If there is any question as to why the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles were the two best teams in the nation at season's end, just look back at how they arrived in Pasadena.
No, not at their impressive regular-season runs or conference championships. The road began long before that, on the recruiting trail years before they earned any rings in the 2013 season.
Both AU and FSU identified and attracted groups of future stars while they were still in high school. Both programs evenly recruited on both sides of the ball—and even paid a little attention to special teams.
We'll break down each of the classes from the Tigers and the 'Noles from 2010-2012, while also taking a look at the leftovers from 2009 and new additions from 2013 who fueled their runs to the Rose Bowl.
National Rank: 6
SEC Rank: 3
Auburn's 2010 recruiting class was one of the best in the nation, but very little of it still remains.
The Tigers pulled in an outstanding class the year before they won the national title. That class was highlighted by a guy named Cam Newton, then a 4-star out of Blinn College. Of course, Newton didn't play a hand in this 2013 title run, but he certainly impacted it indirectly.
It also featured the nation's No. 1 running back, Michael Dyer, who had a hand in the 2010 national title but was toting the ball for Louisville during the 2013 season. Another big part of the class, 4-star receiver Antonio Goodwin, also left the program after some serious legal troubles.
Auburn's only 5-star outside of Dyer was Trovon Reed, who played a minor role as the team's No. 7 receiver, tallying just 98 receiving yards. Another star of the class, 4-star Corey Lemonier, left after last season for the NFL.
However, it wasn't all bad for the Tigers in this class. Cornerback Chris Davis, who joined AU as a 3-star, ended up as a diamond in the rough. Additionally, they found a solid starting offensive lineman in 3-star Chad Slade.
National Rank: 8
SEC Rank: 4
It came as a surprise when Auburn won the SEC and reached the national title game in 2013, but looking back at its 2011 class, it shouldn't have been such a shock. Fresh off its 2010-11 national title, AU lured a star-studded class to the Plains.
The lone 5-star in the class, offensive tackle Christian Westerman, ended up transferring back home to Arizona State—but Auburn more than made up for it.
Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason joined this Tigers class under the radar a bit as a composite 4-star and just the No. 21 running back in the nation.
The Tigers loaded up at offensive line, defensive back and receiver in 2011. The class featured Auburn's best two offensive linemen, 4-star center Reese Dismukes and 4-star offensive tackle Greg Robinson. On the defensive front, this class brought a sleeper in Gabe Wright, who was unrated as a recruit but tallied 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks last season.
Sammy Coates was another sleeper, taking his 3-star rating and growing into Auburn's leading receiver. He was joined by 4-star tight end C.J. Uzomah and 4-star receiver Quan Bray. The three combined for 1,251 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns—more than half of the Tigers' 2,422 yards and 20 touchdowns for the season.
The class also featured two talented safeties, 4-stars Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie. Whitehead came in as the No. 21 cornerback, while Therezie was the nation's No. 13 safety. The two combined for 122 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, six interceptions and seven pass breakups.
National Rank: 11
SEC Rank: 4
Auburn's 2012 class hasn't had as big of an impact yet, but it still featured several key pieces to the team's title run.
Most will notice 4-star receiver Ricardo Louis. The Miami Beach native was the No. 34 receiver in the nation and actually chose the Tigers over Florida State. While he had just 325 receiving yards and two touchdowns, one of those scores, the Miracle on the Plains against Georgia, will be remembered forever.
The impact of linebacker Cassanova McKinzy was also felt in a big way. McKinzy was a 4-star and the No. 26 outside linebacker and, like Louis, he chose Auburn over the ACC, represented by Clemson. In just his second year, he led the Tigers with 75 tackles, including eight for a loss, and two sacks. He also pulled down an interception and logged six hurries.
The other major players from the 2012 class came on the offensive line. Two of this year's starters, Avery Young and Alex Kozan, came out of this group. Kozan assumed the starting left guard position and joined Auburn as just a 3-star out of Littleton, Colo.
On the other hand, Young was one of the most coveted offensive linemen in the nation and was the highest rated commit in Auburn's 2012 class. As a 4-star, he chose the Tigers over Miami, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and others.
Auburn's '09 and '13 Impact Players
Outside of the three main recruiting classes feeding into this championship run, Auburn had several other key players.
The first is defensive tackle Dee Ford, who is now looking vastly underrated after joining Auburn as just a 3-star in 2009. Ford was the defensive MVP for the Tigers, recording 14.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 17 hurries and two forced fumbles—all team highs.
The 2013 class also brought several key contributors, most notably quarterback Nick Marshall. He was just a 3-star out of Garden City Community College but claimed the starting role and thrived as the season went on, accounting for more than 3,000 total yards and 26 touchdowns.
|Auburn Recruiting Class Breakdowns|
|247Sports Composite Rankings|
While Ford was the main player along the defensive line, the 2013 class featured a number of key backups who represent the future of that defensive front. All four of Auburn's second-string defensive linemen joined in 2013: 5-stars Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson and 4-stars Elijah Daniel and Ben Bradley.
The quartet combined for 63 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 30 hurries and two forced fumbles—all from backup roles.
|Florida State Recruiting Class Breakdowns|
|247Sports Composite Rankings|
National Rank: 9
ACC Rank: 1
The 2011 class played the biggest role in Florida State's title run, but the 2010 class featured several major players as well.
Seven FSU starters came from the class, headlined by star corner Lamarcus Joyner. Recruiting services were right on with Joyner, labeling him a 5-star, the No. 1 athlete and the No. 12 overall player in the country.
Joyner was No. 2 on the Seminoles with 69 tackles while also bringing in two interceptions and forcing three fumbles. The '10 class also brought in several other big-time defensive playmakers, including Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Terrence Brooks.
Jones was a 5-star linebacker and one of the big hauls of the class and panned out nicely as the team's starting "Sam" middle linebacker. Smith, a 4-star out of Valdosta, Ga., started next to Jones in the "Will" linebacker slot and led FSU with 90 tackles in 2013, adding three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Finally, Brooks joined the Seminoles as just a 3-star corner but blossomed as a safety in Tallahassee. He logged 56 tackles and eight tackles for a loss with two interceptions and five pass breakups, with two forced fumbles and one recovery.
On the offensive end, this class brought FSU's No. 3 receiver. Kenny Shaw was a 4-star and the No. 13 receiver in the country. He caught 54 passes for 933 yards and six touchdowns in 2013.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the class was Cameron Erving, who came to FSU as just a 3-star defensive tackle. Since moving to the other side of the ball, he has turned into an All-American offensive lineman. He recently announced that he'll be returning for his senior season, along with Tre' Jackson and Rashad Greene from the 2011 class.
National Rank: 2
ACC Rank: 1
The 2011 class was well represented in FSU's title run, but considering it was the No. 2 class in the nation, that isn't at all surprising.
Williams was the No. 3 player in the nation and the No. 1 safety, while Wilder was the nation's top athlete. Freeman was the No. 7 running back but led the 'Noles with 1,016 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Together, the trio tallied 2,309 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns.
Greene and Benjamin were 4-stars and the No. 16 and No. 17 receivers in the country, respectively. Meanwhile, O'Leary was the fourth 5-star of the class and the No. 1 tight end in 2011. The three amassed 2,696 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns.
The third big trio of the 2011 class came on the offensive line. Three starters, Josue Matias, Tre' Jackson and Bobby Hart, all came out of this incredible group. Jackson was the surprise of the group, as he was projected as a defensive tackle and was ranked No. 86 at his position.
Hart and Matias were far from surprises, though. Both 4-stars, Hart was the nation's No. 1 offensive guard and Matias was the No. 24 offensive tackle.
Two defensive stars came out of this class, as well. Terrance Smith was just a 3-star and the No. 22 outside linebacker and filled the starting "Mike" outside linebacker role in 2013, where he was No. 4 on the team with 59 tackles. He was also one of 16 'Noles to bring in an interception.
Perhaps the most significant member of the class was 5-star defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. The No. 11 player in the nation and the No. 2 defensive tackle, Jernigan has met his lofty expectations. He was third on the team with 63 tackles and was first with 11 tackles for a loss, including 4.5 sacks. He is now headed to the 2014 NFL draft.
National Rank: 3
ACC Rank: 1
Though young, the 2012 class actually had as much of an impact as any on this title run.
Much of that is thanks to Jameis Winston.
He was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 15 player in the nation. As a 5-star, he chose FSU over Alabama, LSU, Stanford and many others. He proved to be even better than that ranking when he won the Heisman Trophy.
Edwards was the No. 2 overall recruit and No. 1 defensive tackle in the country and showed off his playmaking abilities in 2013. He logged 9.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Goldman also started along the defensive front, tallying three tackles for a loss, two sacks and 19 total tackles.
Along with the defensive line duo, two defensive backs from 2012 had big years. Ronald Darby was a 5-star and the No. 2 cornerback, while P.J. Williams was a 4-star and the No. 8 safety. The two combined for 49 tackles, five interceptions, 11 pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
The final key piece was 3-star kicker Roberto Aguayo. He was the No. 3 kicker in the country out of high school but won this year's Lou Groza Award as the best kicker in college football.
Florida State's '09 and '13 Impact Players
The 2013 class has included several early contributors, including 4-star running back Ryan Green and 4-star receiver/returner Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield. However, the biggest impact player thus far has been Jalen Ramsey.
A 5-star corner out of Brentwood, Tenn., Ramsey slid over to strong safety for the 'Noles and finished the season with 49 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a recovery.
Going back in time, the 2009 class also had some lasting impact, including starting center Bryan Stork, a 3-star coming out of high school. Another 3-star, linebacker Dan Hicks, played a relief role for FSU but still notched 5.5 tackles for a loss a sack and an interception.
The last major player was an expected one. Jacobbi McDaniel was a 5-star defensive tackle, the top player at his position and the No. 5 overall prospect. He didn't quite pan out as expected, but was also solid as a second-stringer.
FSU 2014 Class Rank: 5
AU 2014 Class Rank: 7
Both schools are well on their way to carrying on their traditions.
Florida State has already enrolled the nation's No. 2 running back, 5-star Dalvin Cook. The 'Noles also boast 4-star quarterback JJ Cosentino and 4-star receiver Travis Rudolph. On the defensive side, they claim commitments from a pair of 4-star linebackers, Jacob Pugh and Kain Daub.
The Tigers have already welcomed two of the nation's best junior college transfers, D'haquille Williams and Derrick Moncrief, to campus. They also have a replacement for Tre Mason on the way, 5-star running back Racean Thomas. AU also will bring in an All-American quarterback, 4-star Sean White.