College Football Teams Who Have Exploded on the Recruiting Scene in Last 5 Years
Recruiting success can serve as a precursor to a rise in the standings. Though top prospects don't always equate to increased win totals, college football coaches who can consistently stockpile talented classes eventually see their efforts come to fruition with improved on-field performance.
We've grown accustomed to certain teams residing atop national recruiting rankings, from Florida State and Georgia to Alabama and LSU. However, various factors fuel changes in the landscape and allow other programs to emerge as desired destinations for premier players.
During the past five years, the ebbs and flows of recruiting have resulted in a number of risers. Credit goes to dedicated coaching staffs, star performers and, of course, big victories.
Though they may not all be giants in the recruiting spectrum, here's a look at teams that continue to climb the ladder.
Life is good at College Station, where SEC inclusion, a stadium expansion and "Johnny Football" have elevated the program's stature. Head coach Kevin Sumlin, entering his third season at the helm, appears certain to land a third consecutive top-10 class.
The Aggies finished outside of the nation's top 20 in recruiting three times in six years before Sumlin arrived, never placing higher than 14th.
The Aggies currently sit at No. 2 nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings, anchored by 17 in-state commitments. Long considered the Texas Longhorns' little brother, Sumlin has his squad standing above everyone in the Lone Star State these days when it comes to recruiting.
Dallas area standout Kyler Murray gives the team a 5-star quarterback for the second straight year, joining top 2014 recruit and true freshman Kyle Allen. Kenny Hill, who was part of Sumlin's first class at Texas A&M, will have the initial crack at replacing Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Sumlin's ability to capitalize on fertile recruiting regions beyond state borders have helped tremendously.
Texas A&M landed No. 1 wide receiver prospect Speedy Noil from New Orleans in 2014, and Allen is from Arizona. Christian Kirk, a 5-star pass-catcher who also hails from Arizona, could be the big out-of-state snag during this cycle and add to an incredibly deep position.
Despite plenty of offensive fireworks, the Aggies have failed to compete with an SEC-level defense at times. Sumlin has steadily addressed that shortcoming, picking up 5-star defensive linemen Daylon Mack (2015) and Myles Garrett (2014) in the process.
The program is currently focused on coveted in-state defenders Malik Jefferson (linebacker) and Kendall Sheffield (cornerback). Expect Texas A&M to reach national signing day ranked among the top five classes for a second straight February.
“I like recruiting, as crazy as it is,” Sumlin told Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. “I like being involved with families. Young guys coming in at 17, 18 years old — then having them come back after they leave and seeing them as good husbands and fathers."
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh brought Stanford into the national spotlight during his four-year tenure, punctuating the journey with a 2011 Orange Bowl victory before moving on to the NFL. David Shaw has maintained momentum ever since, producing two Pac-12 championships and No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck.
The Cardinal won more than five games just twice between 1997 and 2008. Stanford's turnaround is reflected by four straight seasons with double-digit victory totals, each culminating in a BCS bowl game.
Winning, unsurprisingly, does wonders in the recruiting world.
The program has secured a Top 25 class in four of the past five years, highlighted by a top-10 finish in 2012. Shaw steered Stanford to the 13th-best group of recruits last February, boosting the class late with 5-star Texas defensive end Solomon Thomas.
The Cardinal reap the benefits of a world-renowned educational system that attracts recruits from across the country. Stanford's 2014 class featured five 4-star players from outside California.
Amazingly, the seven top-rated members of the 2015 class are out-of-state commits. Shaw has set the standard high at Stanford.
"You walk around and talk to our kids, they look you in the eye," Shaw told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports last year. "And we play that way. We are going to play right at you, in your face, 'Here is who we are, here is how we play.'"
Clemson went 20 years without winning 10 games in a season. The Tigers are currently riding a three-year streak in that department, with the latest victory coming against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
Dabo Swinney, who joined the program as an assistant in 2003, enters his seventh season as head coach with a lucrative new contract and plenty of promise for future success. The 44-year-old is one of the hottest recruiters in the country, evidenced by steady progression.
His top-10 2011 class set the tone for where Clemson currently stands. That group, highlighted by heralded NFL rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, rose the bar.
Swinney and his staff are focused on pushing it higher.
"Everything in college football is about personnel," Swinney said during his 2014 signing day press conference, per Post and Courier reporter Aaron Brenner. "When you lose good guys, you've got to bring in good guys."
After landing in the top 20 during each of the past three recruiting cycles, Clemson is attracting elite talent like never before. The Tigers' 2015 haul features five prospects who rank among the top 10 players at their position, including 5-star Georgia offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt and explosive Florida receiver Deon Cain.
Clemson's class currently ranks third nationally, besting national champion and ACC foe Florida State.
Ole Miss failed to assemble a top-20 recruiting class between 2007 and 2010, falling out of the top 40 on two occasions. This underwhelming stretch doomed former Rebels head coach Houston Nutt, who went 6-18 during his final two years in Oxford until Hugh Freeze replaced him after a disastrous 2011 campaign.
The former Arkansas State head coach has won 15 games through two seasons at Ole Miss, and strides in the recruiting department make you wonder if the Rebels will pile on that total for years to come.
Freeze went to work quickly following his first season with the nation's No. 8 class in 2013. The group was headlined by No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche, a Georgia defensive lineman who earned Freshman All-American honors last fall after starting 10 games.
Ole Miss' monumental 2013 haul also included top-rated offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, a second team All-SEC selection, and No. 1 wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who became the first SEC Freshman of the Year in school history.
The Rebels bring in a top-15 class this season and continue to take care of business on home turf. Ole Miss has made inroads with local recruits, claiming commitments in a region routinely exploited by SEC rivals.
This proximal success was documented by 247Sports writer David Johnson in July.
"The bottom line is that Ole Miss is dominating, as it should, the recruiting scene in its geographical sphere of influence and that area is currently one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the Magnolia State," Johnson wrote.
Baylor spent several years suffering humiliating defeats at the hands of conference opponents, buried in the Big 12 basement. Suddenly, it's the Bears who are the bully.
Since arriving from Houston in 2008, head coach Art Briles has dramatically changed expectations in Waco. Baylor, a team that finished under .500 in its first 14 seasons as Big 12 member, has been to four straight bowls, including its first BCS bout last January.
The Bears claimed a conference championship in 2013 and enter this season ranked 10th in the AP Coaches Poll. Baylor could produce a second Heisman Trophy winner in four years, as quarterback Bryce Petty has the potential to join Robert Griffin III in hallowed company.
Naturally, as Baylor's national exposure increased and its reputation reshaped, recruits became a lot more interested in the program.
Briles' first three classes landed outside the top 35 in national rankings but allowed him to build up the roster with capable playmakers who helped change team culture. The past three classes have been on the cusp of top-20 territory, including a 2014 group headlined by 5-star receiver KD Cannon.
"[Briles is] kind of like a second father to me because he's not afraid to tell you how it is," Cannon told Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN last season. "He's not one of those coaches that fills you up with rah-rah recruiting stuff."
Baylor continues to capitalize in its home state, pulling in three 4-star Texas prospects so far this cycle. The Bears are receiving closer looks from recruits who would've immediately counted out the program last decade.
Briles, who is sure to field outside contract offers on an annual basis, started something special at Baylor and, high school stars are beginning to see the Bears in a much different light.