Arizona Football: Power Ranking Wildcats' Best Classes of the BCS Era

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

Arizona Football: Power Ranking Wildcats' Best Classes of the BCS Era

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    Arizona is in line to bring in one of the strongest recruiting classes in school history, give or take a few spots depending on what goes down between now and the Feb. 5 national signing day.

    While the Wildcats have never been a major player in the recruiting game to the level that Pac-12 mates Oregon and USC have been, the team has produced some solid classes during the BCS era. Some of the best ended up better at the end of those players' runs than expected, while a few top-rated groups failed to come close to their lofty expectations.

    Here's our look at the five best recruiting classes Arizona has had during the BCS era, which began in 1998.

5. 1998

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    Notable players: OT Makoa Freitas, QB Jason Johnson, LB Antonio Pierce.

    Dick Tomey is the winningest coach in Arizona history, though his recruiting classes never seemed to get that much attention because of their lack of superstars. But the underrated 1998 class featured several players who had solid careers for the Wildcats, most which came after Tomey resigned in 1999.

    Jason Johnson set the school's single-season passing record in 2002, while junior college transfer Antonio Pierce had two standout years at Arizona before playing nine seasons in the NFL.

    Makoa Freitas was a key backup on the offensive line as a true freshman in 1998, and went on to start at tackle for the next four seasons (including an injury-shortened 2000 campaign).

4. 1999

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    Notable players: LB Lance Briggs, CB Michael Jolivette, WR Bobby Wade

    Coming off the best season in school history, a 12-1 mark that included a win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, Arizona had some of its best recruiting momentum ever. The class that came in, though, didn't get many accolades.

    Dick Tomey resigned at the end of the 2000 season after going 5-6, so these players served mostly as the foundation of the otherwise dismal three-year tenure of John Mackovic from 2001-03.

    Briggs became one of the school's most decorated linebackers, getting drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears in 2003. Cornerback Michael Jolivette proved to be a dependable cover corner, while Bobby Wade led the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards per game in 2002 and was named by the Tucson Citizen as the 30th-best player in program history.

3. 2007

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    Notable players: RB Nic Grigsby, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR David Roberts, CB Trevin Wade

    Arizona hadn't been to a bowl game since 1998, but Mike Stoops still managed to bring in some strong recruiting classes before the bowl drought ended in 2008. That included the 2007 group, which was highlighted by 4-star tight end Rob Gronkowski.

    Gronkowski was plagued by injuries at Arizona similar to how ailments have affected his pro career, though he still proved to be a nearly unstoppable force when healthy. He showed so much promise he was drafted in the second round in 2010 despite missing the 2009 season following back surgery.

    Trevin Wade had 12 interceptions in his Arizona career, and after getting drafted by Cleveland in 2012 he spent this past season with the New Orleans Saints.

    Additional standouts included Nic Grigsby, a reliable runner who scored 31 touchdowns for the Wildcats, and solid receiver David Roberts. 

2. 2005

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    Notable players: OL Eben Britton, WR Mike Thomas, QB Willie Tuitama

    Mike Stoops only won three games in his first season with Arizona in 2004, but the improvement shown during that year helped land a decent recruiting class that ended up producing two NFL players.

    But it was the arrival of Willie Tuitama, Arizona's first big-armed pocket passer in years, that truly got the program moving in the right direction. He started four games as a freshman, and by the time he was done in 2008, Tuitama was the school's career passing leader with 9,211 yards and 67 touchdowns.

    One of Tuitama's top targets was Mike Thomas, a small-yet-speedy receiver who led the team in receiving in 2007 and 2008, while Tuitama was protected well by standout lineman Eben Britton.

1. 2008

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    Notable players: RB Keola Antolin, WR Juron Criner, CB Robert Golden, QB Matt Scott

    The best recruiting class Arizona brought in during the BCS era didn't necessarily look that great on paper, ranking eighth-best in the Pac-10 according to But what it lacked in pre-play hype it made up for in performance.

    The top commit in that class was cornerback Robert Golden, considered a 5-star recruit at times by some services who 247Sports listed as the sixth-best player at his position coming out of high school. He didn't disappoint, starting every game over his final three seasons and providing fans with several highlight-reel interception returns.

    Matt Scott brought the Wildcats back to the days of Ortege Jenkins and Keith Smith with his ability to throw and run with equal effectiveness, while Keola Antolin was a shifty little runner that was hard to bring down.

    Juron Criner was one of the top receivers in school history, though injuries as a senior knocked him down to the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.