Ranking classes isn't easy -- on Signing Day, or years later
To test the "hindsight is 20-20" theory, I set out to re-rank the top 2006 classes
Proved difficult -- only a few signees start, book-end classes have major impact
In '06, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss & Texas Tech were vastly underrated
Every year, coaches stand behind a lectern on National Signing Day and blast recruiting rankings as worthless. Later, many head back to their offices and go to Rivals.com and Scout.com to find out how their teams finished in the race for the most mythical of all national championships.
Conventional wisdom dictates the only reliable way to gauge a class is with the clarity of hindsight. After a class has had two or three years to adapt to the college game and college life and to bulk up in the weight room, it should be far easier to determine which classes succeeded and which failed. Shouldn't it?
To test that theory, I attempted to re-rank the top 10 classes of 2006 based on on-field production and potential for further production in the next two seasons. After spending the weekend sweating out my choices, I realized it's harder than I had envisioned. In most cases, I had to judge the class based on the production of the five or six class members who won starting jobs. Remember, schools can bring in 25 new scholarship players a year, but classes need only produce an average of 5.5 position starters a season.
Also, some classes suffer because of the quality of the classes that came before and after. Texas, which finished No. 5 in the Rivals.com rankings, is the prime example in 2006. The 2006 Longhorns' class has produced only two starters, linebacker Sergio Kindle and quarterback Jevan Snead -- who starts for Ole Miss, not Texas. The rest of the 2006 Longhorns signees have sat the bench, not because they can't play, but because they sat behind the members of the criminally underrated (No. 20 by Rivals.com) 15-member 2005 class, which included quarterback Colt McCoy, tailback Jamaal Charles, receiver Quan Cosby, defensive end Henry Melton, nose tackle Roy Miller and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. Meanwhile, the Longhorns' 2007 class already has produced three starters.
Other classes may ultimately live up to their rankings, but they still need work. LSU's seventh-ranked 2006 class has produced its share of starters, but the Tigers took a backward step after many of those players assumed larger roles. If those players join with this year's highly touted class and lead a resurgence in 2009, they'll deserve another look. For now, though, LSU will remain outside the top 10, which kicks off with the two teams that battled for the 2008 BCS title with their 2006 classes on full display.
2006 Rivals Rank: No. 2
2008 Starters: QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin, KR Brandon James, DE Jermaine Cunningham, G Carl Johnson, DT Lawrence Marsh, DT Terron Sanders, LB Brandon Spikes, WR Riley Cooper.
Analysis: The Gators grabbed a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (Tebow), a dynamic receiver/tailback (Harvin), a bone-crushing middle linebacker (Spikes) and a field-tilting return man (James). All four played supporting roles in Florida's 2006 BCS title run, and they and their classmates were the nucleus of the 2008 BCS title team.
2006 Rivals Rank: No. 9
2008 Starters: DE Jeremy Beal, QB Sam Bradford, RB Chris Brown, CB Dominique Franks, TE Jermaine Gresham, RB Mossis Madu, DT Gerald McCoy, RB Demarco Murray, DT Adrian Taylor, OT Trent Williams.
Analysis: This class includes the reigning Heisman winner (Bradford), a three-headed monster of a backfield (Murray, Brown, Madu), a game-changing tight end (Gresham) and three-fourths of one of the nation's best defensive line. In 2009, expect at least three more members of this class to win starting jobs.
2006 Rivals Rank: No. 1
2008 Starters: G Zach Heberer, G Butch Lewis, S Taylor Mays, FB Stanley Havili, RB C.J. Gable, RB Stafon Johnson, TE Anthony McCoy, CB Shareece Wright.
Analysis: This tailback-heavy class lived up to its lofty hype, producing some excellent backs (Gable, Johnson), college football's best safety (Mays) and a shutdown corner (Wright). Two players, RB Emmanuel Moody (who transferred and helped Florida to the 2008 BCS title) and Vidal Hazelton (who is transferring this offseason), left, but the Trojans haven't suffered. They also gained the 2006 class' No. 2 quarterback (Mitch Mustain) and No. 9 receiver (Damian Williams), who each transferred from Arkansas after the 2006 season.