Ranking the 10 Best College Football Recruiting Classes of the Past Decade

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJanuary 26, 2016

Ranking the 10 Best College Football Recruiting Classes of the Past Decade

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    With national signing day a week away on Feb. 3, college football programs everywhere are scrambling to put finishing touches on their respective classes. With a little bit of luck, some of those classes will go on to accomplish great things in the next four years. 

    With that in mind, we've looked back at the past 10 years to re-rank (with the benefit of hindsight) the top recruiting classes dating back to 2006. Specifically, we focused on classes that went through a four-year cycle, meaning classes from 2013 on had to be excluded while they write their own legacies. This way, seniors will have an opportunity to finish out careers. 

    Team accomplishments (e.g., conference and national championships) were taken into consideration, as were individual player accolades. NFL careers weren't considered, and draft selection had some, but minimal, influence. 

    Where did we get the rankings right? Where did we get them wrong? Sound off in the comment section below. 

10. Florida, 2007

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • DE Carlos Dunlap (5-star)
    • TE Aaron Hernandez (4-star)
    • RB Chris Rainey (4-star)
    • QB Cam Newton* (4-star)
    • CB Joe Haden (4-star)
    • OL Maurkice Pouncey (4-star)
    • OL Mike Pouncey (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • BCS National Championship (2009)
    • SEC champions (2008)
    • Mackey Award (Aaron Hernandez, 2009)

    What makes the 2007 class unique is the best player it produced, quarterback Cam Newton, went on to thrive at Auburn. Florida gets the credit for recruiting Newton, which counts for these purposes, but not for his accomplishments (i.e., his national championship and Heisman). It's 50-50. That's why this particular class isn't more highly ranked. 

    Still, the '07 class, ranked No. 1 by 247Sports, had a lot of star power besides Newton. The Pouncey brothers were stalwarts along the O-line, and Dunlap was a first-team All-SEC selection. 

9. Ohio State, 2012

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • DL Adolphus Washington (5-star)
    • DL Noah Spence* (5-star)
    • OL Taylor Decker (4-star)
    • LB Joshua Perry (4-star)
    • DB Tyvis Powell (3-star)
    • QB Cardale Jones (3-star)
    • OL Pat Elflein (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • College Football Playoff National Championship (2015)
    • Big Ten championship (2014)
    • Big Ten Leaders champion (2013)

    We'll touch on Ohio State's 2011 class here in a moment, but the '12 class was ridiculously good as well. The core key players in this group revolved around the offensive and defensive lines, setting Ohio State up to be one of the more dominant teams in the trenches in 2014.

    Then, of course, there's quarterback Cardale Jones. Though Jones wasn't a starter, he went 3-0 in the Big Ten championship game, Sugar Bowl and national championship after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.  

    *Transferred to Eastern Kentucky

8. Oklahoma, 2006

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Key Players 

    • DT Gerald McCoy (5-star)
    • RB DeMarco Murray (5-star)
    • TE Jermaine Gresham (4-star)
    • QB Sam Bradford (3-star)
    • OL Trent Williams (3-star)
    • DB Quinton Carter (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • Three Big 12 championships (2006, 2007, 2008)
    • BCS National Championship appearance (2009)
    • Heisman Trophy (Sam Bradford, 2008)
    • Davey O'Brien Award (Sam Bradford, 2008)
    • Three top five NFL draft picks (2010)

    Oklahoma's 2006 class never won a national championship, but it came close in 2008-09 against Florida. There have been some outstanding recruiting groups in head coach Bob Stoops' time in Norman, but the '06 class is probably his best. 

    Bradford would win the Heisman, and Murray would leave school as one of the most decorated running backs in program history. Murray left OU as the all-time leader in career all-purpose yards (6,498) and career touchdowns (64), per the school. Until Florida State broke the record for most points in 2013, the Sooners had the most prolific offense in college football history in 2008 (716 points).

    This was not only a productive group but one that was stocked with NFL talent as well. 

7. Ohio State, 2011

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    Andrew Weber/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • LB Curtis Grant (5-star)
    • QB Braxton Miller (5-star)
    • CB Doran Grant (5-star)
    • LB Ryan Shazier (5-star)
    • DT Michael Bennett (4-star)
    • WR Evan Spencer (4-star)
    • WR Devin Smith (3-star)
    • TE Jeff Heuerman (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • College Football Playoff National Championship (2015)
    • Big Ten championship (2014)
    • Big Ten Leaders champion (2013)
    • Two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (Braxton Miller, 2012, 2013)

    It was a difficult decision to go with the 2011 Buckeyes class ahead of the '12 one since both were so pivotal to Ohio State's run from 2012 to 2014. In fact, this time next year, the '13 class could trump both of them because of players like defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott. 

    (I know, I know. We could make an exception, but those are the rules.) 

    Ultimately, though, the '11 class had a few more key players. Plus, a player who thrived in not one but two positions (Miller). 

    "If you don't have that kid, you start your head coaching career at Ohio State with a .500 [record in 2012]," head coach Urban Meyer told Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. "Braxton was an ultimate competitor and is an ultimate competitor."

6. Florida State, 2011

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    Associated Press

    Key Players

    • DT Timmy Jernigan (5-star)
    • RB Karlos Williams (5-star)
    • TE Nick O'Leary (5-star)
    • RB Devonta Freeman (4-star)
    • WR Kelvin Benjamin (4-star)
    • WR Rashad Greene (4-star)
    • QB Jake Coker (3-star)* 

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • BCS National Championship (2014)
    • 3 ACC championships (2012, 2013, 2014)
    • Mackey Award (Nick O'Leary, 2014)

    We'll touch on the 2012 Florida State class here in a bit, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the 29-game winning streak from 2012 to 2014 was established in large part because of the '11 class. On one hand, Benjamin morphed into a monster at wide receiver and became one of the biggest matchup nightmares in college football. Greene, on the other hand, wrapped up his college career as the program leader in receptions (270), receiving yards (3,830) and consecutive games with a reception (43), per FSU

    Coker is the interesting piece in this class. He lost the quarterback battle to Jameis Winston—no shame there—but helped Alabama win a national title in January. Not that the Seminoles get credit for that, of course. 

    *Transferred to Alabama

5. Alabama, 2012

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • DB Landon Collins (5-star)
    • RB T.J. Yeldon (5-star)
    • LB Reggie Ragland (4-star)
    • DB Cyrus Jones (4-star)
    • WR Amari Cooper (4-star)
    • DB Geno Smith (4-star)
    • LB Dillon Lee (4-star)
    • RB Kenyan Drake (4-star)
    • DT Darren Lake (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • Two national championships (2013, 2016)
    • College Football Playoff semifinal appearance (2015)
    • Three SEC championships (2012, 2014, 2015)
    • Biletnikoff Award (Amari Cooper, 2014)
    • SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Reggie Ragland, 2015)

    Similar to the 2008 Alabama recruiting class, the '12 didn't win as many national championships as a group. In fact, you can make a case the '12 class didn't have much to do with the 2012-13 national title outside of a couple of players such as Yeldon and Cooper.

    Still, this class is stacked with talent. Yeldon and Cooper, as previously mentioned, were studs right away. Ragland anchored an all-time great defensive front seven that also featured Lee, Lake, Denzel Devall and others. In all, the '12 class was best known for its defense and depth at the offensive skill positions. 

    Though NFL careers aren't calculated in this formula and draft status is only small part of it, it'll be interesting to look back at this group in a few years. Here's betting this is a wildly successful group. 

4. Alabama, 2009

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    Associated Press

    Key Players

    • RB Trent Richardson (5-star)
    • CB Dre Kirkpatrick (5-star)
    • LB Nico Johnson (5-star)
    • OL D.J. Fluker (5-star)
    • QB AJ McCarron (4-star)
    • RB Eddie Lacy (4-star)
    • OG Chance Warmack (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards 

    • Three BCS National Championships (2010, 2012, 2013)
    • Two SEC Championships (2009, 2012)
    • Doak Walker Award (Trent Richardson, 2011)
    • Maxwell Award (AJ McCarron, 2013)

    As far as group accomplishments go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better group class than the one Alabama put together in 2009. Three national championships in four years is the textbook definition of a dynasty. The '09 class did not produce a Heisman winner, but Richardson was a finalist in 2011 (third place). 

    Additionally, McCarron was a Heisman finalist in 2013 (second place) and won the Maxwell Award. In Alabama's modern history, he goes down as the best quarterback that Nick Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa. 

3. Florida, 2006

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    Associated Press

    Key Players

    • OL Marcus Gilbert (5-star)
    • WR Percy Harvin (5-star)
    • QB Tim Tebow (5-star)
    • LB Brandon Spikes (4-star)
    • WR Riley Cooper (4-star)
    • RB Brandon James (3-star) 

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • Two BCS National Championships (2007, 2009)
    • Two SEC championships (2006, 2008)
    • Heisman Trophy (Tim Tebow, 2007)
    • Davey O'Brien Award (Tim Tebow, 2007)
    • Two Maxwell Awards (Tim Tebow, 2007, 2008)

    Head coach Urban Meyer had some outstanding recruiting classes at Florida, but the '06 group laid the foundation for the Gators' success from 2006 to 2009. During that span, Florida went 13-1 three times; in 2007, when Florida went 9-4, quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman. In '10, the Gators won the Sugar Bowl. 

    Beyond Tebow, the Gators had playmakers everywhere. Harvin was an All-SEC and All-American selection, and Cooper was as reliable a target as Tebow had in the passing game. Spikes was a nasty cornerstone of the defense. In terms of pure on-field production, the '06 class is arguably the best Florida has had in the modern era. 

2. Alabama, 2008

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Key Players

    • WR Julio Jones (5-star)
    • S Mark Barron (4-star)
    • LB Courtney Upshaw (4-star)
    • DL Marcell Dareus (4-star)
    • OL Barrett Jones (4-star)
    • RB Mark Ingram (4-star)
    • LB Dont'a Hightower (4-star)
    • DT Terrence Cody (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • 2 BCS National Championships (2010, 2012)
    • 2 SEC Championships (2009, 2012)
    • Heisman Trophy Winner (Mark Ingram, 2009)
    • Outland Trophy (Barrett Jones, 2011) 

    There are two dynasties associated with Alabama football under head coach Nick Saban. One relates to the on-field results, namely the four national championships between 2010 and 2016. Then there's the recruiting dynasty. Each year from 2011 to 2015, the Tide had the No. 1 class in the country, according to 247Sports. 

    What got everything started, though, was the '08 class that Saban put together. Immediately, the '08 class had an impact on the field. In the Week 1 game against Clemson—funny where things start—Jones had four catches with a touchdown, and Ingram led all rushers with 96 yards. The Tide would go on to win 12 straight regular-season games and stay undefeated in 2009 on its way to a BCS national championship over Texas. 

    The '09 class accomplished more collectively with the extra national championship, but the '08 class was Saban's jump-start. 

1. Florida State, 2012

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Key Players

    • DL Mario Edwards (5-star)
    • DL Eddie Goldman (5-star)
    • QB Jameis Winston (5-star)
    • CB Ronald Darby (5-star)
    • DB P.J. Williams (4-star)
    • QB Sean Maguire (3-star)
    • K Roberto Aguayo (3-star)

    Accomplishments, Awards

    • BCS National Championship (2014)
    • College Football Playoff semifinal appearance (2015)
    • Three ACC championships (2012, 2013, 2014)
    • Heisman Trophy (Jameis Winston, 2013)
    • Lou Groza Award (Roberto Aguayo, 2013)
    • Eleven 2015 NFL draft picks, including No. 1 overall (Jameis Winston)

    The 2012 Seminoles class wasn't eligible for last year's power rankings because it had not completed its four-year cycle. That "ban"—if you want to go so far as to call it that—has been lifted. And thank goodness because this class was absurd in the best way possible. 

    This group won a national title in 2013-14, produced a Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick in Winston and won 39 games in three years—including 29 in a row. Additionally, many of these players contributed to the top offense/defense combination in college football in '13, per cfbstats.com. The '11 class paved the way for a lot of that success, but as far as accomplishments go, the '12 class produced slightly more. 

     

    Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports