Top recruiting classes of all time (cont.)
5. Michigan, 1945
The end of World War II saw a return to normalcy for college football, and Michigan's first postwar recruiting class helped the Wolverines return to the top of the college football world for the first time since 1933. A group that included quarterback/halfback Pete Elliott, guard Dom Tomasi, guard Stuart Wilkins, tackle Joe Soboleski, halfback Wally Teninga and fullback Dan Dworsky helped Michigan win national titles in 1947 and 1948.
In 1947, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the final regular season Associated Press poll, but Michigan moved to No. 1 after smashing USC, 49-0, in the Rose Bowl. In 1948, Elliott was named a first-team All-America. Elliott, who had followed older brother Bump to Michigan, would go on to become the head coach at Nebraska, Cal and Illinois.
4. Alabama, 1976
Bear Bryant brought hundreds of great players to Tuscaloosa, but this class made the biggest contributions to two national championship teams. The second, in 1979, was Bryant's most dominant team.
This class produced only three NFL players, but one was center Dwight Stephenson, who was named an All-America in 1978 and 1979 and went on to a Hall-of-Fame career with the Miami Dolphins. Another future pro was defensive back Don McNeal, who pushed Penn State's Scott Fitzkee out of bounds at the one-yard-line to set up the goal-line stand that won Alabama the 1979 Sugar Bowl and the 1978 national title.
In 1979, class member Steadman Shealey piloted the Crimson Tide's wishbone offense while defensive linemen Curtis McGriff and Wayne Hamilton led a unit that allowed just 67 points all season as the Tide rolled to a 12-0 record.
3. Oklahoma, 1972
The seeds of this class were planted in 1970 when ace Sooners assistant Larry Lacewell convinced Lucious Selmon, an undersized defensive lineman from Eufala, Okla., to come to Norman. Lacewell wanted to sign Selmon after he visited the Selmon home and met Lucious' brothers, Dewey and Lee Roy, who had been born 11 months apart and who were both high-school sophomores.
Defensive linemen Dewey and Lee Roy were the cornerstones of the 1972 class, and they joined linebacker Jimbo Elrod, quarterback Steve Davis, split end Tinker Owens and halfbacks Joe Washington and Horace Ivory to help lead the Sooners to national titles in their junior and senior seasons. The class was the last one signed by Chuck Fairbanks, who turned over the reins to offensive coordinator Barry Switzer before the 1973 season.
Davis, already an ordained Baptist minister as a collegian, won the starting job in 1973 when presumed starter Kerry Jackson left school after Big Eight officials learned his high school transcript had been changed. Davis led the Sooners to a 32-1-1 record in three seasons as the starter, running Switzer's wishbone to devastating perfection with Washington and Ivory. Meanwhile, the Selmons joined older brother Lucious and former wrestler Elrod to form one of the nation's most ferocious defenses. In 1976, the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Lee Roy Selmon the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. He rewarded the franchise's faith by becoming its first Hall-of-Fame inductee.
2. Nebraska, 1992
The Cornhuskers can thank Bobby Bowden, Steve Spurrier and Dennis Erickson for the most important piece of the most dominant two-year run in college football history. Had the coaches at Florida State, Florida or Miami offered Bradenton, Fla., star Tommie Frazier a serious shot at playing quarterback, he might not have left the state. "They all said they would give me a shot at it," Frazier told The Miami Herald before starting against Florida State as a true freshman in the 1993 Orange Bowl. "But if it didn't work out, they said they would change me to wide receiver or defensive back."
Determined to play quarterback, Frazier went to Lincoln, where he teamed with classmates such as offensive tackle Chris Dishman, rover Mike Minter, defensive tackle Jared Tomich and cornerback Tyrone Williams to help the Cornhuskers to national titles in 1994 and 1995. Frazier missed much of the season in 1994 because of blood clots, but he returned in time to earn Orange Bowl MVP honors. In 1995, Washington State was the only team to come within two touchdowns of Nebraska. Frazier got the ultimate revenge against a home-state foe when the Huskers pounded 12-0 Florida, 62-24, in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national title.
In true Nebraska fashion, the contributors to the two national title teams didn't all arrive in Lincoln as scholarship players. Tomich, fullback Brian Schuster, offensive tackle Adam Treu and receiver Jon Vedral originally came as walk-ons.
The class also produced a No. 1 overall draft pick -- just not in the NFL draft. Darin Erstad, who started at punter on the 1994 team, was the top pick in the 1995 baseball draft. Erstad has played 14 seasons in the majors.
1. Notre Dame, 1946
It's unlikely another group will ever be as successful as this class. Coach Frank Leahy's Fighting Irish owned college football in the years immediately following World War II, and this class provided much of the firepower.
From 1946-49, Notre Dame went 36-0-2 and won three national titles. The best known player in the class is end Leon Hart, who won the 1949 Heisman Trophy. The class also included fullback Emil Sitko, who led the Irish in rushing all four years and left as the school's all-time leading rusher.
According to Notre Dame historian Lou Somogyi, 17 members of the class became starters or regulars in an era when players played on both sides of the ball. As in most classes of the era, some freshmen were a bit older because they didn't go to college until after they served in World War II. One of those was future hall-of-famer Jim "Jungle Jim" Martin, an end/tackle who served in the Marines before coming to South Bend.
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