Recruiting classes are ranked on their potential, but their ultimate value is measured in reflection. The end of an era in college football presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the impact of the recruits who defined the era.
Many outstanding recruits came through the Pac-12 in the 15 years of the BCS. Plenty of 5-star prospects lived up to their billing, and several breakout stars emerged.
So, rather than an assessment of the talent signed during this period, this is a ranking of the conference's 10 most impactful recruiting classes. As a result, stellar groups, such as UCLA's in 2013 and Stanford's in 2012, that have not had enough time make their mark, are omitted but not forgotten.
Recruiting rankings obtained via 247Sports.com.
Notable Names: Johnathan Franklin, Rahim Moore, Datone Jones, Derrick Coleman
Not long after first-year head coach Rick Neuheisel signed his first UCLA recruiting class in 2008, an overzealous Bruins backer paid for an ad in The Los Angeles Times declaring an end to USC's monopoly on the area's college football scene.
The spot became newsworthy, but perhaps the mastermind behind it was onto something the rest of the nation missed. By the time a few of the stars of that class were leaving the program, the Bruins were Pac-12 South champions and fresh off a 38-28 defeat of the Trojans.
Running back Johnathan Franklin and defensive end Datone Jones led the 2012 Bruins to nine wins and the Pac-12 South title. Franklin's 1,734-yard, 13-touchdown senior season was a fitting cap to a career in which he rushed for 4,403 yards and 58 scores.
Safety Rahim Moore was gone before the Bruins' ascent in the Pac-12, but before departing for the NFL he was the nation's interception leader with 10 in 2009.
Notable Names: Mike Williams, Winston Justice, Darnell Bing, Oscar Lua
The concept of USC as a national powerhouse existed more as a history lesson than anything else in the initial years of the BCS. Pete Carroll was hired to restore the Trojans' past glory amid little fanfare and plenty of doubt, but he quickly proved his naysayers wrong.
His 2002 signing class was a big reason for the quick turnaround.
Wide receiver Mike Williams made quite a splash despite spending just two seasons in the program.
Williams was the primary target of two Heisman Trophy winners, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, catching 30 touchdown passes in his truncated college career. He was a chief offensive weapon in USC's 2003 championship run, catching 95 passes for 1,314 yards.
Though Williams' tenure came to an abrupt end, Winston Justice was a stalwart on the offensive line.
The Trojans had to wait a year for Darnell Bing's arrival, but he proved to be worth it. He was a Freshman All-American in 2003 and All-American in 2005.
Notable Names: Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Arrington, Daymeion Hughes
One of the greatest teams in Cal football history was built with two signees from the 2003 recruiting class as its cornerstones.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back J.J. Arrington led the Golden Bears to a 10-win 2004 and came one play away from competing for the BCS championship.
Rodgers has since developed into one of the most successful and marketable quarterbacks in the NFL, but Arrington was the bigger star during their college run. He rushed for 42 touchdowns in just two seasons at Cal and in 2004 joined the illustrious 2,000-yard club.
Daymeion Hughes earned consensus All-American honors at defensive back in 2006, when he finished third in the nation with eight interceptions.
Notable Names: Will Sutton, Brock Osweiler, Vontaze Burfict, Chris Coyle, Osahon Irabor
Defensive tackle Will Sutton went from 3-star prospect to two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and headlines a standout 2009 class for Arizona State.
This group was vital to the Sun Devils' 2013 Pac-12 South division title, producing Sutton's fellow All-Conference defensive honoree and cornerback Osahon Irabor.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler pursued the NFL after the 2011 season, but left after throwing for 4,036 yards. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a 2010 All-American, is realizing his sky-high potential in the NFL as a star for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Notable Names: Dwayne Jarrett, Keith Rivers, Fred Davis
USC was just beginning to cook by national signing day 2004, a month removed from a Rose Bowl defeat of Michigan that forced Associated Press voters to split the national championship with BCS winner LSU.
But Pete Carroll wasn't done. He capitalized on the Trojans' regained prominence by attracting the nation's No. 3 signing class, complete with a whopping six 5-star prospects.
Wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, tight end Fred Davis and linebacker Keith Rivers were among that cast of 5-stars, and all played key roles in USC's dominance throughout their tenures there.
Jarrett was stellar in USC's 2005 run to the BCS title game, accounting for 1,274 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
Rivers earned the privilege of wearing No. 55, a number worn by such former USC linebacking greats as Junior Seau. Willie McGinest and Chris Claiborne, and was an All-American in 2007.
Notable Names: Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Tyler Johnstone
When defining star-studded, one can point to Oregon's 2011 signing class. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, all-purpose back De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu all garnered All-American recognition in the past two seasons, each shining in a different phase of the game: Mariota as captain of the Ducks' high-powered offense; Ekpre-Olomu as a lock-down defender; and Thomas as an electrifying return man.
Adding to the group's accolades, offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone was a Freshman All-American in 2012.
Oregon is a remarkable 35-5 in the three seasons since the Ducks' 2011 recruits signed, with wins in the 2012 Rose and 2013 Fiesta Bowls.
Notable Names: Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Mark Sanchez
A month after claiming the BCS championship, former USC head coach Pete Carroll kept the celebration going into national signing day by bringing in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
Members of that group etched their names into Trojans and college football lore as stars of one of the greatest defenses of all time. Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga were leaders of the 2008 Trojans defense, which surrendered just nine points per game.
Maualuga won the Bednarik Award that year and was a consensus All-American.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez started just one season while at USC, but he made the most of it. In 2008, he passed for 3,207 yards and 34 touchdowns, and ran for another three scores.
Notable Names: Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo
Stanford is a national powerhouse in no small part due to the contributions of its 2009 signing class.
The fifth-year seniors on Stanford's 2013 team know only BCS bowls. From 2010 through 2013, the Cardinal played in an Orange, a Fiesta and two Rose Bowls, and those two Rose Bowls were the result of winning consecutive Pac-12 Conference championships.
Linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy were both 2013 All-American selections. Murphy led the nation in sacks with 15 and led the Cardinal to the nation's highest sack output in both 2012 and 2013.
Running back Tyler Gaffney was the Cardinal's offensive foundation in 2013, rushing a whopping 330 times for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Gaffney's predecessor as feature back, Stepfan Taylor, keyed the Stanford running game for three seasons as the heir to Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart, while the tight end tandem of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo became focal points of the passing attack.
Notable Names: LaMichael James, Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas
A Heisman Trophy finalist, a potential NFL Rookie of the Year and a top-3 NFL draft selection—not bad for one signing class.
The recruits Mike Bellotti signed at Oregon in 2008 were his last after 14 years at the helm, and what a way to go out. Successor Chip Kelly molded his uptempo style with such prospects as LaMichael James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist, and former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti molded athletic defensive players like Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan to complement the hyper-speed philosophy.
The core of the 2008 Oregon signing class helped power the Ducks to three consecutive Pac-12 championships from 2009 through 2011 and was central to Oregon's 2010 run to the BCS Championship Game.
This group's longest lasting contribution may not even be one that can be truly measured. The Oregon teams from 2009 through 2011 changed the complexion of the conference, forcing more programs to adopt high-tempo styles in an effort to keep pace.
Notable Names: Reggie Bush, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis
Few programs in college football history have been as dominant as USC during the mid-2000s. The Trojans went 37-2 from 2003 through 2005, winning two national championships and coming one fourth-down stop shy of a third.
The 2003 class was central to USC's reign, starting with the running back tag team of LenDale White and Reggie Bush. The combination's thunder and lightning style overwhelmed defenses and made USC one of the most prolific ground attacks in college football history.
White surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 2004 (1,103) and 2005 (1,302), and scored a staggering 52 touchdowns in just three seasons. Bush scored touchdowns in five ways during his USC career: Rushing, passing, receiving, and on both kick and punt returns.
In 2005, the Trojans averaged an incredible 6.4 yards per carry as a team. Bush capped that season with the Heisman Trophy, becoming the third Trojan in four years to win the award. He rolled off 8.7 yards per carry.
Of course, USC could not have done it without great play up front. Offensive lineman Sam Baker was responsible for opening up holes for the ball-carriers and protecting Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner. His place in the offense was just as vital as that of Leinart, Bush or White. And arguably, Baker was the best of the bunch as a three-time All-American.