Go back and look at the historical data in the Rivals.com recruiting database, and the top ten classes each season generally include the same cast of university characters -- some permutation of USC, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, with a generous smattering of Michigan, Auburn, and Florida State.
However, every year there is seemingly one school that hasn't been on the recruiting map in a couple (or in some cases, WAY more than a couple) years, and the presence of that school makes you go "hmmmmm."
With the hay now in the recruiting barn on the class of 2013, the obvious "hmmmmm" school for this recruiting season was Ole Miss, where second-year head coach Hugh Freeze reeled in a haul that was, by all accounts, easily top ten caliber. (As of this typing, ESPN.com had the Rebels rated fifth, Rivals.com seventh.)
Considering that Ole Miss is coming off a 6-6 regular season, has never had a ranking higher than 15th overall on Rivals.com (and was 40th in 2012), and has nary a fraction of the tradition of its SEC foes, a near-top five finish is pretty remarkable. Included in the class are three 5-star studs -- wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, and overall number one player, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
Is this the beginning of the rise of a new power in college football? Well, geography makes that awfully difficult to say "yes," as Ole Miss is still part of college football's toughest division, the SEC West. History also makes it tough to answer affirmatively, if you look back at the one-off, nouveau riche top ten recruiting schools each year of the last decade.
Take a look and you'll see that the sudden risers in recruiting more often than not have ended in firings and sanctions than BCS bowls.
(NOTE: 2004 is not included in the list below because the 2004 rankings on rivals.com are inexplicably missing a handful of teams. They're simply not there. Also, I stopped the analysis at the class of 2009 as those would be this year's seniors, thus giving those players a full college career from which to assess.)
2003 MISSISSIPPI STATE (9th in Rivals rankings) Coming off of two 3-win seasons and an 0-8 season in the SEC in 2002, Mississippi State managed to cobble together the ninth-rated class overall in February 2003, which sounds odd until I drop two little words on you -- Jackie Sherrill. Apparently, Jackie was able to find enough room under the salary cap to fit this 31-man class. Of course, a year later, Sherrill retired amidst various swirling rumors of NCAA wrongdoing.
The two 5-star crown jewels of this class were linebacker Quinton Culberson and defensive lineman Deljuan Robinson, both of whom went on to top out as journeymen undrafted free agents, Robinson with the Texans for parts of four seasons.
2005 IOWA (11th in Rivals rankings) I distinctly remember this Iowa recruiting class because this was the recruiting season that Kirk Ferentz, on the heels of a 10-2 season and a bowl win over defending national champion LSU in 2004, absolutely cleaned up in the Chicagoland area. (As a Notre Dame grad, it was particularly painful watching about a half-dozen U.S. Army All Americans commit to Iowa at that game and, meanwhile, Notre Dame come away with wide receiver D.J. Hord and that's it.)
The crown jewel of this class was five-star offensive lineman Dan Doering who rarely saw the field to the best of my recollection. The best pros actually wound up being three 3-star guys: linebacker Pat Angerer, running back Shonn Greene, and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda. 2006 NOTRE DAME (8th in Rivals rankings) After nearly a decade of slightly above average recruiting from Bob Davie and program-killing recruiting by Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis secured the first top ten class of the Rivals.com era in South Bend on the strength of a 9-3 season in 2005 and a Fiesta Bowl berth. The program included two 5-star recruits: running back James Aldridge (wound up being a spot player in college with no NFL career) and offensive tackle Sam Young (started a shit-ton of games at Notre Dame but never really reached his potential and wound up as a mid-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys). In the end, the class just wound up not really having any impact players and, not surprisingly, they were the senior class in place when Notre Dame fired Weis four years later.
2007 NOTRE DAME (8th in Rivals rankings) Hey, we may as well look at Notre Dame's recruiting resurgence under Weis in a two-year window, because after his first two successful seasons in South Bend, the truck drove off the cliff and it was the crown jewel of this class driving the truck. Number one overall ranked player in the country Jimmy Clausen, with all of his spiky hair and ridiculous hype, led this 18-person class which ultimately wound up with only two other NFL players drafted (safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Golden Tate, and Smith's career was saved by Weis' successor Brian Kelly).
2008 MIAMI (FL) (5th in Rivals rankings) Honestly, I could put Notre Dame in this spot again (2nd-ranked class in 2008), but the point's been made there -- Charlie Weis was about as good at developing players as he was at developing solid eating habits. For 2008, we will focus in on the Miami Hurricanes, coming off of Year 1 of the Randy Shannon Era, a 5-7 stinker that included a 2-6 record in the ACC.
This 33-man class was going to be the foundation for the next great era of Hurricane football. Instead, it wound up being one of a handful of reasons Shannon was fired. The top player in the class, 5-star linebacker Arthur Brown, wound up starring for Kansas State in 2012.
2009 NORTH CAROLINA (9th in RIvals rankings) This class was two years into the Butch Davis Era, which means we were two years into rampant cheating and alleged academic fraud. Good times! This class was supposed to take the Tar Heels to the next level after an 8-5 record in 2008. Instead, they wound up playing for three coaches in four years after Davis was cut loose amidst the aforementioned allegations. The best symbol of this class was its only 5-star recruit, defensive end Donte Paige-Moss, who entered 2011 forecasted to be a top pick in the NFL draft and then wound up in the Canadian league, a plummet fueled in part by a slew of inappropriate tweets he sent at the 2011 Independence Bowl.
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