple, S Vonn Bell, DE Joey Bosa, RB Ezekiel Elliott, LB Darron Lee and WR Jalin Marshall, have already declared for early entry into the 2016 NFL Draft. And there’s a ton of talent still left in Columbus, including QB J.T. Barrett, TE Marcus Baugh, CB Gareon Conley, DT Michael Hill, DE Tyquan Lewis and OG Billy Price, to further bolster the final verdict in a few years. Oddly, one of the highest-rated recruits of 2013, LB Mike Mitchell, never played a down for Ohio State and transferred to Texas Tech.
3. Florida State (2011)
This is the class, Jimbo Fisher’s second in Tallahassee, that set the stagnating Seminoles in an entirely new direction. Over the course of the next five years, Florida State went 58-10, while winning a national championship and three straight ACC crowns. There was a preponderance of Sunday talent, ranging from Tre’ Jackson, Nick O’Leary, Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Devonta Freeman on offense to Timmy Jernigan, Cornellius Carradine, Terrance Smith and Nile Lawrence-Stample on D. Five-star Bobby Hart and James Wilder Jr. actually underwhelmed, though this group did produce a championship QB—Alabama’s Jacob Coker who left FSU in 2014.
2. USC (2003)
This class was a microcosm of the height of the Pete Carroll era at Troy, constructed on the heels of a breakout 2002 campaign and Carson Palmer’s Heisman win. In its first three years, this group lost just a pair of games, while winning the 2004 national championship and finishing as the runner-up in 2005. Reggie Bush was the front man, but Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Steve Smith and LenDale White all went on to be high NFL Draft picks. Odd twist? The most decorated recruit, WR Whitney Lewis, caught just three balls as a Trojan before transferring to Northern Iowa.
1. Alabama (2008)
This was a historically significant class that began to shift the balance of power in the SEC. And it represented the ground floor on which Nick Saban began building his legacy in Tuscaloosa. Over the next five years, the Tide went 61-7, capturing a remarkable three national titles along the way. Nearly everyone this side of OT Tyler Love and DB B.J. Scott clicked. WR Julio Jones was the signature blue-chipper, but 2008 was also the birthplace of Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus, Terrence Cody, Dont’a Hightower, Barrett Jones, Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw. Saban and his staff attracted a remarkable amount of talent that set in motion a run that’s still going strong today.