Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football program. If you struggle to build a solid recruiting class one year, you could easily pay for it over the next three to four years, if not more. On the flip side, if you manage to knock a recruiting class out of the park, your chances for success in the coming years can take a nice spike. And just think what you can do with two or three outstanding recruiting classes. If you doubt the importance of that, take a look at what Alabama has done under Nick Saban.
Those who suggest recruiting is overrated should take note to see the classes Saban has put together since taking over the job in Tuscaloosa. Saban routinely has Alabama being crowned recruiting national champions, as if actual on-field championships were not enough. How do some of Saban’s top classes stack up against the rest of the field? Pretty darn well, actually.
In an attempt to update a previous ranking of recruiting classes, we have refined the list to include only the top 10 classes from 2005-15. Here is how things turned out.
Note: Team ranks referenced for that year come from 247 Sports Composite
1. Alabama, 2008
Rank: 3rd (33 signees)
Every dynasty must begin somewhere. For Alabama, it started with the Class of 2008, Nick Saban’s first class with a full recruiting cycle to work his magic. It not only set the tone, but also laid the groundwork for the success to come for the Crimson Tide. Many players in this class became key ingredients in Alabama’s 2009 BCS title run and later in 2011 and even 2012. Besides All-Americans like Mark Barron, Don’t’a Hightower, Barrett Jones and Courtney Upshaw, this class also included Mark Ingram, Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
2. Florida, 2006
Rank: 2nd (24 signees)
Key Players: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Maurice Hurt, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, Dustin Doe, AJ Jones, Carl Johnson
Florida’s Class of 2006 would become the core of a national championship run under Urban Meyer, and it is easy to see why. Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and stars in the making in Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes brought a new level of athleticism and energy to the Gators program. With this class leading the charge, Florida would win two BCS national titles.
3. Alabama, 2009
Rank: 2nd (28 signees)
Key Players: AJ McCarron, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Eddie Lacy, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson, Anthony Steen, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Tana Patrick
Alabama’s Class of 2008 was just the first piece of the championship puzzle. Saban’s work needed to be followed up the following year by continuing to add quality depth to the roster. He got it in 2009 with the likes of Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Chance Warmack, Eddie Lacy, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and AJ McCarron, who would become the starting quarterback following Greg McElroy’s run in Tuscaloosa. Six players went on to become first-round draft picks in the NFL and this crop of players helped push Alabama from very good to great en route to a pair of BCS national titles.
4. Oklahoma, 2006
Rank: 8th (28 signees)
Key Players: Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams, DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Beal, Quinton Carter, Chris Brown, Dominique Franks, Mossis Madu, Tim Johnson, Brandon Caleb, Malcolm Williams, Chase Beeler
Getting quarterback Sam Bradford and running back DeMarco Murray in the same recruiting class alone is enough to make this Sooners class special, but that was just the beginning. Bradford would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and Murray would later become one of the top running backs in the NFL, but do not overlook the other parts of this class, such as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, tight end Jermaine Gresham and offensive tackle Trent Williams. All three went in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, as did Bradford. This core helped take Oklahoma to the BCS national title game in 2008, where it was topped by Florida.
You can check out the full list to see how the rest of my top 10 lined up. I also encourage you to check out my attempt at ranking the recruiting classes for quarterbacks and running backs since 2002.