There’s a pretty simple reason why the SEC has emerged as college football’s most powerful conference over the last decade, producing eight out of the last 10 national champions.
That reason is talent. No other conference in college football has the same amount of top-tier talent as the SEC currently does.
Year after year, dozens of highly touted blue-chip high school recruits from around the country pledge their allegiance to SEC schools, only adding to the already incredible abundance of talent in the league.
This year is no different. Some of the biggest stars of the 2013 recruiting class have chosen to compete in college football’s true powerhouse conference.
As we’ve learned in recent years, however, high school hype certainly doesn’t guarantee that a young player will become successful in the SEC.
There have been plenty of celebrated and coveted recruits who have come in and flourished in the league and left as high NFL draft picks. But there have also been a few so-called “can’t miss” prospects who turned out to be big-time busts for a variety of different reasons.
Here’s a look at how the SEC’s 25 most highly touted high school recruits from the last decade fared once they actually reached the collegiate level.
Jadeveon Clowney arrived at South Carolina as one of the most hyped high school football recruits of all time
There’s a pretty simple reason why the SEC has emerged as college football’s most powerful conference over the last decade, producing eight out of the last 10 national champions.
Florida fans had to be at least a little concerned about losing All-American defensive end Jarvis Moss early to the NFL after the 2006 season. But they quickly turned their attention from their departing defensive star to their incoming potential pass-rushing phenom, Carlos Dunlap.
As a senior at South Carolina's Fort Dorchester High School, the highly-athletic 6'6'' edge-rusher totaled 24 sacks and 105 tackles.
After a rather quiet freshman season, Dunlap emerged as one of the SEC's top defensive players during his final two seasons in Gainesville. In the last two years of his college career, he totaled 19 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.
Like Moss, Dunlap left early for the NFL after his junior year. He was ultimately selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft.
If you love to watch huge bone-crushing hits, then you should go watch some of Tray Blackmon's high school highlights, because he made a ton of them during his time at Georgia's LaGrange High School.
Checking in at just 6'0'', 200-pounds, Blackmon was obviously an undersized outside linebacker, especially by SEC standards.
Still, his smaller stature didn't seem to scare away the big BCS programs, since he was considered one of the best overall prospects of the 2005 recruiting class.
Sadly, that pretty much ended up being the high point of his football career.
Blackmon failed to become an impact defensive player for the Tigers, finishing his collegiate career with just 84 total tackles.
He now plays for the Louisiana Swashbucklers of the Intense Football League.
Tim Tebow became one of college football's most legendary players after putting together an absolutely brilliant career at Florida.
If you watched Tebow play at Florida's Nease High School, it probably didn't come as much of a shock that he had so much success at the collegiate level.
Tebow cemented his status as one of the greatest Florida high school athletes of all time after breaking numerous state records such as total offensive yards, career passing yards and total touchdowns.
The star signal-caller turned out to be a perfect fit in Urban Meyer's spread option offense. He concluded his collegiate career with a Heisman Trophy, two BCS national championship rings and numerous other significant awards and accolades.
LSU has hauled in plenty of highly touted receivers in recent years. However, there weren't many who received as much national attention as Early Doucet did when he was coming out of St. Martinville High School in Louisiana.
During his time in Baton Rouge, Doucet had to share the spotlight with fellow talented receivers such as Dwayne Bowe and Buster Davis. However, he still put together a solid overall career, finishing with 116 catches and 13 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Ultimately, Doucet was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. He's developed into a solid complementary pass-catcher in the pro ranks.
Since I live in New Jersey, I've had the chance to hear all about some of the state's best recent high school football recruits such as Brian Cushing, Brian Toal and Anthony Davis. I simply can't remember many high school players from the Garden State that generated as much buzz as Will "The Thrill" Hill did.
Hill had the chance to display his rare athletic gifts and playmaking ability at a variety of different positions for St. Peter's Prep, but it was at quarterback and safety where he really shined.
After dealing with numerous off-the-field issues, which he talked about candidly in this fascinating New York Daily News article, Hill eventually left the Gators a year early to enter the 2011 NFL draft.
Although he ended up going undrafted. the former New Jersey high school star has returned home, and he's now a backup safety for the New York Giants.
You only had to watch about a minute of Trent Richardson's high school highlights to realize why he was rated as one of the top overall prospects of the 2009 recruiting class.
The dominant young rusher from Pensacola, Florida displayed a rare blend of speed, power, vision and natural playmaking ability, the likes of which you just don't see very often from a high school back.
After waiting his turn behind Heisman winner Mark Ingram for the first two years of his career at Alabama, Richardson finally got a shot to be Alabama’s featured back in 2011.
He certainly made the most of the opportunity. The 5’9’’, 230-pound powerhouse rushed for 1,679 yards and scored 24 touchdowns, and he played a key role in the Tide’s run to a BCS championship.
Richardson received plenty of recognition and praise for his performance. He won the Doak Walker Award, was a unanimous All-American selection, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.
Following his incredible junior campaign, he made the wise decision to leave school a year early and enter the 2012 draft, where he was picked third overall by the Cleveland Browns.
Although he may have only been a full-time starter for one year, Richardson will still be remembered as one of the greatest backs to ever lace up a pair of cleats in Tuscaloosa.
Florida's 2010 recruiting class was absolutely loaded with star-studded prospects. One of the true gems of the group was DT Sharrif Floyd.
During his days at George Washington High School in Philadelphia, Floyd displayed almost unreal athleticism and quickness for a 300-plus pound player.
Floyd put his rare physical gifts to good use during his time at Florida. He totaled 46 and 31 tackles in his final two seasons at Gainesville, respectively.
Although he never achieved the same All-American status at the collegiate level as he did during his high school career, there's still a great chance that you'll hear Floyd's name called within the first 15 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft in April.
Matt Stafford seemingly possessed all the important traits—size, arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, toughness and intangibles—to become an elite quarterback at the college level.
That's why he was rated as the No. 1 quarterback prospect of the 2006 recruiting class by both ESPN and Rivals.
Stafford could have gone to any major program that he wanted to, but the Dallas native ultimately settled on Georgia. During his three years in Athens, the strong-armed signal-caller threw for over 7,700 yards and 51 touchdowns.
The Detroit Lions selected Stafford with the top pick of the 2009 NFL draft, making him one of the few No. 1-rated quarterback recruits who actually panned out and became a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Ranked as the third-best prospect in the 2009 recruiting class by Rivals and the 12th best prospect in the class by ESPN, D.J. Fluker arrived at Alabama with some mighty high expectations to live up to.
After redshirting his first year, Fluker finally gave Tide fans what they wanted to see in 2010, when he stepped into the starting lineup and proved that he could more than handle himself in the tough trenches of the SEC.
Fluker spent three years as one of the key cogs for the best offensive line in college football. Now, he's preparing himself for the 2013 NFL draft and trying to show scouts that he's worthy of being a top-20 pick.
Ryan Perrilloux became Les Miles' first major recruiting prize when he announced that he would switch his commitment from Texas to LSU back in 2005.
Perrilloux, a Louisiana native, gave Tigers fans plenty to cheer about, as it appeared as if he would be the team's star quarterback of the future.
Unfortunately, he instead turned out to be one of the most disappointing players in college football history.
The former 5-star prospect was ultimately booted from the program after multiple off-the-field incidents during his first few years in Baton Rouge.
After putting together two successful seasons at Jacksonville State, Perrilloux still ended up going undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft. However, he was able to make the New York Giants' practice squad before being cut in 2012.
He's now a member of the Florida Tarpons of the Ultimate Indoor Football League.
Former Tennessee head coach Philip Fulmer gained a reputation as one of college football's top recruiters due to his ability to reel in blue-chip prospects from around the southeast region.
One of the best recruits that Fulmer ever signed was safety Eric Berry from Creekside High School in Georgia.
Berry was considered to be one of the most naturally gifted and athletic players in the entire country.
He certainly lived up to the hype.
Berry was an All-SEC and All-American performer in each of his final two seasons, and he finished off his career as the Jim Thorpe Award winner.
After three sensational seasons in Knoxville, Berry was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. He's already gone to two pro bowls in his first three seasons in the pros.
Blessed with incredible strength and a huge 6'4'', 325-pound frame, it wasn't very difficult for Andre Smith to overpower and overwhelm the smaller and weaker defenders he faced during his time at Huffman High School in Birmingham.
After a dominant senior year, in which he registered a whopping 88 knockdown blocks, Smith became the first ever offensive lineman to win Alabama's Mr. Football award.
Obviously, Alabama fans were eager to see the top-ranked lineman of the 2006 class in action. Once Smith suited up for the Tide, he definitely didn't disappoint.
The massive blocker earned first-team All-SEC honors in each of his final two seasons before heading off to the pros a year early. Smith was eventually selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the sixth overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft.
Before Gus Malzahn made a name for himself on the college level as an innovative offensive coordinator at schools such as Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn, he was one of the top high school head coaches in the country at Arkansas' Springdale High School.
In 2005, his final year before joining the Razorbacks, Malzahn led the Bulldogs to a 14-0 championship campaign.
That season, he helped mold his quarterback Mitch Mustain into the most decorated high school football player in the history of the state. Mustain earned Parade High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Player of the Year and Arkansas' Mr. Football honors for his performance as a senior.
The highly touted signal-caller followed his coach to Arkansas, where he went 8-0 as a starter during his freshman year. However, after the season, when Malzahn left for Tulsa, Mustain also left Fayetteville and transferred to USC.
He never got the chance to prove himself as a Trojan, as he had to sit behind Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley.
Ultimately, Mustain never was able to cash in on the promise and the potential he showed as a high school superstar. He's now a member of the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League.
Rueben Randle earned numerous All-American honors during his time at Louisiana's Bastrop High School. Although he was his team's star quarterback as a senior, he was rated as the No. 1 receiver prospect in the 2009 recruiting class by Scout, Rivals and ESPN.
Randle didn't become an instant star at LSU. Nevertheless, he finally had a breakout campaign as a junior in 2011, when he caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns.
He was one of the Tigers' key offensive weapons during their run to an SEC championship, and he was one of the most feared wide receivers in the country.
The former 5-star recruit opted to cash in on his big junior year and enter the 2012 NFL draft, where he was taken in the second round by the New York Giants.
The term "future franchise offensive tackle" was thrown around a lot in reference to Cyrus Kouandjio in the months leading up to 2011 national signing day.
This past season, in his first year as a full-time starter at left tackle for the Tide, the remarkably gifted young tackle showed the flashes of dominance you'd expect from such a highly regarded player.
Kouandjio seems like he's on track to be the next great Alabama offensive lineman. It wouldn't be surprising to see him end up as a top-20 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
LSU's 2009 recruiting class was filled with blue-chip prospects. However, the one player that recruiting analysts seemed to be most excited about was Russell Shepard.
The versatile and explosive playmaker was considered to be one of the premier athletes in the 2009 class, and the type of prospect who could end up playing a variety of different positions at the collegiate level.
The Tigers lined him up at quarterback, running back and wide receiver early in his career, but they could never really find a way to get the most out of his unique abilities.
During his four years in Baton Rouge, Shepard caught just 58 total passes and scored just 10 touchdowns.
You could make the argument that the LSU coaching staff could have found better ways to use him. But the bottom line is that Shepard never came close to living up to the sky-high expectations that many Tigers fans had for him.
Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see an NFL team spend a late-round pick on him in the 2013 NFL draft, since he does possess such an intriguing skill-set.
Steve Spurrier doesn't seem like he's much of a dancer, but I'm sure he broke out a little happy jig when he first learned that Marcus Lattimore would be a Gamecock.
After putting together a terrific career at South Carolina's Byrnes High School, Lattimore, who was rated as the No. 1 running back recruit of the 2010 class by both Rivals and Scout, could have gone to any power program he wanted to. However, he ultimately decided to stay in state and play for Spurrier at South Carolina.
After a fantastic freshman season, Lattimore quickly became one of college football's biggest stars. Sadly, however, two serious knee injuries ended up derailing his collegiate career.
The humble and hard-working young back is the type of player that you simply can't help but root for. Hopefully, he can bounce back and make a name for himself in the NFL.
A.J. Green may have been a bit lanky during his days at South Carolina's Summerville High School, as even his listed weight of 184-pounds seemed to be inflated.
Still, it only took one look at Green's combination of height, athleticism, natural playmaking ability and overall feel for the game to realize that he had the potential to be a special player at the college level.
After adding a little more muscle and bulk to his frame, Green quickly developed into a star receiver for the Georgia offense. In his three years with the Bulldogs, he totaled 166 catches and 23 touchdowns.
The extremely gifted pass-catcher ultimately ended up being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft. He's been a Pro-Bowl player in each of his first two seasons.
Rated as the No. 1 overall recruit of the 2006 class by Rivals and the No. 2 overall recruit by ESPN, Percy Harvin arrived at Florida with plenty of pressure and expectations to deal with.
Luckily, he ended up playing in an offense that seemed to perfectly accentuate all his strengths.
Urban Meyer helped Harvin develop into one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in all of college football, as he figured out numerous different ways to get the speedy playmaker into the open field.
Harvin may have only spent three years in Gainesville, but he still finished his career as one of the most productive players in school history.
The Minnesota Vikings were obviously impressed with what he was able to accomplish during his time with the Gators, as they chose Harvin with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Growing up in southern Florida, it's no shock that Patrick Peterson wanted to play for Miami, which was the program he originally committed to. However, Peterson broke the hearts of Hurricanes fans when he ended up signing with Les Miles at LSU.
Peterson arrived in Baton Rouge as the consensus No. 1 cornerback recruit of the 2008 recruiting class. It didn't take him very long to show why he received so much praise during his time at Blanche Ely High School.
The supremely talented corner quickly developed into an impact playmaker for the Tigers defense. By the time he was a junior at LSU, he was regarded as the most talented player in all of college football.
After taking home the Bednarik Award, the Jim Thorpe Award and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in his final collegiate campaign, Peterson went on to become the fifth overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft.
Like A.J. Green, the player that was picked one spot ahead of him, the game-changing corner/returner has been a Pro-Bowl player in each of his first two seasons.
In terms of being just a pure physical specimen, it's unlikely that we'll see many high school receiver prospects that can compare to Julio Jones any time soon.
Jones looked like a man among boys during his career at Alabama's Foley High School.
The young freak of nature routinely made the type of outstanding highlight-reel plays that earned him the distinction of being the best wide receiver recruit in the 2008 class.
The Alabama native eventually proved his worth for his home-state team, as he totaled 179 catches in his three years playing for the Tide.
The Atlanta Falcons were so enamored with the phenomenal young pass-catcher that they ended up trading all the way up from the 27th pick up to six in order to land him in the 2011 NFL draft. So far, he's been just as productive in the pros as he was on the collegiate level.
Ronald Powell was the apple of every recruiting analyst's eye back in 2010.
Both Rivals and ESPN proclaimed that Powell was the best overall recruit in the country. Many were projecting him to be the type of instant impact player who could quickly rise to stardom in the SEC as a freshman.
The California native took some time to adjust to his new surroundings, however, as he totaled just one sack in his first season.
Powell made up for his rather lackluster first campaign with a solid sophomore outing, in which he led the Gators with six sacks and also racked up nine tackles for loss.
Unfortunately, a knee injury robbed Powell of the chance to play at all this past season. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back in 2013.
As far as pure talent and potential is concerned, Bryce Brown is one of the greatest running back prospects to emerge from the high school ranks since the turn of the millennium. However, his recruitment turned out to be a true saga.
There were plenty of storylines to talk about during Brown’s senior year, including the involvement and presence of his “adviser” Brian Butler, the rumors that he would skip college and play in the CFL, and the fact that he decided to wait over a month after national signing day to announce his decision.
Ultimately, Brown ended up signing with Tennessee to play for Lane Kiffin.
During his freshman campaign in Knoxville, the highly touted rusher carried the ball 101 times for 460 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Following Kiffin’s abrupt departure from Tennessee after just one year, Brown decided to leave as well, eventually ending up at Kansas State. However, he never played a down for the Wildcats, instead choosing to enter his name into the 2012 NFL draft.
The seventh-round pick has a chance to salvage his football career and make something of himself with the Philadelphia Eagles. Still, there’s no reason not to call Brown a gigantic recruiting bust, considering the type of star he was built up to be and how much attention he received coming out of high school.
Dorial Green-Beckham was not only the most talented overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class, he was also the most popular and polarizing as well.
No one seemed to have a real clue where the Calvin Johnson clone was headed before National Signing Day. However, the Missouri native gave his home-state something to cheer about when he announced that he would indeed be playing for the Tigers.
Green-Beckham may not have been the type of overnight star that some thought he would be, as he hauled in just 28 catches as a freshman in 2012. Nevertheless, given his combination of size and rare physical tools, the future certainly looks bright for the 6'6'' receiver.
With all due respect to Jimmy Clausen, you can easily make the argument that Jadeveon Clowney was the most publicized high school football recruit of all time.
Clowney was built up to be a rare "once-in-a-generation" type of talent.
Before he even took a collegiate snap, the consensus No. 1 recruit of the 2011 class had his face plastered on numerous national publications and he was the feature of SportsCenter specials.
Obviously, the South Carolina native had plenty of pressure to deal with when he arrived in Columbia to play for his home-state team, the Gamecocks. However, it hasn't seemed to affect him one bit so far.
It's only taken Clowney two years to develop into the dominant defensive end and elite edge-rusher that many forecasted him to be. Thus far, he's totaled a whopping 21 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss.
Not only will the explosive defensive difference-maker enter the upcoming season as the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, he'll also be one of the top early candidates to win the Heisman Trophy.