Tue Feb 01 05:14pm EST
With signing day looming, it's time for the Doc's annual, week-long defense of the recruiting-industrial complex. (See parts one, two, three, four, five and part six.) Part Seven: The most productive individual classes of the last 10 years.
8. UCLA (2002). Before the West Coast was forced to bow to Pete Carroll's mojo at USC, the Pac-10's resident recruiting power was still UCLA, which seemed to solidify its position in '02 with the highest-rated class in the conference. One of the Bruins' two five-star signees, tight end Marcedes Lewis, eventually panned out, along with a handful of other starters; the other, JUCO defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti, did not, setting a template for five years of mediocrity. Head coach Bob Toledo was gone by the end of 2002, with six four-star members of his final class – Xavier Burgess, Matt Moore, Idris Moss, Mike Nixon, Glenn Ohaeri and Antwuan Smith – following him out by the start of 2004.
7. Tennessee (2005). Massive hype notwithstanding, this group doesn't carry the blame for the Vols' abrupt collapse to 5-6 in its first season. But it did form the core of the team that reprised that collapse in 2008, specifically supplying the starting quarterback (Jonathan Crompton, the nation's No. 2 incoming quarterback as a recruit) and a half-dozen other starters on the team that brought the Phil Fulmer era to a thudding end. By then, the '05 class' brightest headliners, five-star safety Demetrice Morley and running back LaMarcus Coker, had both worked their way off the team in determined, unspectacular fashion.
6. Michigan (2007). If they weren't scarred for life, the members of Lloyd Carr's final signing class were at least traumatized enough by the Wolverines' loss to Appalachian State in the first game of their college career that they went into a shell and never came out. Four years later, only five members of the entire class, cornerback Donovan Warren, defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, offensive linemen Mark Huyge and David Molk and cornerback Troy Woolfolk, had even emerged as regular starters, much less good ones.
Of course, the gem of the group, five-star quarterback Ryan Mallett, quickly fled Ann Arbor and the specter of Rich Rodriguez's spread offense in 2008 for a record-breaking career at Arkansas. But no one could have imagined then that his teammates – the top-ranked incoming class in the Big Ten – would sit so idly by as the program descended into the Dark Ages.
5. Notre Dame (2006). Charlie Weis' first full class in South Bend was hailed as another revelation in the Irish's miraculous resurrection, especially in comparison to years of mediocrity on the trail by his predecessor, Tyrone Willingham. Instead, it laid the foundation for Weis' demise.
The five-star headliners, running back James Alridge and offensive lineman Sam Young, delivered ordinary careers at best, and five of the 10 highest-rated players in the class – coveted four-stars Demetrius Jones, Matt Carufel, Konrad Reuland, Zach Frazer and Richard Jackson – were all long gone by the end of 2007, aka the worst year in Irish history. Those that stayed served largely as names on the depth chart for mediocre teams that slowly sealed Weis' fate. Out of 28 signees, only Sam Young – the guy who beat out Tim Tebow as Florida's "Mr. Football" in 2005 – was eventually drafted, in the sixth round.
4. Tennessee (2007). Of the many disappointments endured by Vol fans over the last decade, the '07 class holds a special place. Initially, it was rated by everyone as one of the top handful of classes in the country, a badly needed counterpunch to Florida's rapid rise under Urban Meyer, and immediately helped deliver a surprise SEC East title in its first season. Four years later, it's on the verge of going down as the class that produced the amazing Eric Berry, and not much else.
Not that it's entirely their fault, given three head coaching changes and wholesale staff overhauls in three years. But aside from the All-Universe safety, only seven other '07 signees out of 31 ever became regular starters, and none of them came close to being named All-SEC. Two years ago, the Knoxville News-Sentinel calculated an astounding 17 members of the class that moved on with at least one year of eligibility remaining, including five-star signees Chris Donald, Brent Vinson and Kenny O'Neal and top-100 running back Lennon Creer (right). If any of the "survivors" have their name called in April's draft, it will be a major upset.
3. Florida State (2004). A whopping nine incoming 'Noles were ranked among Rivals' top-100 overall prospects in 2004, good for the No. 3 class in the country. Of that nine, all of three – linebacker Lawrence Timmons, cornerback Tony Carter and quarterback Drew Weatherford – would eventually emerge as regular starters at some point in their careers, and even within that group, Weatherford was benched as a fifth-year senior to make way for his successor, Christian Ponder, in 2008.
Prior to that, Weatherford had managed to outlast a challenge from freakish classmate Xavier Lee, who was never able to convert his five-star talents into any kind of success on the field. That pretty much sums up the '04 class as a whole, the first to leave FSU without a single 10-win season or major bowl win in 20 years – though not the last…
2. Florida State (2005). Even more than its predecessor, the '05 class arrived on a wave of hype as high as any Bobby Bowden ever brought to Tallahassee – it was the No. 2 incoming crop in the nation according to Rivals, less than 100 points back of No. 1 USC – and immediately wiped out the notion that its stars would be the answer to FSU's steady fade from the national elite. One five-star hero, Callahan Bright, never enrolled; another, Fred Rouse, never played a down. The third, Antone Smith, played all four years but never lived up to the hype and wasn't drafted.
The class eventually produced a handful of solid defenders (Everette Brown, Geno Hayes, Letroy Guion), but not nearly enough to lift the 'Noles out of the deepest rut of Bowden's entire tenure from 2005-09.
1. Miami (2004). One name from this class, Willie Williams, stands above all others as the personification of overheated recruiting hype gone very, very wrong. But Williams was one of only seven top-100 recruits the 'Canes inked as part of a top-five haul in 2004 – back when a top-five finish in the actual polls still seemed like a birth right – and all seven ultimately flopped. Along with Williams, there was Lance Leggett, Bobby Washington, Rhyan Anderson, Charlie Jones, James Bryant and Andrew Johnson, the headliners of a class that eventually represented the fall of the most fearsome dynasty of the first half of the decade. Miami fell out of the top 10 in 2004, out of the top 15 in 2005, out of the polls altogether in 2006 and finally below .500 in 2007, before a newly hyped class arrived to start the cycle anew under the new head coach, Randy Shannon.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.