Best SEC Football Recruiting Classes from BCS Era
National signing day is right around the corner, and several SEC teams are poised to post stellar classes that could catapult them into the national title picture or keep them right in the thick of it.
But just how important are these classes?
Either Alabama or Florida have finished with the top recruiting class in the nation every year except once since 2007. It's no coincidence that the two programs have three SEC championships and four BCS National Championships over that same time period.
SEC recruiting has kicked into overdrive since the mid-2000s, with multiple teams placing in the national top five every year. Which classes were the top classes of the BCS era? Here are our top 10 based on Rivals.com team rankings, elite players who succeeded in college and sleepers who hit it big for their respective programs.
*All recruiting information courtesy of Rivals.com
10. Alabama Crimson Tide 2012
Alabama finished with the nation's top recruiting class in 2012, and for good reason.
Head coach Nick Saban reeled in superstar running back T.J. Yeldon from Daphne, Ala., who was a 5-star running back who had previously been committed to Auburn. All he's done during his career at Alabama is post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his first two years in Tuscaloosa, and help lead the Crimson Tide to a 24-3 record and win SEC and national titles in the 2012 season.
Safety Landon Collins was also a centerpiece of this class. The 5-star safety from Geismar, La., stepped in as a full-time starter when Vinnie Sunseri went down and finished the season second on the team with 69 tackles. He also picked off two passes, one of which went for a touchdown.
It was a typical Alabama class—one that is well-rounded with players who fill immediate needs and superstars who will push incumbents for playing time.
The Stars: RB T.J. Yeldon, S Landon Collins, WR Amari Cooper, WR Chris Black, LB Denzel Devall, RB Kenyan Drake.
The Sleepers: CB Deion Belue
The Busts: DB Eddie Williams, LB Ryan Anderson
9. Alabama Crimson Tide 2011
Alabama's 2011 class was also loaded with top-tier talent that helped the Crimson Tide claim the 2011 and 2012 titles, and will continue to help the program in the future.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was one of the headliners of the group. The 5-star safety from Orlando, Fla., stepped in as a starter in 2012 and proved to be one of the top safeties in the game. He left a year early to play on Sundays in the NFL, but has two national title rings on his fingers to show off to his professional teammates once he gets there.
Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was also one of the superstars in the class. Kouandjio initially committed to Auburn on ESPN on national signing day, before eventually signing with the Crimson Tide two weeks later. He was one of the anchors of that phenomenal 2012 offensive line that plowed the road for running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Like Clinton-Dix, Kouandjio declared for the NFL after his true junior season.
The Stars: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, OL Cyrus Kouandjio, DT Jesse Williams, DT Jeoffrey Pagan, DL Quinton Dial, DE Xzavier Dickson, LB Trey DePriest
The Sleepers: S Vinnie Sunseri
The Busts: RB/LB Brent Calloway, WR Danny Woodson
8. LSU Tigers 2003
LSU won the BCS national title in 2003, and several members of the 2003 recruiting class played a part in that title.
Most notable was running back Justin Vincent, who was a 5-star prospect in that class. Vincent rushed for 100 yards or more in each of LSU's final four games of the 2003 season, including 201 in a 34-13 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game—which was the title game record for a decade. The Lake Charles, La. native was an immediate-impact running back who peaked early, and he did it at exactly the right time.
The class also included two quarterbacks who were important pieces of LSU's puzzle. JaMarcus Russell was a 4-star prospect and one of the lynchpins of the class. The Mobile, Ala., native either started or shared time in the LSU lineup from 2004-2006. Matt Flynn, also a 4-star prospect from the class, took over when Russell left for the NFL. He led the Tigers to the 2008 BCS National Championship.
The Stars: RB Justin Vincent, QB JaMarcus Russell, QB Matt Flynn, WR Dwayne Bowe, RB Alley Broussard, DB LaRon Landry, LB Kirston Pittman
The Sleepers: DB Jonathon Zenon
The Busts: WR Anthony Hill, RB Barrington Edwards
7. Florida Gators 2006
Urban Meyer's first full class in Gainesville was one for the ages.
He won a recruiting battle with Alabama for in-state superstar quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow led the program to two national championships, two SEC Championships and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy. He was one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history, and came to Florida at the exact right time—as Meyer was implementing his spread option offense.
On top of that, the Gators secured 5-star stud linebacker Brandon Spikes, versatile athlete Percy Harvin and linebacker Dustin Doe, all of whom were regarded as "can't miss" prospects.
Not only was it a class littered with superstars, but those superstars were specifically recruited to run Meyer's system, which helped usher in a new era of college football in the SEC.
The Stars: QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin, LB Brandon Spikes, WR Riley Cooper, LB Dustin Doe, OL Carl Johnson
The Sleepers: WR Brandon James
The Busts: DB Jamar Hornsby
6. LSU Tigers 2004
LSU's 2004 class was loaded with top-end talent, but what made this class great were two of the sleepers in the class who shined in Baton Rouge.
Jacob Hester was a two-star running back from Shreveport, La., and he rushed for 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns in LSU's national title season of 2007. Not bad for the guy with the lowest star rating in the entire class.
Also in this class was Tyson Jackson, a 3-star prospect from Edgard, La., who was the third overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. He earned freshman All-SEC honors in 2005 and second team All-SEC honors in 2006 and 2008.
The Stars: WR Early Doucet, DT Glenn Dorsey, DE Charles Alexander, DT Claude Wroten, DT Marlon Favorite, DB Craig Steltz
The Sleepers: RB Jacob Hester, DT Tyson Jackson
The Busts: WR Xavier Carter
5. Alabama Crimson Tide 2013
The jury is obviously still out on just how good Alabama's 2013 class will be, but we've already seen several members of that class shine on the big stage.
Derrick Henry rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on just eight carries in a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, going full "beast mode" in the process. The 6'3", 238-pounder will push incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon for playing time next season, and at the very least should be a tremendous asset in goal-line and short-yardage situations for new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Former 5-star prospect A'Shawn Robinson also made an immediate impact in Tuscaloosa, finishing the season with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2013. He'll grow into even more of an impact player as he spends more time in Alabama's strength and conditioning program, and will be a superstar before he leaves.
The Stars: RB Derrick Henry, DT A'Shawn Robinson, DE Jonathan Allen, QB Cooper Bateman, LB Reuben Foster, TE O.J. Howard
The Sleepers: None yet
The Busts: RB Alvin Kamara
4. Florida Gators 2007
Florida followed up its stellar 2006 class with another haul in 2007 that included four 5-star players and several key contributors to the 2008 national title team.
Among them was Carlos Dunlap, a 5-star defensive lineman from North Charleston, S.C. He was defensive MVP of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game after his sophomore season in 2008, where he blocked a field goal and had four tackles against Oklahoma. He was a coaches and AP first-team All-SEC performer in 2009 as a junior before leaving for the NFL.
Major Wright was a 4-star prospect in this class, and the safety from Fort Lauderdale started 33 times at free safety, notched 165 tackles and picked off eight passes in three seasons.
The biggest bust in this class was 5-star dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton. He never amounted to much as a Gator before leaving the program in 2009 amid legal issues. He'd later win the Heisman Trophy and lead Auburn to the 2010 national title.
The Stars: DT Carlos Dunlap, S Major Wright, DB Ahmad Black, DB Joe Haden, TE Aaron Hernandez, OL Maurkice Pouncey, OL Michael Pouncey, ATH Chris Rainey
The Sleepers: K Chas Henry
The Busts: QB Cam Newton, DT Torrey Davis
3. Alabama Crimson Tide 2008
Nick Saban's first full class at Alabama was flat out filthy. Between Heisman Trophy winners, key defensive pieces, immediate impact stars and long-term studs, this class had it all.
Running back Mark Ingram was a 4-star prospect in this class, and he rushed for 3,261 yards and 42 touchdowns during his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, claiming Alabama's first ever Heisman Trophy (2009) in the process.
Joining Ingram in the class was 5-star wide receiver Julio Jones, who had 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns during his three seasons at the Capstone.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower was also a key member of the class. The former 4-star prospect won two national titles in Alabama, and was a first-team All-SEC and All-American in 2011, when he led the Tide with 85 tackles.
The Stars: RB Mark Ingram, WR Julio Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower, OL Barrett Jones, S Mark Barron, S Robert Lester, LB Courtney Upshaw
The Sleepers: DT Terrence Cody, DT Marcel Dareus
The Busts: QB Star Jackson, DB/WR Burton Scott, OL Tyler Love
2. Florida Gators 2010
Florida's 2010 recruiting class—which was Urban Meyer's last as head coach of the Gators—was nothing short of spectacular.
The class was littered with elite talent on the defensive side of the ball, and many of those players were integral parts of the 2012 Gators that finished the season 11-2.
Matt Elam was a 5-star stud out of West Palm Beach who made 26 starts at safety in three seasons in Gainesville, including every game of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He finished his career with 168 tackles and six interceptions, and was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Dominique Easley was another lynchpin of this class. The 6'2", 280-pound defensive lineman made 26 starts during his career, notching 72 tackles and 18 tackles for loss. He was lost for the season with a torn ACL in September 2013, but left a lasting legacy for future Gators to live up to.
The Stars: S Matt Elam, DL Dominique Easley, DT Sharrif Floyd, LB Ronald Powell, DT Leon Orr, DB Cody Riggs, DB Jaylen Watkins
The Sleepers: WR/ATH Trey Burton
The Busts: WR Adrian Coxson
1. Alabama Crimson Tide 2009
Our top SEC class of the BCS era goes to the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide. You want talent? This class was absolutely loaded with it.
The most visible player in this class was AJ McCarron, a native of Mobile, Ala. Counting his redshirt season in 2009, the former 4-star quarterback has three national championship rings—which is one fewer than the number of losses he had as a starting quarterback. Is he the best quarterback in Alabama history? I think he is, and he was only one piece of this stellar class.
Running back Trent Richardson was another high-profile member of this class. The 5-star prospect from Pensacola, Fla., rushed for 3,130 yards and 35 touchdowns in his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, was a finalist for the 2011 Heisman Trophy and the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
All in all, this class is essentially an SEC all-star team.
The Stars: QB AJ McCarron, RB Trent Richardson, WR Kenny Bell, DT Quinton Dial, OT D.J. Fluker, LB Nico Johnson, DB Dre Kirkpatrick, RB Eddie Lacy, WR Kevin Norwood, DE Ed Stinson
The Sleepers: OG Chance Warmack, OG Anthony Steen
The Busts: DE William Ming, DT Darrington Sentimore