Michigan Football: Power Ranking Wolverines' 5 Best Classes of the BCS Era
If not for recruits, there would be no Michigan football.
If not for the game itself, there wouldn't be a way to fairly grade those classes of Wolverines.
Since 1998, the BCS era has reigned supreme. About two years later, the star-ranking system took hold. The past 16 years of college football have been full of "5-star this" and "BCS bowl that."
During that span, Michigan hasn't been a perennial contender for BCS crowns, but it has put together memorable collections of preps-turned-solid contributors in Ann Arbor.
Of course, ranking the classes is subjective. For the sake of clarity, the criteria will be based on career contributions paired with class "hype," which can only be defined with star-rankings.
Furthermore, should a class from 2011 to 2013 be included, potential and progress would play a factor.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, player- and overall class-ranking information comes via 247Sports.
Honorable Mention: Potential
As Team 135 prepares for 2014, the 2011 to 2013 classes will play a pivotal role in its future success.
That being said, it's only right to acknowledge the recent highlights.
Ranked as the No. 8 runner of his class per 247Sports, Derrick Green entered Ann Arbor with a generation's worth of hype. Rivals ranked him as the No. 1 back of 2013, tabbing him as Michigan's highest-ranked individual of the star era.
Pegged as the No. 15 back of his class, DeVeon Smith matched Green's 4-star ranking (per 247Sports) and should be an excellent complement in the backfield. Together, they represent Michigan's future on the ground.
Should the Wolverines fail to take another in 2014, the 2013 class of tailbacks could prove all the more important.
As a freshman in 2013, Jake Butt emerged as a top pass-catcher for Team 134. As a sophomore, he'll be looked upon as a possible No. 1 option for either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris.
But that role may be occupied by another...
Devin Funchess' rise isn't a surprise. His value to the offense clear, Funchess is developing into an overall threat who could help define Hoke's tenure.
Two years ago, the former 4-star recruit classed up with defensive lineman Willie Henry and receiver Jehu Chesson, two of Michigan's top underclassmen.
Blake Countess redshirted, so he kind of skews things. A solid pickup, Countess has evolved into one of the Big Ten's top cover men. In 2013, he was classified as a redshirt sophomore, giving him two more years of eligibility.
Will-be seniors Desmond Morgan, a hard-hitting linebacker, and Brennen Beyer, a versatile defender, were also part of the class.
Depending on the outcome this fall, the 2011 class could end up leaving as champions. If so, it'd certainly earn a place among the Wolverines' best of the BCS era.
It's also important to remember that the 2012 and 2013 classes were ranked among 247Sports' top 10 during each respective period.
5. Solid 2008 Class
The past six years of Michigan football have been anything but Michigan football.
During that stretch, Lloyd Carr left and was replaced by Rich Rodriguez, who was then ousted in favor of Brady Hoke, who brought along offensive coordinator Al Borges, who was let go to make room for Doug Nussmeier, who...
OK. You get the point.
Change has been aplenty.
Traditional powerhouse Wolverines teams were built on stability. They haven't had a lot of that since, well, the 1990s.
Due to losses and other negative attention, classes such as 2008's could easily get lost in the melee. While it didn't produce droves of superstars, 2008's class gave Michigan reliable 4-star talents (per Rivals) who had respectable stays in Ann Arbor.
Kevin Koger was a part of the 2011 Sugar Bowl team, played 47 games for the Wolverines and earned captaincy as a senior.
With fifth-year senior status to his credit, Elliott Mealer played a key role on the O-line after earlier stints with special teams. Mealer's class had the duty of keeping things together for the Wolverines, who, due to the RichRod experiment, witnessed the walls crash down in 2010.
The obvious gem of the class, Roy Roundtree, went on to set single-game receiving records that were eventually shattered in 2013 by Jeremy Gallon. Nonetheless, Roundtree's heroics pushed the Maize and Blue to a classic victory over Notre Dame in 2011—a play that will live forever in Wolverines vs. Irish lore.
4. Bring on Shoelace, Michigan's 2009'ers
If not for Denard Robinson, the previous play wouldn't have happened.
Who else could have made such a nail-biting heave to Roundtree look so good?
Robinson, or Shoelace, wasn't always the ideal quarterback, but he found a way to defy critics and make crazy throws that turned into gold.
Hey, that's what playmakers do—and Robinson was Michigan's ultimate threat of the BCS era. Through trial and error, he left college with 10,065 all-purpose yards and as the Wolverines' No. 5 rusher (4,495 YDS, 42 TDs).
Exciting and athletic, Robinson vaulted himself to legendary status on his first play from scrimmage (seen in accompanying video). The lone bright spot of a dreadful three-year span, Robinson's place in the hearts of fans should be near and dear.
Taylor Lewan, one of the greatest left tackles to play in Ann Arbor, was part of the class. And so was Jeremy Gallon, whose school-record 369 receiving yards vs. Indiana easily eclipsed Roundtree's 243.
With his leg, Brendan Gibbons beat Michigan State and won a Sugar Bowl. Michigan has struggled mightily during the past two years, and if not for Gibbons' field goals (and Gallon's hands), Hoke could have suffered much worse than 8-5 and 7-6.
As a sophomore in 2010, Fitz Toussaint rushed for 1,041 yards and was on par to shred the Big Ten. But that didn't happen. Instead, his career was mired by injuries and inconsistent play. Had he panned out, the 2009 class would gleam brighter.
Considering the circumstances, coming in at No. 4 is fair. A case for No. 3 could be made, too.
3. Long Live Jake's 2003 Class
A Big Ten left tackle personified, Jake Long was the anchor, the leader and the heart and soul of a once-proud offensive line that was nearly impenetrable.
Michigan Man, true blue.
Call him what you will, but make you sure also call him an Ann Arbor football god. The former All-American deserves a statue outside of the Big House.
Playing a role at end and outside linebacker, Shawn Crable was part of a shutdown defense that afforded great success in 2006, the year Michigan and Ohio State engaged in one for the ages.
Although Michigan lost 42-39, the 2006 team, when looking at recent history, is widely regarded as No. 2 behind the 1997 team, which split the national title with Nebraska.
Part of that great haul, LaMarr Woodley, a Saginaw favorite, showed off his menacing ways with a Big Ten-leading 12 sacks in 2006. Now a staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, the former Michigan linebacker serves as a prototype for those who follow.
If they haven't already, players such as Jake Ryan, Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden, and any linebacker who thinks they can play at Michigan, should study Woodley's college footage. He was an animal.
Of course, this class' significance can't be denied. It's place in Michigan's BCS history can be debated, which will also be the base for the top two.
It's about to get really good...
2. Henne, Hart and 2004
Contrary to popular belief, coining the "Little Brother" phrase wasn't Mike Hart's greatest gift to Michigan.
Nope, his speed, balance and fearless style of running were. With 5,040 net rushing yards, Hart tops the Wolverines' career-leader list. His 41 touchdowns are fourth-most in Ann Arbor.
All in all, Hart, a mighty mini, had an illustrious college tenure.
Of course, Hart needed Chad Henne as much as Henne needed him. The Wolverines have yet to replicate such a dangerous 1-2 offensive punch.
Quarterbacking Michigan hasn't been easy since Henne's departure. Today, it's Devin Gardner, but it could be Shane Morris as the starter in 2014—it's all up in the air right now. Robinson was great, but he wasn't a pro-styler whose big arm wowed fans and kept defenses honest.
Nope, that was Henne, who is arguably the greatest signal-caller to wear a maize and blue helmet. With 9,715 passing yards, Henne owns a program-best mark that probably won't budge for years. His 87 passing touchdowns top Jim Harbaugh and Tom Brady's combined total of 66.
Add John Navarre's total...and there's still room to 87.
1. First After the Title, 1998 in a Nutshell
Back in 1998, star-rankings weren't consuming college football fans. That all changed with the popularity of the Internet and access to instant information.
Pretty soon, footage wasn't only being viewed, but it was being graded by experts, who then made their opinions available to the public.
Sites such as Scout and Rivals flourished, paving the way for outlets such as 247Sports, which leads the way today.
Now that history has been covered, look back to the 1998 class and you'll notice the absence of star-marks. In fact, a deep glance into Michigan's Bentley Library is needed to really get the goods on the Wolverines' No. 1 class of the BCS era.
For those who spent four years, 37 team victories were witnessed. Forty-seven wins were seen by those who rode it out until 2002.
Stocking up after a 1997 national title share, Coach Carr routinely fielded Big Ten-championship caliber teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes? That was done in 1999 and 2000 (lost 26-20 in 2001, 14-9 in 2002).
Big-time bowl wins? From 1999-2003 (1998-2002 seasons), the Wolverines posted a 4-1 postseason record that included victories over Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas.
Those are mighty SEC teams, mind you.
So who were some of the guys?
Drew Henson, a quarterback, was one of them. He could have been the one, according to Matt Pargoff of Maize and Blue News.
A pro baseball career limited him to three years, but Henson ended his career as Michigan's No. 13 passer. He went 6-2 as a starter and was the highlight could-have been of the class.
Leaving with 2,317 yards, David Terrell needed just a trio of seasons to become the program's No. 5 receiver. He scored 23 touchdowns and averaged better than 15 yards per grab.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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