Articles By Braden Gall
No head coach has ever had a bad National Signing Day.
No head coach at any school has ever come out on NSD and said, “You know, we just didn’t address any of our needs. We are disappointed with the group we’ve signed. And we are very concerned moving forward about the future of our program.”
Nope, from their viewpoint, every coach in the nation passed the National Signing Day test with flying colors.
Many recruitniks view the first Wednesday in February as the end of a long and arduous process that began years before and ends with two dozen signatures. However, the reality of the situation is that Signing Day is just the beginning. Coaches, new and old, get an injection of talent for their depth chart. Fans have new crushes to fawn over and the players' journey from high school superstar to brutally vicious adulthood actually begins.
And, no, despite what every coach tells you, not everyone was a winner on National Signing Day.
There were 316 four- and five-star prospects in the nation according to the composite 247Sports rankings. Of those 316 top-level recruits, 29 of them had yet to make a decision heading into Signing Day. Of course, there were plenty of surprise flip-flops and decommitments as well.
So now that the dust has settled, who were the big winners and big losers of National Signing Day 2014?
NSD ’14 Winners
The team that had the best day on Wednesday was Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans. Three of the top 38 players in the nation, including two five-star talents, picked the Trojans over Pac-12 rivals UCLA, Oregon and others. Adoree’ Jackson (No. 7 overall) was the highest-ranked uncommitted player in the nation and he picked USC over UCLA, LSU and Florida. JuJu Smith (No. 20) was the fifth-highest rated uncommitted player in the country and he picked USC over Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame. Those two five-star prospects also keep USC’s streak of landing at least one five-star prospect since 2003 alive. Damien Mama (No. 38) is one of the highest-rated four-star prospects in the nation and the massive offensive guard picked USC over UCLA and Notre Dame. Not only did Coach Sark land some elite talent but he beat his conference rivals in the process. The Trojans moved from outside the top 25 to No. 11 in the final team rankings and put together the best class in the Pac-12.
The second-highest rated player available heading into NSD was Auburn (Ala.) High School linebacker Rashaan Evans (No. 15). The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder hails from within the shadows of Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn High School and was considered a heavy Tigers lean. But just like last season when Reuben Foster shunned the hometown Tigers to head to Tuscaloosa, Evans signed with the Crimson Tide. The addition of Evans locked Nick Saban’s class in as the best in the nation in 2014 and gave the superstar coach his third consecutive recruiting national championship. According to the composite 247 rankings, Alabama signed six of the top 16, eight of the top 50 and 13 of the top 100 players in the nation. It was once again pure domination from Saban and the Tide on the recruiting trail.
Not only did the Cardinal have one of the best days but they might have done it with the best style. The national headlines began with five-star defensive end Solomon Thomas (No. 25) picking Stanford over Texas, Ohio State and Arkansas. The Coppell (Texas) High product pulled an actual pruned miniature tree out from beneath the table during his press conference and donned the signature Nerd Nation glasses. David Shaw then followed that up with the addition of New Orleans defensive back Terrance Alexander. Stanford’s class moved up to No. 14 nationally and the strong finish gave the Cardinal the Pac-12’s second-best class (USC). Stanford has a clear brand identity and Shaw has honed his ability to effectively sell it on the trail.
Signing Day began with a boom for the Dawgs when they pulled the first big shocker of NSD 2014 when they landed Isaiah McKenzie (No. 307). The four-star wide receiver was thought to be picking between Ole Miss, Florida and Virginia Tech but signed with Georgia in a coup for Mark Richt. Later in the day, Georgia landed another huge blow when it beat Alabama, Florida and LSU for the services of five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (No. 25). Certainly, adding Jeremy Pruitt has helped bolster UGA's recruiting efforts but Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is the one who deserves the credit. He was named National Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports for the 2014 cycle.
Early in the day, Steve Spurrier flipped three-star defensive end Blake McClain from Nebraska. Then in the early afternoon, Spurrier was back at it again stealing appropriately named four-star defensive tackle Dexter Wideman from the defending champion Florida State Seminoles. Finally, the Ol’ Ball Coach wrapped up his sneaky good NSD by inking four-star defensive back Wesley Green from Lithonia (Ga.) MLK. The three big pick ups for South Carolina moved the Gamecocks into the top 20 nationally. This class features six defensive linemen and five cornerbacks, as stopping the pass is clearly becoming more important in the SEC.
It was a wild day for Florida State fans. Jimbo Fisher was guaranteed an excellent class but there was an outside chance FSU could have pushed Bama for the No. 1 slot. While the Noles didn’t catch Bama — it finished third nationally and No. 1 in the ACC — they certainly had some excitement. Four-star prospects Roderick Johnson (No. 125), Derrick Nnadi (No. 99) and Derrick Kelly got things started in a big way for Fisher and company before five-star wide receiver Ermon Lane (No. 24) and former Virginia Tech commitment Javon Harrison eventually picked the Seminoles. Fisher did lose quarterback Treon Harris to Florida and Dexter Wideman to South Carolina but made up for it by stealing Harrison from the Hokies in the 11th hour. This is an elite group that is poised for another title run or two.
No team jumped more in the team recruiting rankings than the Commodores. Weeks after James Franklin decimated a top-25 class when he headed to Penn State, Derek Mason rallied the troops by flooding the market with scholarships and landing more than a few quality prospects. Four-star defensive end Nifae Lealao (No. 103) was the prized gem of the group as Mason closed strong with a dozen commitments/signings over the last official visit weekend. In the end, Vandy moved up 35 spots in the team rankings in one week and salvaged a top-50 class. Vandy is ranked 50th by Rivals and Scout and 46th by 247Sports after ranking in the 80s for most of the last few weeks.
NSD ’14 Losers
The Big 12
Oklahoma had an excellent finish to its cycle with the additions of Michiah Quick (No. 56) and Steven Parker (No. 108), but on the whole, it was once again a disappointing season on the recruiting trail for the Big 12. New Texas coach Charlie Strong had to recruit against Mack Brown down the stretch and finished well outside of the top 10 (No. 15). Texas’ class would be just the ninth-best class in the SEC and no other Big 12 team landed in the top 25 nationally. As a league, the Big 12 signed just seven top-100 prospects after inking just four top-100 players last year and six the year before that. By comparison, the SEC signed 45 top-100 recruits this cycle and, more painfully, former Big 12 member Texas A&M signed more five-star prospects (3) on Wednesday than its former conference combined (2). This is still a great league with great programs and solid classes but the elite-level talent doesn’t seem to be heading to the Heartland any longer.
The Bruins landed a solid overall class, finishing 21st overall in the team rankings. But when the dust settled in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, the Bruins hadn’t won many battles on Signing Day. Kenny Young (No. 175) from New Orleans picked the Bruins but UCLA missed out on every other prospect it was in on. Five-star talents Adoree’ Jackson, Malachi Dupre and JuJu Smith went elsewhere while Damien Mama, Michiah Quick and Budda Baker shunned UCLA as well. More importantly, three of them — Jackson, Smith and Mama — signed with the crosstown rival Trojans of USC while Baker went to Washington. This is a solid class that finished fourth in the Pac-12, however, with a strong day, Jim Mora could have boasted the best class in the league. Instead, USC is celebrating that moniker.
Brady Hoke wasn’t expecting to have a dramatic finish to his ’14 cycle but the Michigan brand was noticeably absent from any meaningful conversations on Signing Day. The class dropped out of the top 20 nationally as other teams leapt ahead of the Wolverines. The Maize and Blue finished second in the Big Ten, but fell significantly behind Ohio State in the team ranks. Hoke missed out on a five-star in-state talent in defensive end Malik McDowell, who picked arch rival Michigan State instead, and the Wolverines weren't even in the mix for anyone else. It wasn’t supposed to be a big class but the 16 signatures are the fewest by any team ranked in the top 40. So while Michigan treaded water on NSD, Penn State, Michigan State and Maryland made moves and gained ground on the Wolverines within the division. Few schools nationally lost as much momentum on the recruiting trail throughout the course of the football season as the Wolverines did in losing five of their last six games.
Conference expansion has been a huge part of college football over the past few years and it has changed the way some teams are viewed on the recruiting trail. TCU was accustomed to signing the best classes in the Mountain West but finished outside of the top 50 nationally and eighth in the Big 12 on Wednesday. Utah and Colorado boast two of the worst Big 5 classes in the nation as Rivals ranks the Utes last in the Pac-12 while 247Sports ranked Colorado last in the league. Louisville is normally sitting atop its league in the Big East or AAC when it comes to recruiting. However, the Cards ranked ninth in the ACC and 47th overall by 247Sports, was 10th in the ACC and 46th overall by Rivals and didn’t get a top 40 mention by ESPN. Additionally, Syracuse and Pitt finished ninth and 12th respectively in the ACC while Maryland and Rutgers finished ninth and 10th respectively in the Big Ten. Even Nebraska finished sixth in the Big Ten.
Bret Bielema had a nice group, finishing 31st nationally in the team rankings. However, the Hogs, a team that finished very well last year with Alex Collins and Denver Kirkland, missed on their two big targets in Solomon Thomas (Stanford) and Richard Yeargin III (Clemson) this year. The Hogs finished 11th in the SEC in the team ranks, miles behind the top four classes in the league — all of which hail from the SEC West (Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn). The already steep uphill climb appears to be getting tougher rather than easier for the Hogs' field general.
Purdue and Illinois
Neither the Boilermakers nor the Illini had a lot left on their boards entering the day but both Purdue and Illinois finished at the bottom of the Big Ten. The duo finished 70th (Purdue) and 71st (Illinois) respectively in 247Sports national team rankings and finished only ahead of Colorado among Big 5 schools. Tim Beckman was last in the Big Ten in recruiting this year and Darrell Hazell was 13th. The already extremely difficult turnaround projects in West Lafayette and Champaign don’t appear to be getting any easier. And, by the way, Indiana had a solid class ranked in the top 50 nationally by some.
Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN and 247Sports.com are the four major recruiting services who all do an excellent job evaluating, tracking and ranking all things recruiting.
But they don't always agree and that is a great thing for fans. It also means the best way to rank the best classes in the nation is to average them all together and come to a consensus. One service may value quantity while another may value quality. One service may really love one prospect while another may not feel as strongly about him. Again, this is why Athlon Sports publishes its national team recruiting rankings as an average of the four big sites combined.
After another stellar National Signing Day of winners and losers, here are the consensus Top 40 team rankings for 2014 — with a familiar name atop the standings once again.
• The SEC dominated again, landing the top two slots, seven of the top nine and 10 of the top 20 classes. Bama won its third straight recruiting title and the SEC's sixth in seven years. The only three teams with top-20 classes and losing records in 2013 were from the SEC (Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky).
• Ohio State left everyone else in the Big Ten in their dust. Michigan dropped on signing day and the rest of the Big Ten stood fairly still. The Buckeyes are lapping the field in the B1G when it comes to recruiting.
• The Trojans are back with a vengeance as they landed three top-40 players, including two five-stars on NSD. Coach Sark closed with a fury and landed the Pac-12's highest-rated class.
• The rest of the Pac-12 held its own, however. Stanford was awesome on Wednesday and Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona all landed top-30 classes as well.
• The Big 12 struggled again. Oklahoma and Texas had strong classes but those two schools are accustomed to being in the top five nationally not 13th and 15th respectively. No other Big 12 team landed in the top 25 and only seven total top-100 players signed with the Big 12.
|3.||Florida St (29)||4||4||3||3|
|4.||Ohio St (23)||3||3||5||7|
Texas A&M (21)
|10.||Notre Dame (23)||10||11||6||11|
|16.||Ole Miss (26)||16||19||18||18|
|18.||South Carolina (21)||15||16||24||19|
|20.||Arizona St (28)||23||21||17||21|
|24.||Penn St (25)||24||24||25||24|
|25.||Michigan St (22)||25||22||21||29|
|26.||Oklahoma St (29)||28||27||14||28|
|29.||North Carolina (22)||29||23||31||32|
|30.||Virginia Tech (27)||27||25||37||31|
|32.||NC State (30)||34||30||26||38|
|37.||West Virginia (22)||36||38||40||37|
|38.||Texas Tech (27)||41||43||35||35|
|40.||Mississippi St (23)||38||41||39||36|
Also receiving votes: Indiana, TCU, USF, Northwestern
The "modern" recruiting era is tied directly to the online recruiting websites. Rivals and Scout began the explosion around 2001 and ESPN and 247Sports have powerfully entered the market since. The rankings databases only go back 10 or 11 years, so it is difficult to evaluate historic recruiting classes. But since the turn of the millennium, fans and analysts alike have a tremendous amount of data to evaluate recruiting rankings, talent development and scouting evaluations.
Studying recruiting rankings can highlight coaching deficiencies as well as the overachievers. That said, the best recruiting classes of the modern era are more about salesmanship, brand equity, the NFL and big-time athletic department budgets.
Here are the top 15 recruiting classes of the modern era:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008
Rank: 1st (Athlon Sports), 32 signees
Key Players: Mark Barron, Julio Jones, Terrence Cody, Marcel Dareus, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Ingram, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Damion Square, Michael Williams, Robert Lester, Brad Smelley
Nowhere is the impact of recruiting rankings more apparent that in Tuscaloosa, Ala. On the verge of signing yet another No. 1 class, Nick Saban began his domination of the recruiting trail back in 2008 when he signed Athlon Sports’ No. 1 class. This group was a huge part of the 2009 national championship and obviously was featured in both the '11 and '12 title runs. This group includes five first-round picks and two second-rounders among those who went on to play at the next level. It is hard to argue that a group that won three BCS titles and features double-digit NFL draft picks isn’t the best modern collection of talent ever assembled.
2. USC Trojans, 2003
Rank: 3rd (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Reggie Bush, Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Terrell Thomas, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Fili Moala, John David Booty, Eric Wright, Brandon Ting, Ryan Ting, Drean Rucker, Chauncey Washington
Much like the ’08 Alabama group, this team experienced three national championship runs. Only two ended in victory — it lost to Texas in 2005, but more on that in a second — but this class was the foundation of USC's Pac-10 dynasty. Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy and is one of four first-round picks from this class. Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas, Ryan Kalil and LenDale White were second-round picks while still others went later in the draft. USC dominated recruiting for nearly a decade and it led to seven conference championships from 2002-08.
3. Florida Gators, 2006
Rank: 2nd (Rivals), 27 signees
Key Players: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Maurice Hurt, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Lawrence Marsh, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Terron Sanders, Dustin Doe, AJ Jones, Carl Johnson
At one point or another, 16 of the 27 recruits in this class went on to start a game for the Gators. But this class was led at the top by elite superstars Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Jermaine Cunningham and Spikes were second-rounders while Maurice Hurt and Riley Cooper went later in the draft. Tebow alone makes this class a gem for Florida and it led directly to two BCS national championships. The depth in the middle and at the bottom are nearly as impressive as the elite-level talent of the top names.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009
Rank: 3rd (Athlon), 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
This group was a big part of three national championships at the Capstone and played a much bigger role in the 2012 title than the '08 haul. This class has already featured six first-round picks and a few more (such as AJ McCarron) should hear their name called in May. An interesting thing to note about this class is the offensive line. It was the best OL in the nation in 2012 and three-fifths of the starters signed in this class.
5. Texas Longhorns, 2002
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Rod Wright, Brian Robison, Aaron Ross, Chase Pittman, Justin Blalock, Aaron Harris, David Thomas, Selvin Young
This group was the core of the 2005 national championship run led by superstar quarterback and five-star recruit Vince Young. He was the gem of the nation’s No. 1 class that eventually featured numerous NFL Draft picks. Ross, Studdard, Wright, Robison, Pittman, Thomas and Blalock were all huge pieces to Mack Brown’s championship puzzle and most of them have gone on to excel in the NFL.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002
Rank: 5th (Rivals), 24 signees
Key Players: AJ Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, Troy Smith, Maurice Clarett, Bobby Carpenter, Mike D’Andrea, Doug Datish, Quinn Pitcock, Nate Salley, Roy Hall
This class was a big part of the 2002 national championship run as just freshmen, with Maurice Clarett playing the biggest role. This group features elite offensive firepower and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led his team to the national title game in 2006. This group provided four first-round picks in the 2006 NFL Draft and included six other picks from the 2005-07 drafts as well. Three BCS title appearances and four Big Ten titles over a five-year span indicate that Jim Tressell’s ’02 haul was one of the best in recent memory.
7. Oklahoma Sooners, 2006
Rank: 9th (Rivals), 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
All four Sooners who went in first round of the 2010 NFL Draft signed with Bob Stoops in this class and all four NFL draft picks from Oklahoma in the '11 draft came from this class too. Sam Bradford set all types of records, won the Heisman Trophy and led this team to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game. Even a guy who ended up transferring (Beeler) went on to star at his second school (Stanford).
Rank: 1st (Athlon), 29 signees
Key Players: Kelvin Benjamin, Nick O'Leary, Timmy Jernigan, Terrance Smith, Tank Carradine, Rashad Greene, James Wilder, Bobby Hart, Devonta Freeman, Josue Matias, Tre Jackson, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Nick Waisome, Jacob Coker, Jacob Fahrenkrug
This group already has proven itself, as one of the deepest hauls in history led directly to a BCS National Championship. The following class in 2012 — Jameis Winston, Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman, Chris Casher — might eventually be better, but for now the '11 group is the best of the Jimbo Fisher era. This group, ranked No. 1 in the nation by Athlon Sports in 2011, featured over a dozen starters on the '13 title team and has already delivered two ACC titles as well.
Rank: 1st (Athlon Sports), 24 signees
Key Players: Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Kevin Minter, Rueben Randle, Chris Faulk, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Davenport, Bennie Logan, Michael Ford, Craig Loston, Josh Downs, Stavion Lowe, Lamin Barrow, Russell Shepard
This group was the foundation of the 13-0 regular season run to the title game in 2011. And had it finished the job against Alabama, it might be considered the better group. The potential of this class is astounding. It features three first-round picks in Morris Claiborne (6th overall in 2012), Michael Brockers (14th, 2012), and Barkevious Mingo (6th, 2013), and three others were selected in last year's NFL Draft as well. Three-fourths of the starting 2012 defensive line signed in this group as well as star linebacker Kevin Minter. The star power is obvious but the supporting cast is impressive as well.
10. Oregon Ducks, 2008
Rank: 16th (Athlon Sports), 22 signees
Key Players: LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, Nick Cody, Hamani Stevens, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kaddu, DeWitt Stuckey, Jeremiah Masoli
Four members of this class (Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, Kenjon Barner, John Boyett) were taken in the 2013 NFL Draft alone. Darron Thomas was the most productive quarterback in school history over two years and led his team to the BCS National Championship Game. Two starting offensive linemen helped pave the way for a trio of running backs any school would covet in one class (Barner, LaMichael James, LeGarrette Blount). The defense is also well represented with steady leaders (Boyett) as well as athletic freaks of nature (Jordan, Alonso). This class went 40-5 in Pac-12 play over a five-year period of time from 2008-12.
10. Michigan State Spartans, 2010
Rank: 25th (Athlon), 22 signees
Key Players: Max Bullough, William Gholston, Kurtis Drummond, Darqueze Dennard, Le'Veon Bell, Jeremy Langford, Marcus Rush, Isaiah Lewis, Nick Hill, Keith Mumphrey, Tony Lippett
It may not have the elite NFL talent of some of the Saban or Carroll classes but fewer units have meant more to their program than the 22 guys Mark Dantonio inked in 2010. This class made up the majority of the nation's top defense, including the Thorpe Award winner, that led the Spartans to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl championship for the first time in 25 years. Two All-Big Ten running backs, William Gholston and a host of contributors in the passing game complete a class loaded with long-time starters and veteran senior leaders. This has to considered Dantonio's finest work on the recruiting trail.
11. Auburn Tigers, 2010
Rank: 7th (Athlon), 32 signees
Key Players: Cam Newton, Jake Holland, Jonathon Mincy, Chad Slade, Michael Dyer, Chris Davis, Corey Lemonier, Ryan Smith, LaDarius Owens, Jeffrey Whitaker, Trovon Reed, Shon Coleman
Not many classes have produced two BCS National Championship berths, a Heisman Trophy winner, No. 1 overall pick and one crystal football but that is just what the 2010 group did for Auburn. Newton was obviously a huge get and an immediate impact player but a host of veteran starters on the 2013 SEC championship squad came to The Plains in the '10 signing class. Holland and Owens were leaders at linebacker while Mincy, Smith and Davis all started in the secondary for the SEC champs. This was a deep and talented haul that Gus Malzahn had a big part in bringing to campus. The worst season in program history in 2012 keeps this group from the top 10.
12. Stanford Cardinal, 2009
Rank: 18th (Athlon), 22 signees
Key Players: Shayne Skov, Stepfan Taylor, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Tyler Gaffney, Zach Ertz, Khalil Wilkes, Levine Toilolo, Josh Mauro, Taysom Hill
Stanford had a three-year run on the recruiting trail that featured elite classes in both 2010 and '11, but the group that got it started stands out above the rest. On defense, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner are three players any coach would wish for once in a lifetime much less all in the same signing class. On offense, both Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor carried their team to Pac-12 championships and Taylor might be the best Stanford running back of all-time. Khalil Wilkes started on both of those title teams at center while a pair of NFL tight ends (Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo) are featured as well. Even BYU got its starting quarterback (Taysom Hill) from this class.
13. LSU Tigers, 2004
Rank: 2nd (Rivals), 26 signees
Key Players: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Jacob Hester, Early Doucet, Chevis Jackson, Herman Johnson, Quinn Johnson, Craig Steltz, Claude Wroten, Tremaine Johnson, Curtis Taylor, Brett Helms, Lavelle Hawkins
The 2004 class set the foundation for the run at the '07 BCS National Championship. Glenn Dorsey and Jacob Hester were the primary leaders on both sides of the ball and eventually hoisted the crystal football. Five players were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft and four more were taken in the '09 draft. Three star defensive linemen, including two first-round picks in Dorsey and Tyson Jackson led this defense when it dominated Ohio State in the title game. Lavelle Hawkins was a big-time player but did it for Cal after transferring.
14. Georgia Bulldogs, 2009
Rank: 6th (Athlon), 19 signees
Key Players: Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch, Branden Smith, Shawn Williams, Chris Burnette, Marlon Brown, Austin Long, Dallas Lee, Kwame Geathers, Orson Charles, Rantavious Wooten, Zach Mettenberger, Abry Jones, Washaun Ealey
This class really begins and ends with the most productive quarterback in the history of the SEC. And one that beat Florida like few in school history ever had. Aaron Murray headlines an excellent offensive class that features multiple starting offensive linemen, a trio of extremely athletic pass-catchers and arguably the nation's best tight end in 2013 in Arthur Lynch. Zach Mettenberger didn't last long at Georgia, but eventually ended up at LSU and was the Tigers' starting quarterback the past two seasons. The defense got plenty of production from Shawn Williams, Branden Smith and Kwame Geathers during two runs to the SEC Championship Game. Had this group, in particular, Murray, ever finished with a title, it would be ranked higher.
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2009
Rank: 14th (Athlon), 18 signees
Key Players: Manti Te'o, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Zeke Motta, Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Jake Golic, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Tyler Stockton
This class is headlined by Manti Te'o, one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. Tyler Eifert was a first-round pick last year and Zack Martin, one of the best players in the nation at his position, leads a strong collection of offensive line talent. Both Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick were solid contributors on offense while this haul also featured a host of defensive starters for a team that went undefeated in the 2012 regular season and put the Irish in the BCS title game.
The Best of the Rest:
Wisconsin Badgers, 2009
Rank: 39th (Athlon), 21 signees
Key Players: Montee Ball, Chris Borland, Jacob Pedersen, Ryan Groy, Travis Frederick, Dezmen Southward, Jordan Kohout, David Gilbert, Tyler Dippell, Conor O'Neill, Pat Muldoon
Florida Gators, 2007
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 27 signees
Key Players: Ahmad Black, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Chas Henry, Aaron Hernandez, Cam Newton, Chris Rainey, Maurkice Pouncey, Michael Pouncey, Major Wright, John Brantley
Georgia Bulldogs, 2006
Rank: 4th (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Asher Allen, Geno Atkins, Shaun Chapas, Akeem Dent, Kris Durham, Akeem Hebron, Reshad Jones, Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, Kiante Tripp, Clifton Geathers, Prince Miller
Ohio State Buckeyes, 2008
Rank: 2nd (Athlon), 20 signees
Key Players: Mike Adams, Terrelle Pryor, Travis Howard, DeVier Posey, Michael Brewster, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Etienne Sabino, JB Shurgarts, Andrew Sweat
LSU Tigers, 2003
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: LaRon Landry, Will Arnold, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Matt Flynn, Alley Broussard, Anthony Hill, JaMarcus Russell, Jonathon Zenon, Justin Vincent
Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2008
Rank: 4th (Athlon Sports), 23 signees
Key Players: Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd, Braxton Cave, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, Mike Golic, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, John Goodman, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Steven Filer, Sean Cwynar, Dayne Crist, Ethan Johnson
Texas Longhorns, 2005
Rank: 20th (Rivals), 15 signees
Key Players: Colt McCoy, Roddrick Muckelroy, Henry Melton, Jermichael Finley, Quan Cosby, Jamaal Charles, Chris Brown, Aaron Lewis, Roy Miller
USC Trojans, 2005
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 19 signees
Key Players: Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Ellison, Charles Brown, Patrick Turner, Kyle Moore, Kaluka Maiava, Will Harris, Cary Harris
According to 247Sports, there are 283 four-star prospects and 33 five-star recruits in the class of 2014.
All of them will officially become a member of a college football team on National Signing Day 2014 (NSD). Well, at least, they are supposed to, but who knows what will happen when dealing with 17 and 18 year olds.
Of those 316 four- and five-star recruits in the ’14 class, currently 29 of them have yet to make their college decision. Will someone pull the Bryce Brown or Terrelle Pryor and wait to sign after NSD? Will someone’s mom forge a signature or hire a lawyer to fight her son’s decision? And what types of props will be used?
All of this stuff is wild, wacky and memorable but the only thing that really matters on signing day is where that Letter of Intent get faxed.
Here are the top rated uncommitted prospects who will put pen to paper on Wednesday (ranking by 247):
7. Adoree Jackson, CB (5-9, 182)
Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra
Schools: USC, Florida, LSU, UCLA
15. Rashaan Evans, LB (6-3, 220)
Auburn (Ala.) High
Schools: Auburn, Alabama
17. Malachi Dupre, WR (6-2, 190)
New Orleans (La.) John Curtis
Schools: LSU, Florida St, UCLA
18. Lorenzo Carter, DE (6-5, 232)
Norcross (Ga.) High
Schools: Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Florida
20. JuJu Smith, ATH (6-1, 200)
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
Schools: USC, Notre Dame, UCLA
24. Ermon Lane, WR (6-3, 190)
Homestead (Fla.) High
Schools: Florida St, Miami, Florida, Alabama
25. Solomon Thomas, DE (6-2, 260)
Coppell (Texas) High
Schools: Stanford, Texas, Ohio St, Arkansas
27. Damian Prince, OL (6-5, 295)
District Heights (Md.) Bishop McNamara
Schools: Maryland, Florida, Florida St, Ohio St
32. Malik McDowell, DE (6-7, 290)
Southfield (Mich.) High
Schools: Michigan St, Michigan, Ohio St, Florida St
The Top 100
38. Damien Mama, OG (6-4, 360)
Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
Schools: USC, UCLA, Notre Dame
55. Budda Baker, ATH (5-9, 175)
Bellevue (Wash.) High
Schools: Washington, UCLA, Oregon
56. Michiah Quick, ATH (6-0, 170)
Fresno (Calif.) Central East
Schools: Oklahoma, Notre Dame, UCLA
63. Braden Smith, OG (6-6, 290)
Olathe (Kan.) South
Schools: TCU, Auburn, Texas A&M
65. Travonte Valentine, DT (6-3, 335)
Hialeah (Fla.) Champagnat Catholic
Schools: LSU, Miami
99. Derrick Nnadi, DT (6-1, 305)
Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes
Schools: Virginia Tech, Florida St, Virginia
The Rest of the Four-Stars
103. Nifae Lealao, DE (6-5, 282)
Sacramento (Calif.) Capital Christian
Schools: Vanderbilt, Stanford
108. Steven Parker, S (6-2, 190)
Jenks (Okla.) High
Schools: Oklahoma, Texas A&M
125. Roderick Johnson, OT (6-6, 315)
Florissant (Mo.) Hazelwood Central
Schools: Florida St, Ohio St
160. Wesley Green, CB (5-11, 170)
Lithonia (Ga.) MLK
Schools: South Carolina, Georgia, Clemson
173. Hoza Scott, LB (6-2, 225)
La Porte (Texas) High
Schools: Texas A&M, Alabama, Florida, LSU
Time: SIGNED (Blinn Junior College)
175. Kenny Young, LB (6-2, 220)
New Orleans (La.) John Curtis
Schools: UCLA, LSU, Texas A&M
205. Chris Lammons, CB (5-9, 170)
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Plantation
Schools: South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin
226. Donte Thomas-Williams, RB (6-0, 220)
Durham (N.C.) Hillside
Schools: West Virginia, Florida St, Clemson
231. Andrew Williams, DE (6-4, 250)
McDonough (Ga.) Eagle’s Landing Christian
Schools: Auburn, Clemson, Georgia
245. Raymon Minor, ATH (6-3, 210)
Richmond (Va.) Benedictine
Schools: Virginia Tech, Marshall, Nebraska, Cincinnati
263. Poona Ford, DT (6-0, 285)
Hilton Head (S.C.) High
Schools: Texas, South Carolina, Louisville, Missouri
266. Richard Yeargin III, LB (6-4, 225)
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) University School
Schools: Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas, Arkansas
300. Daniel Cage, DT (6-3, 295)
Cincinnati (Ohio) Winton Woods
Schools: Michigan St, Louisville, Missouri, Notre Dame
307. Isaiah McKenzie, WR (5-8, 175)
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) American Heritage
Schools: Georgia, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Notre Dame
Children are complicated, fickle, naive creatures who seldom have any perspective on the trappings of adult life. Few 16-year-old kids in this country know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Hell, most of them have never even done their own taxes.
It’s why uniforms, shoes, weather, license plates and even a coin flip have been used to select a university in the recent past. And I don’t expect National Signing Day 2014 to be much different.
The 2014 cycle has already provided plenty of excitement. Coaches like Butch Jones, Mark Stoops and Gus Malzahn have done an elite job putting together their first full classes at SEC programs. New USC coach Steve Sarkisian is preparing for a monster final day of recruiting. And April Justin, mother of Landon Collins and Gerald Willis, has not once (Collins, 2012) but twice (Willis, 2014) witnessed her offspring shun the in-state LSU Tigers for an out-of-state SEC rival against Mama's wishes on national TV (Willis picked Florida over LSU).
Willis is just one of many interesting, bewildering and sometimes hilarious recruiting decisions. My personal favorite came from Florida State signee Fred Rouse. On our national radio show on Sirius, he was asked, where are you going to college? And Rouse responded with “You know, a lot of people want me to go here or there. But I had to think, you know, what Fred wanna do? And Fred want to go to Florida State.” I think I have replayed that clip a thousand times since. The first-person, verbally illiterate announcement was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his career wasn’t nearly as entertaining on the football field as it was on radio airwaves.
The Imaginary Scholarship
Nothing compares to Kevin Hart’s story. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman at Fernley (Nev.) High wanted to play college football so badly that he wrote his own fairytale ending complete with press conference. On Feb. 1, 2008, Hart held a historic announcement at his high school in which he picked Cal over Oregon. “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind gave me that real personal experience,” Hart said at the announcement.
There was only one problem. Jeff Tedford had never spoken too, visited or contacted Hart. Neither had Oregon, Washington or Oklahoma State, his other finalists, for that matter. Eventually, Hart admitted the entire recruitment was fictitious and apologized to all parties involved.
The Forged Signature
April Justin isn’t the first parent to disapprove of their son’s educational choices. In 2011, Reserve (La.) East St. John defensive back Floyd Raven had decided that Texas A&M was the right school for him. There was only one issue, however, his letter of intent had already been sent to Ole Miss. The Rebels' admissions department couldn’t read the signature and asked for a second copy. Raven’s mother wanted him to go to Ole Miss so badly, that she had forged the signature and sent it to Oxford without her son’s knowledge. Eventually, Floyd learned of his mother’s “betrayal” and sent the appropriately signed paperwork to Texas A&M.
The Coin Flip
It takes thousands of hours of labor and thousands of dollars to recruit athletes at the highest level. But in 2009, Atco (N.J.) Winslow Township linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud trimmed the entire process to a few cents. After taking five school-funded official visits, Glaud had narrowed his list to West Virginia and Rutgers. But the linebacker was still so torn he couldn’t make up his mind. So naturally, he decided to let chance decide his fate as he literally flipped a coin between the two programs. Heads he goes to WVU, tails he goes to Rutgers. He has posted 47 total tackles in three seasons for the Scarlet Knights.
The Five-Minute Flip-Flop
Flip-flops happen in recruiting all the time – especially, as National Signing Day draws near. The recruiting picture gets clearer for all parties involved, while schools get desperate to fill needs with late scholarship offers. Cyrus Kouandjio, the nation’s No. 2 player in 2011, however, made heads spin in record time a few years ago. An offensive tackle from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, Kouandjio's older brother, Arie, was already at Alabama. Yet Cyrus announced on ESPN that he would be attending Auburn, not Alabama. No more than five minutes after the bright TV lights had gone out, however, the younger Kouandjio recanted his pledge to the Tigers. He never sent in his letter of intent to Auburn and three days later it was revealed he had officially signed with Alabama via Twitter. Longtime commitments are snaked away at the last minute every season, but never has a kid committed on national television only to decide to sign with someone else five minutes later. The venom of the Yellowhammer rivalry only added to the drama of the younger Kouandjio's signing.
Lone Star Identity Theft
The Ron Weaver saga wasn’t really a huge story on National Signing Day since he completely duped an entire university with identity fraud in 1996. In fact, it is the last documented case of identity fraud in major college football.
Ron Weaver signed with Texas and played every game of the regular season in the 1996 season under coach John Mackovic as a 23-year old defensive back. There was only one problem. Weaver was actually a 30-year old by the name of Ron McKelvey who had used up his collegiate eligibility when he play at Sacramento State back in 1989. He duped Mackovic, the University of Texas at Austin and the NCAA — which later found no wrongdoing in the case by the school. Weaver was suspended the day before the Longhorns lost to the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl.
Mom Hires A Lawyer
Alex Collins, a four-star running back from Miami who had an excellent first year in the SEC, was one of the biggest stories on NSD ’13. He announced he was signing with Arkansas but it was reported that his mother, Andrea McDonald, had absconded with her son’s Letter of Intent and went into hiding. She wanted him to stay close to home at play for the University of Miami and made sure everyone knew about it.
It was later reported that she did not, in fact, steal the LOI but still stood firmly against letting her son play at Arkansas. So Collins had to have a second ceremony where he signed another LOI, this time with his father’s approval. While this was going on, it was reported that McDonald hired an attorney to “represent the family’s interests.” Her efforts ultimately fell on deaf ears and Collins, wearing, of course, a camouflage suit, signed with Bret Bielema and Arkansas.
For what it was worth, Collins was named SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year this past season after rushing for 1,026 yards on 190 carries.
The Announcement Props
I am not one who enjoys recruiting announcements. They are filled with superfluous rhetoric from coaches, analysts and handlers. They go on too long and rarely does a recruit offer any pertinent news or information other than his college of choice. Every now and then, however, if done with style, an announcement can be fun – or infuriating. Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell made fans coo when he pulled out an actual Bulldog puppy to signify his decision to play for Mark Richt in Athens. Andre Smith sent the Crimson Tiders into hysterics when he pulled out the houndstooth hat at his announcement for Alabama.
But Antonio Logan-El’s live announcement back in 2006 was met with a slightly harsher response. The Forestville (Md.) High offensive lineman had been committed to Maryland for the better part of a year. While dressed in Maryland red in front of a Terps crowd at the ESPN Sportszone in Maryland — including head coach Ralph Friedgen’s wife — Logan-El first pulled out a Florida hat before tossing it to the ground. He then pulled out a Tennessee hat. That, too, was tossed aside before picking up the Terps black and red headgear. After a few nice words, Logan-El threw his Maryland hat to the ground and held up a picture of Joe Paterno and announced he would be heading to Penn State. The decision was met with screams of “traitor” and violence nearly resulted. Logan-El, much to the pleasure of Terps fans, washed out at Penn State after only one redshirt year.
At least he actually made a decision, however, as the worst recruiting press conference in history has to belong to Greg Little. The peculiar wide receiver held a press conference in October of his senior year to announce what school he would be attending. Fans waited with anticipation while Little huddled with his family and coaches for a long period of time. He emerged from the mini-summit to announce that he had narrowed his list to Notre Dame and North Carolina. It’s the only news conference I can remember where a recruit officially announced that there was nothing to announce.
The Slimy Mentor
The most recent trend for elite recruits, for some reason unbeknownst to me, is to wait until after National Signing Day to make a decision. Terrelle Pryor, Orson Charles, Latwan Anderson, Vidal Hazelton, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio and 2011's top prospect Jadeveon Clowney all signed their LOIs well past signing day. But Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown, and his handler/mentor/coach/agent/leech Brian Butler, set a new low for recruiting sludge back in 2009.
Brown, whose older brother Arthur was enrolled at Miami, had been committed to the Hurricanes from the early stages. He did not sign on NSD and instead took a couple of extra visits to Tennessee and LSU after Signing Day. While Brown watched the calendar flip to March without a decision, Butler, who was a convicted felon and fledgling rapper, set up a website in order to charge $9.99 per month for recruiting updates on his protégé.
Threats from Butler about Brown potentially skipping college for the Canadian Football League only further exemplified how ridiculous the handler’s influence was over Brown. Meanwhile, Miami (and others) stopped recruiting the troubled tailback until halfway through March, when Brown got “a sign from god” to go to Tennessee. Arthur left Miami for Kansas State (where he became an All-American) shortly thereafter. Bryce lasted one year in Knoxville before transferring back to Kansas State as well. He played in two games in 2011, got three carries and comically declared for the 2012 NFL Draft where we was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles.
Obviously, most of the names who waited until beyond Signing Day to make their decision official have had major trouble getting their careers started on the next level (with the exception of Clowney). So there does appear to be a fairly simple and obvious lesson to be learned here: Sign the stinking papers and get to work because nothing is guaranteed on the next level.
College football will welcome more than 3,000 new faces to its ranks on Wednesday.
National Signing Day is a mix between Christmas morning and Valentine’s Day for most diehard NCAA fans. New toys in the form of 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebackers are neatly wrapped under the tree and new crushes are fawned over by fan and coach alike when a bunch of high school prospects sign their Letter of Intent for the first time — making them an official member of a collegiate roster.
Every year, the media and fans (as well as many athletic directors) make a big fuss about recruits decommitting and switching teams, especially when coaches change jobs around this time of year. “Recruits commit to a school, not a coach” is the standard cry across the board.
I am here to tell you this isn’t true. Recruits commit to a coach and they sign with a school. All is fair in love and recruiting.
So National Signing Day is the first time that anything binding between recruit and school takes place. These future stars can commit to whomever they like for months on end, but come NSD, they must put pen to paper to certify their final decision.
To be sure, it isn’t an easy one to make. It is a decision that will shape and mold the rest of their lives. And not just on the football field.
It’s an intense and stressful but very fun time for all parties involved — coaches, players, fans and, yes, even us in the media (try an 18-hour work day trying to sift through 3,000-plus new roster additions).
Love or hate recruiting rankings, the bottom line is NSD matters in a big way. It shapes and molds the future of college football and is the lifeblood of future championships.
To those who don’t agree with imperfect “star rankings” I submit this fact: Of the 32 teams to play in the BCS National Championship Game, only one, Virginia Tech in 1999, had an average recruiting ranking outside of the top 15.
You gotta have quality players to win titles, folks. Plain and simple.
So how will the 2014 edition of NSD influence college football? What are the storylines to watch? The teams and players to keep an eye on? And what wackiness will ensue?
Here is what I am watching for come Wednesday:
How bad ass is the SEC?
The SEC's reign of terror technically ended in January when Florida State finally snapped the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year BCS title streak. Mike “Vito” Slive has finally been slain.
Or has he? No matter which recruiting service you subscribe to, the SEC is still the top dog. And it’s not even close.
According to 247Sports, seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20 classes heading into Wednesday hail from the SEC. According to Rivals, six of the top 10 and nine of the top 15 classes heading into NSD are SEC programs. Scout has seven of the top 12 classes coming from the SEC. ESPN’s team rankings include seven SEC teams in its top 10 as well.
Using Athlon Sports’ composite team rankings and assuming that Alabama will hold onto the top spot again this year, the No. 1 class in the nation has come from the SEC in six of the last seven years, including what will be Nick Saban’s third straight No. 1 class. More impressively, three different teams have claimed the mythical recruiting national championship as Florida claimed the top spot in 2010 and LSU in '09 (Bama won it in '08).
The only non-SEC team to win the recruiting championship according to Athlon Sports was, you guessed it, Florida State in 2011. That class helped lead the Seminoles to a BCS title this season.
Finally, the No. 1 recruit in the nation will sign with an SEC school for the fifth straight year when New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette signs with LSU. Again, what’s more impressive is that all five No. 1 overall players have come from different SEC states and signed with different SEC schools.
|2014||Leonard Fournette||RB||LSU||New Orleans, La.|
|2013||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||Ole Miss||Loganville, Ga.|
|2012||Dorial Green-Beckham||WR||Mizzou||Springfield, Mo.|
|2011||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina||Rock Hill, S.C.|
|2010||Ronald Powell||DE||Florida||Moreno Valley, Calif.|
Will the Big 12 struggle… again?
Keith Ford was the top-rated recruit in the Big 12 last year, finishing as the No. 24 overall player in the nation according to the 247 composite rankings. He would have been the 14th-rated player in the SEC, the sixth-rated Pac-12 recruit and only the fourth-best player in the ACC. In all, only four of the top 100 players in the nation signed with the Big 12 in 2013 — down from 10 the year before. By comparison, the SEC bragged 42 top-100 signees last year while 11 of the 14 SEC programs inked at least one top-100 player.
Will 2014 continue what has to be a very scary trend for the Big 12? It appears so. Heading into NSD, the Big 12 has six top-100 players committed thus far while the SEC boasts 41. That is a massive talent differential that no coach — not even Bill Synder — can overcome. The Big Ten now boasts two of the most dynamic recruiting personalities in the nation (more on that in a second), the ACC just claimed the national title and the Pac-12 appears to be on par with the SEC. If the Big 12 doesn’t regain its recruiting strength — looking at you “Stronghorns” — the league could significantly fall behind the rest of college football in a dangerous way.
The James Franklin ripple effect
Vanderbilt had a top-25 class when James Franklin left Nashville to return home to The Keystone State to coach Penn State. No one can blame him for the move but what he has done to the Dores' recruiting class is downright absurd. Vandy has some quality prospects set to sign on Wednesday but is now ranked 82nd in the nation by 247Sports. So unless new coach Derek Mason works a few minor miracles, the Commodores are looking at an extremely disappointing class in 2014.
On the flip side, Penn State’s recruiting has been buoyed by the addition of Franklin and his crack staff of ace recruiters. The Lions flipped five of the Dores' commitments and have jumped way up the team rankings into the top 25. The Lions, despite major scholarship limitations, are competing with the likes of Oregon, South Carolina and Oklahoma for positioning in the team rankings. Basically, Franklin has been a godsend for the Nittany Lions.
But the ripples from Franklin's new address go much farther than just State College or Nashville, Tenn. Franklin’s emergence in the Big Ten is a direct challenge to the recruiting powers that be in the Midwest — aka Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Michigan and Nebraska. Bo Pelini and Dantonio are having a hard enough go of it as it is against Meyer and the Buckeyes, but Franklin knocks them even further down the pecking order. Michigan State and Nebraska are sitting at 34th and 35th respectively entering NSD. Wisconsin isn’t much better at 30th in the nation and don’t even get started with new members Rutgers and Maryland. A powerful PSU presence in the DC/Maryland and New Jersey areas are a nightmare for both programs as they enter the Big Ten fray.
The battles on the trail — and hopefully in the media — between Franklin and Meyer should be the stuff of legends. With two polarizing, take-no-prisoners personalities, its only a matter of time before the verbal barbs start flying between Columbus and State College.
Can anyone stop Nick Saban?
As mentioned earlier, Saban is looking for his fourth recruiting championship in seven seasons. That is a Pete Carroll-level of production on the recruiting trail as Saban is beginning to redefine recruiting greatness. Alabama is ranked No. 1 in all four major online services’ team rankings (ESPN, Scout, 247, Rivals) heading into NSD this week. The Tide leads the nation with five five-star commitments — no other team has more than three — and is second only to Tennessee (16) with 15 four-star commits.
Saban still has some big-time targets left on his board like five-stars Rashaan Evans, a linebacker from Auburn, Ala., or John Curtis (La.) wide receiver Malachi Dupre among others. Even if Bama misses on every one of its remaining targets on NSD (which is highly unlikely), it is still in great shape to finish atop the team rankings for the third straight year.
Ohio State, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida State and Tennessee are nipping at Saban’s heels, however. Florida State (27) and Tennessee (34) already have massive classes, yet each will find it hard to reach Bama’s level. But the Buckeyes, Bayou Bengals and Aggies each have enough space and enough targets left on the board to potentially challenge for top billing.
My prediction? Saban lands one or two more big names and crushes the field again on the recruiting trail. What he is doing right now in terms of attracting talent is downright unfair.
New coaches get their first taste
The coaching carousel had a unique year in that huge jobs came open and not many of them were filled with first-time head coaches. So while Mason at Vandy will be going through his first National Signing Day as a head coach, most new faces are old veterans when it comes to recruiting. Steve Sarkisian has not only been through many a Signing Day but has done it at USC as an assistant. Franklin’s effectiveness at Vandy was well documented and Charlie Strong recruited extremely well at Louisville.
Still, each of these names must acquaint themselves with a totally new zip code and what it takes to recruit in that area. In particular, Strong moving to a massive state with elite talent where he has very few ties. And his comments about closing the borders were direct shots at Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy and Kevin Sumlin. Now, fans in Austin will see if he can back it up on his first Signing Day on the 40 Acres.
One unique name to watch will be Chris Petersen at Washington. Coach Sark had Husky recruiting rolling when he headed south to Los Angeles and Petersen hasn’t ever had to recruit at this type of level. Can he keep U-Dub’s momentum going on the trail and is he equipped to battle the Pac-12’s big boys — Stanford, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Arizona State — when it comes to recruiting. Keep in mind, he won a lot of games at Boise State without ever calling, much less signing, a five-star recruit.
The Ol’ Switcharoo
Decommitments are a part of recruiting like official visits or Letters of Intent. Each Signing Day there will be plenty of names who flip at the last second. Some do it for family reasons. Others because a late sales pitch struck a chord. And sometimes, shockingly, adolescent teenagers change their mind at the last minute. Last year, A’Shawn Robinson flipped from Texas to Alabama and became one of the best freshmen in the SEC. A couple of years ago, top-100 wide receiver Deontay Greenberry signed with Houston without even telling Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly that he had decommitted. A big name or two will change their minds, make no mistake, so don’t be surprised when it happens.
Who will close strong?
Bobby Bowden wrote the book on closing strong over the years at Florida State and Jimbo Fisher has revived that tradition in Tallahassee. Clemson also has been a strong finisher under Dabo Swinney. Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze have proven in very short order that they are two of the best closers in the SEC currently after dominating the headlines on NSD last year.
So who will make a big move this year? Sarkisian at USC could be a prime candidate to make a big push on signing day. The Trojans could land three superstars in five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson, five-star athlete JuJu Smith and four-star blocker Damian Mama. Land all three and USC could move from outside the top 25 to near the top 10. Malzahn, Fisher and Freeze should all make waves as well on Wednesday. But don't forget about Saban at Alabama. The Tide are sure to make some big moves on Wednesday as well en route to yet another recruiting title.
National Signing Day will always have some bizarre storylines. Alex Collins last year — who was one of the better running backs in the SEC this year — couldn’t get his family to sign his LOI and it turned into one of the bigger stories in 2013. How about Floyd Raven’s mother forging his signature to Mississippi State when he sent his LOI to Texas A&M? Who could forget Kevin Hart’s public selection of Cal over Oregon at a press conference? There was only one problem, he didn’t have a scholarship offer from either school and Jeff Tedford hadn’t ever heard of Hart.
And, of course, there was Ron Weaver. Weaver signed with Texas in 1996 and played most of the season, however, Ron Weaver wasn’t Ron Weaver. Weaver had assumed the identity of someone else, Ron McKelvey, and faked his way into Texas despite being a 30-year old who had run out of eligibility. The hoax was discovered just days before the Texas-Virginia Tech Sugar Bowl and Weaver/McKelvey was promptly suspended. The NCAA ruled that he had officially duped everyone, including the entire University of Texas.
So what will 2014 bring? The good money might be on April Justin. The outspoken and disappointed mother of Landon Collins and Gerald Willis. She obviously wanted them both to play at LSU and Willis is scheduled to sign with Florida. Will she let another one of her boys leave The Pelican State?
I, for one, can’t wait until tomorrow.
The 2013 NFL season is officially over and the Seattle Seahawks have won their first-ever world championship after dominating the Denver Broncos Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the game at MetLife Stadium might have been a massive dud for fans not from the Pacific Northwest, the 48th playing of the greatest sporting event on the planet was not without some remarkable, amazing, historic and memorable stats.
Here are the 10 best stats from Super Bowl XLVIII:
3: Coaches to win a Super Bowl and NCAA national championship
Pete Carroll’s improbable career path from failed NFL coach to championship college coach at USC to persona non grata in Los Angeles to Super Bowl champion is fascinating. But when his Seahawks dominated the Broncos 43-8 on Sunday, he joined an elite fraternity of coaches to win a title on both the college and NFL levels. Barry Switzer at Oklahoma and Jimmy Johnson at Miami both won NCAA national championships in college before winning a Super Bowl for Dallas. Carroll is now one of three men to win the NCAA title and a Super Bowl. For the record, Paul Brown won a national title at Ohio State in 1942 and then a number of NFL championships — prior to the advent of the Super Bowl.
3: Jersey number won by Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson is easy to root for. He is an affable character with a great story, great personality and great maturity. But the odds he would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this year seemed slim to none. Wilson became the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl wearing jersey No. 3 and just the second African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl (Doug Williams). He became just the fourth quarterback to win the big game in just his second season (Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger). Wilson is also 5-foot-11 and a third-round pick (sounds like Drew Brees to me).
11-12: Peyton Manning’s playoff record as a starter
Manning was playing for a lot on Sunday. A second Super Bowl title and perhaps the legacy of being labeled the greatest of all-time. However, Manning was flustered all day, threw two critical interceptions and got little to no help from his defense. His all-time playoff record dropped below .500 again (11-12) during his remarkable career. One of his two interceptions was returned 69 yards for a touchdowns by Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith — the longest interceptions return since the Saints' Tracy Porter took one back 74 yards in Super Bow XLIV against, you guessed it, Peyton Manning. The phrase “he’s the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history” will be heard at every water cooler in America this week as he fell to 1-2 on Super Sunday.
0: Interceptions thrown by Russell Wilson in the playoffs
Manning is the name that gets all of the recognition. And rightly so. However, Wilson, after struggling for much of the final month of the regular season, played flawless football this postseason. After an effective performance against Denver (206 yards, 2 TDs on 72 percent passing), Wilson capped his championship run without throwing an interception in 68 attempts. His final playoff statline for this year: 43-68 (63.2 percent), 524 yards, six touchdowns, zero interceptions, 11 rushes for 42 yards. Coincidentally, zero is also the number of quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl with two different teams — something Peyton Manning would have done on Sunday had his team not laid a giant egg.
12: Seconds it took for Seattle to score the game’s first points
The fastest score in Super Bowl history was Devin Hester’s kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI. It took him 14 seconds to work his way 92 yards down the field against the Colts quarterbacked by… Peyton Manning. When Manning stepped up to the line on the first play from scrimmage Sunday night in MetLife Stadium, the snap sailed past everyone and into the end zone for a safety just 12 seconds into the game. It was the fastest points scored in Super Bowl history. It also means that Seattle led the Super Bowl for a record 59 minutes and 48 seconds.
3: Straight Super Bowls with a safety
The opening safety was as bizarre as it gets from a prop bet standpoint — someone likely cashed in big with “safety” as the first scoring play — but the two-point play makes for an interesting Super Bowl trend. It marks the third straight Super Bowl with a safety. The Ravens took a safety late in the game to preserve the lead with four seconds to play. Two years ago, New England's first offensive play of the game was a safety when Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding with 8:52 left in the first quarter. It also was the first score of the game.
19: Minutes it took the Broncos to get a first down
Manning and the Broncos looked completely out of sorts for the entire game. Seattle’s front seven pressured him on every dropback and the running game offered little to no support — try 27 yards on 14 carries. It took 19 minutes of game time and four drives for the most prolific offense in NFL history to get a first down. The Broncos' first possession ended on one play (safety), the second was a three-and-out and the third featured Manning’s first interception on a third down. But on third-and-one roughly midway through the second quarter, Knowshon Moreno rushed five yards and picked up Denver’s first first down of the game.
13: Super Bowl-record number of receptions for Demaryius Thomas
Thomas would likely trade his personal success for more team success but at least no one can say they caught more passes in a Super Bowl than Thomas. He finished with a Super Bowl-record 13 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. The previous record was 11 held by four different players: Cincinnati tight end Dan Ross (XVI), New England’s Deion Branch (XXXIX) and Wes Welker (XLII) and the legendary Jerry Rice (XXIII).
34: Super Bowl-record numbers of completions for Peyton Manning
Like Thomas, Manning set a completely worthless record in the Super Bowl on Sunday. He completed a Super Bowl-record 34 passes on 49 attempts. The previous record was 32, set by Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers and Drew Brees against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Both Brady and Brees took home the Lombardi Trophy.
7/1: Odds Seattle will repeat as Super Bowl champions
Vegas works quickly and the odds are out (according to Pregame.com’s RJ Bell) for Super Bowl XLIV. Seattle and Denver top the list at 7/1 and 8/1 respectively, as Bell is calling for a rematch next year. San Francisco is tied with the Broncos at 8/1 while New England (12/1), Green Bay (20/1) and New Orleans (20/1) round out the top five. Bring up the rear, Jacksonville and Oakland are the least likeliest teams to win the Super Bowl next season at 200/1.
Super Sunday has come and gone and another team has taken its place in the annals of NFL lore.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are champions — the first for the franchise and the city of Seattle.
Pete Carroll became the third coach in American football history to win the Super Bowl and the NCAA national championship (Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer). His defense was the star of the show, scoring points and stuffing Peyton Manning unlike the football world has ever seen. Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks family.
Despite a horrific Super Sunday, however, Manning's 2013 campaign is still one of the best ever assembled by a professional passer. Certainly, his second Super Bowl victory would have been a better way to cap the year — and likely would have given him the greatest single season by a quarterback in NFL history — but let's not overlook a tremendous first 18 games from No. 18.
Toughness, leadership, statistical production, winning championships, clutch performances and overall physical ability are just a few of the ways to quantify greatness. It is using a combination of all these factors that Athlon ranks the greatest complete NFL seasons a quarterback has ever had—from Week 1 through Super Sunday.
1. Steve Young, San Francisco, 1994
There hasn't been a more complete NFL season than the year Young and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan put together in 1994. The 49ers finished the regular season with the best record in the league at 13-3 while Young set an NFL single-season record for efficiency with a 112.8 QB rating, breaking the previous record set by former mentor Joe Montana. He also came 0.3 percentage points from breaking Ken Anderson's NFL mark for completion percentage at 70.6 percent (Young's 70.3 percent still sits at No. 4 all-time). He started all 16 games, finished with 3,969 yards and an NFL-best 35 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. Additionally, Young led the team in rushing touchdowns with seven as he compiled 293 yards on 58 carries. For all of this he earned the NFL MVP, but what made the '94 campaign special is what took place following the regular season. The Niners steam-rolled the Bears, Cowboys and Chargers en route to Young's first Super Bowl — a win commemorated by a record six touchdown passes, 325 yards passing, the MVP trophy and Gary Plummer's famous monkey exorcism. Oh, and No. 8 was the game's leading rusher as well. Young posted 623 yards passing, 128 yards rushing, 11 total touchdowns and nary an interception in San Francisco's three playoff games. It was the finest season a quarterback has ever seen.
2. Peyton Manning, Denver, 2013
Regardless of the outcome in Super Bowl XLVIII, nearly the entirety of the NFL’s single-season record book was re-written by Manning and the Broncos this season. His final game was a massive disappointment and will go down in history as one of the most bizarre Super Bowl performances in NFL history. But no player — regular season or otherwise — has ever thrown for more yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) than Manning did in the 2013 regular season. He added 910 and five more scores to his totals in three postseason games while boasting a 15-4 overall record for the year. Manning finished with an NFL-record 6,387 yards and 60 touchdown passes. He also tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in the season opener and ran the NFL’s greatest offense. Denver broke the NFL record for scoring with 606 points in the regular season and total touchdowns with 76 — both set by New England in 2007 (589 and 75). The Broncos were the first team in NFL history with five players with at least 10 touchdowns. The great quarterback finished with 280 yards and one scoring strike in the loss to Seattle, and, had he won on Sunday, it would have completed the best single-season performance by any quarterback in history. However, the lasting image of Manning's '13 campaign will forever be the 43-8 loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
3. Kurt Warner, St. Louis, 1999
Part of what makes Warner's '99 campaign so memorable is how the Northern Iowa signal-caller ended up a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP. The undrafted rookie finally broke into the league four years after graduating from UNI and led the inept Rams to the best record in the NFC (13-3) as a first-year starter. The 28-year-old led the NFL in touchdown passes (41), completion rate (65.1 percent), yards per attempt (8.7) and QB rating (109.2) while finishing with a franchise-record 4,353 yards passing. He then proceeded to complete over 81 percent of his passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in his first career playoff start — a 49-37 win over Minnesota. By the end of Super Bowl XXXIV, Warner had thrown for 414 yards and two touchdowns to earn his second MVP trophy of the season. The huge numbers, the sheer improbability and ultimate victory combined to produce what was nearly the greatest season in history.
4. Tom Brady, New England, 2007
Today's sports culture values the championship and quarterbacks rarely disagree. So had Brady finished his magical romp through the NFL in 2007, he would be sitting at No. 1 on this list. He is only one of two QBs to ever finish a regular season 16-0 and eventually worked the record to 18-0 before the show-stopping loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII . Brady threw for a franchise-record 4,806 yards, good for third all-time in NFL history at the time. His QB rating of 117.2 was second all-time in NFL history and he became the first player to ever throw 50 touchdown passes in one season. He threw only eight interceptions and led the league in 11 passing categories. In the postseason, Brady and the Pats took care of business against Jacksonville in the Divisional Round, but the Michigan grad struggled in his final two games of the year. He threw three interceptions and had his second-worst yardage day of the year (209 yards) in the AFC title game win over San Diego. He capped his MVP season with an underwhelming performance against the extraordinary Giants defensive line, costing him his fourth Super Bowl ring and the unbeaten immortality of 19-0.
5. Dan Marino, Miami, 1984
Marino was well ahead of his time back in only his second year in the league. He set an NFL record for passing yards (5,084) that would stand for nearly 30 years and an NFL record for touchdowns (48) that would stand for 20 years. He led the Dolphins to the best record in the AFC at 14-2, claimed the MVP trophy and returned Miami to the Super Bowl where they fell just short of defeating the 18-1 Joe Montana-led 49ers. The Pitt Panther threw for 1,001 yards and eight scores in three postseason games. The 23-year-old with a lightning-quick release led the NFL in completions, attempts, QB rating and yards per attempt in a season that totally changed the way the game of football was played. He paved the way for what we see today on Sunday and came up 22 points short of a championship.
6. Joe Montana, San Francisco, 1989
The Golden Domer wasn't ever the most talented or fastest or strongest quarterback on the field, but his 13 regular-season games — and subsequent playoff run — during the 1989 season were as brilliant as most's 16-game seasons. Montana completed 70.2 percent of his passes, led the NFL at 270.8 yards per game and finished with a then-NFL record 112.4 QB rating. His completion rate was second all-time to only Ken Anderson and is still one of only five seasons with a completion rate of better than 70 percent in history. The 49ers finished 11-2 in his 13 starts and 14-2 overall and Montana was the MVP of the league. Montana threw for 3,521 yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He also added 227 yards rushing and three more scores on the ground. However, what made No. 16's '89 campaign one of the greatest in history was his thorough destruction of the NFC and Denver Broncos in the postseason. He completed 65 of his 83 passes (78.3 percent) for 800 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero picks, finishing his historic season with arguably the most dominant Super Bowl performance to date by crushing John Elway and company 55-10. Three more games puts Montana over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and moves him ahead of Marino and Brady on this list.
7. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2009
One could argue Brees' 2011 season was better, but I am guessing if you ask him which year was better, he would take 2009 everyday and twice on Sunday. He led the NFL in completion rate (70.6 percent), breaking the aforementioned Anderson's NFL single-season record. He also topped the charts in touchdown passes (34) and QB rating (109.6) en route to a 13-3 final record. He finished with 4,388 yards and only 11 interceptions. He then capped New Orleans' magical resurrection with 732 yards passing, eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three playoff wins. His performance in the Super Bowl XLIV win over the Colts and Peyton Manning gave the Saints franchise their first championship. Brees completed 82.1 percent of his passes and claimed the game's MVP honors.
8. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2011
It is hard to argue that from a statistical perspective, no quarterback has ever had a better regular season than Brees last fall (until Manning). He set NFL records for completions (468), passing yards (5,476) and completion rate (71.2 percent) while leading the Saints to a 13-3 record. He then proceeded to throw for 928 yards and seven touchdowns in two playoff games. His defense let him down in the postseason and he contributed two of the team's costly five turnovers in the Divisional Round loss to the 49ers.
9. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2006
Manning has posted better numbers in a season (2013, '04), but when it comes down to his best two seasons as a Colt, the Super Bowl ring in '06, trumps the statistics he compiled in '04 (see below). In 2006 he threw for 4,397 yards on 65.0 percent passing and a league-leading 31 touchdown passes. This also was the only year in which No. 18 threw fewer than 10 interceptions (9). His 101.0 QB rating also led the NFL that season and he added four rushing scores for good measure. Manning led his Colts to four postseason wins that year (16-4 overall) and the 29-17 Super Bowl XLI win over Chicago in which he claimed the game's MVP trophy.
10. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 2011
In a season in which three passers topped 5,000 yards and numerous NFL records were broken, Rodgers' season can get lost in the shuffle. Yet, the Packers' quarterback set every major franchise passing record and led a team that finished 15-1 in the regular season. The year ended with a whimper with Rodgers sitting out the regular-season finale and then losing to the Giants in the first playoff game. But his 4,643 yards, 10.5 yards per attempt and absurd 45:6 TD:INT ratio gave No. 12 the most efficient season in NFL history (122.5 QB rating) — and it earned him the league's MVP trophy. Had he posted Matt Flynn's (480 yards passing, 6 TDs) numbers in the final week of the regular season, he would have hit 50 TDs and topped 5,000 yards. That said, Packers fans will always look at '11 with "what-if" memories.
Others to consider:
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2004 (12-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,557 yds, 49 TDs, 10 INTs, 121.1 QB rating
Dan Fouts, San Diego, 1981 (10-6, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,802 yds (NFL record), 33 TDs, 17 INTs, 90.6 QB rating
Warren Moon, Houston, 1990 (8-7, Postseason: None)
Stats: 4,689 yds, 33 TDs, 13 INTs, 96.8 QB rating, 215 rush yds, 2 TDs
Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia, 1990 (10-6, Postseason: 0-1)
Stats: 3,466 yds, 30 TDs, 13 INTs, 91.6 QB rating, 118 att., 942 yds, 5 TDs
Brett Favre, Green Bay, 1996 (13-3, Postseason: 3-0) MVP, Super Bowl
Stats: 3,899 yds, 39 TDs, 13 INTs, 95.8 QB rating, 136 rush yds, 2 TDs
Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2004 (11-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 2,313 yds, 14 TDs, 12 INTs, 78.1 QB rating, 120 att., 902 yds, 3 TDs
Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2006 (7-9, Postseason: None)
Stats: 2,474 yds, 20 TDs, 13 INTs, 75.7 QB rating, 123 att., 1,039 yds, 2 TDs
Brett Favre, Minnesota, 2009 (12-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,202 yds, 33 TDs, 7 INTs, 107.2 QB rating
Michael Vick, Philadelphia, 2010 (8-3, Postseason: 0-1)
Stats: 3,018 yds, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 100.2 QB rating, 100 att., 675 yds, 9 TDs
Tom Brady, New England, 2011 (13-3, Postseason: 2-1)
Stats: 5,235 yds, 39 TDs, 12 INTs, 105.6 QB rating, 109 rush yds, 3 TDs
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
One name stands above the rest when it comes to dominance along the defensive line in the Big 12. It also feels like a few schools — shockingly, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska — have dominated the all-conference teams for the last 16 seasons.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09)
That one name that stands above the rest is the Boy Named Suh. The star defensive tackle from Portland, Ore., won the 2009 Outland and Nagurski Trophies as well as the Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Awards. He was the first defensive player to win AP Player of the Year honors since its inception in 1998 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in ’09. That year Suh claimed the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award and he came just seconds shy of leading the Huskers to their first conference championship since 1999. He finished his career with 215 tackles, 57.0 for a loss, 24.0 sacks and six blocked kicks.
2. Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08)
The trophy case for the former Longhorn defensive end is packed with a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski, Lombardi, and Hendricks trophies. He was an All-American who played in 47 career games in Austin, posting 132 tackles, 38.0 tackles for a loss, 22.0 sacks and six forced fumbles in his tenure. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American saw his career slowed by a knee injury in 2007 or else his totals would be even higher. He was a contributing member in all 13 games of the 2005 BCS national championship run and was taken 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
3. Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03)
Harris was a dominant interior lineman for three of the better Sooners teams of the BCS Era. He helped lead his team to the BCS championship game in 2003 while claiming the Lombardi and Willis Trophies. He was a two-time consensus All-American selection as the Sooners went 35-6 during his three-year tenure. Oklahoma won the Cotton and Rose Bowls before losing in the Sugar Bowl in his final season. Harris was downright unblockable in Norman and was the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
4. Casey Hampton, Texas (1996, 98-00)
From 1997-2000, Hampton started 37 straight games for the Horns and finished with 54 tackles for a loss — fifth all-time in Big 12 history. He posted an absurd 329 tackles from his line position and forced nine fumbles. He was a consensus All-American, two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. The All-Pro Super Bowl champion was taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft with the 19th overall pick.
5. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma (2007-09)
After redshirting, McCoy was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year after playing in all 13 games on the Big 12 championship squad. He was a two-time All-American as a sophomore and junior, helping to lead Oklahoma to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game against Florida. He finished his career with 83 tackles, 33.0 for a loss and 14.5 sacks from the tackle position while winning two Big 12 titles. McCoy was taken with the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay.
6. Justin Smith, Missouri (1998-00)
The Mizzou standout has developed into one of the NFL’s most consistent and productive players for two teams. He left Columbia after a huge junior season that featured 97 total tackles, 24 tackles for a loss — good for eighth all-time in Big 12 history — and 11 sacks. He was an All-American that year and also was a two-time All-Big 12 selection. His 53 career tackles for a loss in just three seasons ranks seventh all-time in league history as well. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Bengals.
7. Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma (2007-10)
Beal is one of just two players in Big 12 history to rank in the top five in both career sacks and career tackles for a loss. He finished his collegiate career third all-time with 58.5 TFL and fifth all-time with 29 sacks — good for second all-time in school history. His 10 forced fumbles rank third in Big 12 history and he helped the Sooners capture three Big 12 titles and earn one trip to the BCS title game in 2008. Beal was a model of consistency, posting three straight seasons with at least 60 tackles, 15.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks. The three-time all-conference selection finished with 224 total tackles.
8. Rod Wright, Texas (2002-05)
The big fella inside made an instant impact, starting nine games as a true freshman and earning Freshman All-American status and claiming Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors as well. He went on to start 36 more games over the next three years, earning All-Big 12 honors in three straight years (first team his final two seasons). He was a consensus All-American and started every game for the 2005 BCS national champions and finished as a Lombardi Trophy finalist. Wright finished with 227 tackles, 42 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks.
9. Dan Cody, Oklahoma (2001-04)
He began his career as a redshirt tight end on the scout team for the 2000 BCS champs but turned into a force on the defensive side of the ball. He helped lead his team to three Big 12 crowns and two appearances in the BCS title game. Cody was an All-American his senior season and finished his career with 42 games played, 117 tackles and is sixth all-time in Big 12 history with 25 sacks. No. 80 was a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
10. Darren Howard, Kansas State (1996-99)
Other than Beal, Howard is the only other player in the Big 12 to be ranked in the top five of both career sacks and tackles for a loss. He finished tied for fifth with 54.0 TFL and is third all-time with 29.5 sacks. Howard was a big part of the Wildcats' success in the late '90s, as Kansas State went 42-7 during his four-year career, including two division titles and two postseason wins (Fiesta, Holiday). He played 10 years for the Eagles after being a second-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Just missed the cut:
11. Kevin Williams, Oklahoma State (1999-02)
K-Will was a huge part of the rebuilding that took place in Stillwater. He posted 160 tackles, 38 for a loss and 18.5 sacks during a career that saw the Pokes go from three wins to eight. The ninth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft got OSU back to a bowl for just the second time in 14 seasons.
12. Shaun Rogers, Texas (1997-00)
Playing alongside Hampton, Rogers set a Big 12 record with 27.0 tackles for a loss in 1999. His 53 career TFLs rank tied for seventh all-time in Big 12 history. He also had 199 total tackles and 14 sacks before getting picked in the second round by the Lions in 2001.
13. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (2010-13)
The son of Jim Jeffcoat made an instant impact in Austin, playing in eight games as a true freshman. He capped his outstanding career with Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end. Jeffcoat posted 174 tackles, 49.5 for a loss and 26.0 career sacks — good for sixth all-time in Big 12 history — despite missing more than half of his junior season due to injury.
14. Jared Crick, Nebraska (2008-11)
The Cornhuskers' edge rusher missed most of his senior season or he would be higher on this list. He posted two monster seasons by combining for 143 tackles, 27.0 tackles for a loss and 19.0 sacks in 2009 and '10. The two-time All-Big 12 pick was an All-American and fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
15. Frank Alexander, Oklahoma (2008-11)
Alexander earned Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2011 with 54 tackles, 19.0 TFL and 8.5 sacks to go with three forced fumbles. The fourth-round pick finished with 142 stops, 44.0 for a loss, 20.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He played in one BCS title game and two BCS bowls on the back of two Big 12 titles (2008, '10).
Best of the rest:
16. Adam Carriker, Nebraska (2003-06)
Two-time All-Big 12 pick and 2006 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
17. Brian Smith, Missouri (2003-06)
Big 12’s sack master with record 34 career QB sacks. Sixth all-time with nine forced fumbles.
18. Cory Redding, Texas (1999-02)
Fourth all-time in league history with 57 career TFL, including 24 in 2002.
19. Aldon Smith, Missouri (2009-10)
Big 12 Freshman of the Year, first-round pick and 17.0 sacks in only two seasons.
20. Mike Rucker, Nebraska (1995-98)
Played a key role on two national championship teams and is fourth in school history with 40 TFL.
21. Alex Okafor, Texas (2009-12)
Seventh all-time with 13 sacks in 2012. Two-time All-Big 12 pick and an All-American.
22. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (2010-12)
Consensus All-American finished his career with 26.5 sacks in just three seasons in College Station.
23. Aaron Hunt, Texas Tech (1999-02)
Second all-time in Big 12 history with 34 career sacks.
24. Adell Duckett, Texas Tech (2001-04)
Fifth all-time in league history with 28 career sacks.
25. Kelly Gregg, Oklahoma (1996-98)
Tied for fourth all-time with 24.0 TFL in 1998 and is ninth all-time with 53.0 career TFL.
“Five-star” is a term in recruiting reserved for the nation’s elite. Roughly 30 players each year are awarded the coveted fifth star next to their name by the recruiting websites.
According to MaxPreps.com, there are roughly 15,000 high school football teams in this country. So if each team has on average 20 seniors, that is roughly 300,000 senior football players in the country who are looking for scholarships to play college football.
However, just over 3,000 of those — or less than one percent — will sign a Letter of Intent with an FBS program on National Signing Day next Wednesday (125 FBS schools X 25 scholarship offers per year = 3,125 signees per year).
So about one percent of one percent of high-school senior football players will be ranked a “five-star” prospect. And only one percent of anyone signing an LOI next week will have a five-star rating.
Does that mean every five-star athlete is a lock to be a superstar and future NFL first-round pick? Of course, not. But Hall of Fame college football names like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Jameis Winston, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Murray, Matt Barkley, Manti Te’o, Jadeveon Clowney and dozens of others have been extremely deserving of their five-star ranking.
But who are the names that didn’t deserve it? Who are the biggest five-star busts of the last 10 years? Who are the forgotten names once ballyhooed on message boards across the Internet only to fall into college football obscurity forever?
Below is a year-by-year breakdown of the biggest five-star busts of the last 10 recruiting cycles (since 2005).
Note: For the sake of consistency, the composite 247Sports ranking was used for each class.
Class of 2005 (38)
Busts: Fred Rouse (No. 5), Ryan Perrilloux (No. 6), Callahan Bright (No. 18), Melvin Alaeze (No. 20), Jason Gwaltney (No. 25), Marques Slocum (No. 34)
There were plenty of names who didn’t live up to expectations in this group but were contributors (Michigan fans remember Kevin Grady, for example). However, this group also has a long list of talented youngsters with major off-the-field issues. Names like Alaeze, Perrilloux, Rouse and Bright all had major legal issues either shortly after arriving on campus or before even getting to school. Rouse was was kicked off Florida State when he robbed a teammate and Alaeze was sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2006. Injuries slowed names like Gwaltney while grades stopped players like Bright. In all, this is one of the worst five-star classes in the modern era of recruiting rankings.
Deserving: Michael Oher, Darren McFadden, Brian Cushing, DeSean Jackson, Jonathan Stewart, Kenny Phillips, Rey Maualuga, Eugene Monroe, Derrick Williams, Mark Sanchez
Class of 2006 (29)
Busts: Vidal Hazelton (No. 3), Mitch Mustain (No. 7), Antwine Perez (No. 21), Marcus Ball (No. 29)
There were a lot of elite players (see below) and plenty of solid contributors in this five-star class (See: Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford, Carl Johnson), so the recruiting services did a pretty good job in 2006. Hazelton was a top-five recruit and a signing saga with his father got his career off track early. Mustain, Perez and Ball all transferred and none accomplished anything more than Mustain’s freshman run of eight straight wins as the starter. It was the peak of his career on a gridiron while Perez and Ball never made any sort of impact for USC or Florida State respectively. This was one of the best five-star classes ever evaluated.
Deserving: Andre Smith, Percy Harvin, Sergio Kindle, Myron Rolle, Matthew Stafford, Sam Young, Beanie Wells, Taylor Mays, Micah Johnson, Gerald McCoy, Brandon Graham, Tim Tebow, C.J. Spiller, DeMarco Murray, Ricky Sapp, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Evans
Class of 2007 (26)
Busts: Aaron Corp (No. 19), Eugene Clifford (No. 25), John Brantley (No. 26)
The ’07 five-star class didn’t have many elite superstars (Eric Berry, Noel Devine) nor did it have many total busts (Corp, Clifford). This group was loaded with middle-of-the-pack contributors who were solid players but never deserved five-star rankings: Jimmy Clausen, Joe McKnight, Ronald Johnson, Everson Griffin, Chris Galippo, Marc Tyler and Terrance Toliver just to name a few. Quarterbacks will always be judged harshly and John Brantley and Aaron Corp both had their shot at power programs to become “the guy” and both fell flat on their faces. Deonte Thompson, John Chiles, Torrey Davis, Ben Martin and Tray Allen weren’t complete busts but weren’t stars either.
Deserving: Eric Berry, Marvin Austin, Ryan Mallett, Noel Devine, Arrelious Benn, Carlos Dunlap, Josh Oglesby, Martez Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Miller
Class of 2008 (27)
Busts: Darrell Scott (No. 4), Jermie Calhoun (No. 9), Blake Ayles (No. 15), Dayne Crist (No. 19), Tyler Love (No. 21), B.J. Scott (No. 26)
This group has some elite superstars like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Matt Kalil, Patrick Peterson and Da’Quan Bowers. But it also has a long list of true busts — all of which happened for different reasons. Scott was never committed to playing football, Calhoun wasn’t good enough while Ayles and Crist were hurt too much to make an impact. Tyler Love won a couple of titles with Alabama but never played and retired before his eligibility ran out while Scott transferred to South Alabama (where he was a solid player). This was a class with big hits (Jones, Green, etc) and big misses (Darrell Scott).
Deserving: Da’Quan Bowers, Terrelle Pryor, Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green, Arthur Brown, Jonathan Baldwin, Michael Floyd, Michael Brewster, Matt Kalil, Mike Adams, Brandon Harris, EJ Manuel
Class of 2009 (30)
Busts: Bryce Brown (No. 2), Russell Shepard (No. 3), Gary Brown (No. 11), Andre Debose (No. 15), Dorian Bell (No. 20), Darius Winston (No. 24)
While the ’08 class seemed to be a group of busts and stars, the ’09 group features a large number of guys who weren’t either — and a bunch of guys who don’t really have a category. Jacobbi McDaniel, Xavier Nixon and Devon Kennard all were solid players but didn’t develop into special players. Meanwhile, Greg Reid was a special talent who couldn’t stay focused off the field for Florida State. Garrett Gilbert was a bust for Texas but was No. 2 in total offense nationally in 2013 for SMU. Andre Debose was supposed to be the second coming of Percy Harvin but could never stay healthy (or productive). Christine Michael was Big 12 Freshman of the Year and was a second-round pick but could never stay healthy. Rueben Randle and Craig Loston were excellent players for LSU but were they the No. 1 player in the nation at their position? Chris Davenport and Russell Shepard were just okay for the Tigers and Davenport was solid for Tulane last fall after transferring. Bryce Brown, Gary Brown and Dorian Bell are the truest “busts” in this group as all three failed to make any impact in college whatsoever. This group of five-stars is a hodgepodge of everything that makes recruiting impossible to evaluate. Mostly, this is a group of players that were just OK — names like Jamarkus McFarland, Jelani Jenkins, Marlon Brown, Nico Johnson, Donte Paige-Moss and Branden Smith.
Deserving: Matt Barkley, Manti Te’o, Trent Richardson, Vontaze Burfict, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mason Walters, Aaron Murray, D.J. Fluker, Sheldon Richardson
Class of 2010 (30)
Busts: Kyle Prater (No. 11), Jeff Luc (No. 26), Darius White (No. 27)
The evaluators did an amazing job with this class. Of the top 30, nearly 20 of them deserved a fifth star in the rankings as a long list of future NFL stars dot this group. Prater, Luc (right) and White all transferred without making any impact whatsoever at USC, Florida State or Texas respectively. And other names like Ronald Powell, Seantrel Henderson, Mike Davis, Xavier Grimble, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Reggie Wilson, Robert Crisp and Trovon Reed were solid contributors but are neither deserving of five-star nor bust status. What about Da’Rick Rogers and Michael Dyer? They were obviously extremely talented and productive while at Tennessee and Auburn but both were kicked off their teams only to land on their feet elsewhere. Where do they belong?
Deserving: Robert Woods, Dominique Easley, Jackson Jeffcoat, Sharrif Floyd, Jordan Hicks, Marcus Lattimore, Keenan Allen, Lamarcus Joyner, Dee Milliner, Matt Elam, William Gholston, Alec Ogletree, Christian Jones, Josh Shaw, George Uko, Ja’Wuan James, Lache Seastrunk
Class of 2011 (30)
Busts: Isaiah Crowell (No. 6), George Farmer (No. 8), Christian Westerman (No. 10), Trey Metoyer (No. 21)
There is still much left to be determined about this class. Names like Karlos Williams, Brandon Williams, Ray Drew, Curtis Grant and Malcolm Brown have a good chance to improve their legacies in 2014 while others like Christian Westerman, Jeff Driskel, Tony Steward and Ishaq Williams need to make big waves this fall to avoid being labeled a bust. Aaron Lynch is a unique case of obvious five-star talent but bouncing around from South Bend to Tampa will change his college legacy while not impacting his draft status much at all (he is highly regarded by scouts). To date, only Farmer and Metoyer have failed to make some sort of impact — be it good or bad (See: Crowell).
Deserving: Jadeveon Clowney, Cyrus Kouandjio, La’El Collins, Anthony Johnson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Timmy Jernigan, Jarvis Landry, De’Anthony Thomas, Stephone Anthony, Sammy Watkins, Anthony Chickillo, Steve Edmond, James Wilder
Class of 2012 (35)
Busts: Gunner Kiel (No. 27), Thomas Johnson (No. 33)
Even more so than the ’11 cycle, very little is known about this group as a whole. That said, many of these names have already made a huge impact on the positive side of the ledger and this five-star class looks like one of the best in recent memory. Jameis Winston is pretty good, right? What about DGB for Mizzou? What about Pac-12 offensive linemen Andrus Peat and Isaac Seumalo? How about Ohio State D-liners Noah Spence and Aldophus Washington? Or SEC running backs T.J. Yeldon and Keith Marshall? Or Duke Johnson and Tracy Howard at The U? Needless to say, it looks like the talent scouts pegged this class pretty accurately. There are loads of names who look poised to break out in ’14: Darius Hamilton, Eddie Williams, D.J. Humphries, Trey Williams or Arik Armstead. And if signing Winston wasn’t enough for Florida State, a trio of emerging five-stars look poised to defend their title in Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher. The closest to joining Kiel and Johnson in the bust category is Rushel Shell, who will need to be very good at West Virginia to avoid the moniker.
Deserving: Dorial Green-Beckham, Shaq Thompson, Noah Spence, Johnathan Gray, Landon Collins, Stefon Diggs, Keith Marshall, Jameis Winston, Duke Johnson, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Adolphus Washington, Tracy Howard, Ronald Darby, Isaac Seumalo, T.J. Yeldon, Andrus Peat, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Jenkins
The Class of 2013 is only a glimmer in the eye of college football fans right now but names like Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Hargreaves, Su’a Cravens, Jalen Ramsey and Christian Hackenberg already looked poised to become superstars (if they aren’t already). And others like O.J. Howard, Derrick Henry, Laquon Treadwell, Kendall Fuller, Thomas Tyner, Chris Jones, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams might not be too far behind.
Only time will tell if the upcoming group of five-stars, headlined by future LSU tailback Leonard Fournette, will continue the recent trend of spot-on evaluation.
Or if they will go the way of Aaron Corp and Gunner Kiel.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
Defensive line is where many experts point when discussing the difference between the SEC and every other conference. It's all about SEC speed... along the defensive line. Just ask Troy Smith. And while there are some elite defensive ends that have passed through the nation's best conference, what sets this league apart from others is the extremely impressive tradition at defensive tackle. As you will see below.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. David Pollack, Georgia (2001-04)
The Bulldogs' defensive end is the most decorated defensive lineman of the BCS Era. Pollack is a three-time, first-team All-SEC and All-American, twice landing consensus All-American honors. He won the SEC Player of the Year award twice (2002, '04), as well as the Bednarik, Hendricks (twice), Lombardi and Lott Awards. He and roommate David Greene helped lead Georgia to its first SEC title (2002) in two decades. His highlight-reel plays — namely against South Carolina — and UGA all-time sack record (36.0) makes him arguably the greatest defensive lineman of the BCS Era.
2. Glenn Dorsey, LSU (2004-07)
The local kid from Baton Rouge won everything there is to win in the college ranks. He helped lead LSU to an SEC and BCS National Championship in 2007 while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He also claimed the Outland, Nagurski and Lott Trophies as well as the Lombardi Award — becoming the first LSU Tiger to win any of those prestigious awards. Dorsey also was ninth in the Heisman voting in his record-setting 2007 campaign. He was a two-time All-American and finished with 179 tackles, 27.0 for a loss and 13 sacks. He started 31 of his 52 career games and was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
3. John Henderson, Tennessee (1998-01)
As a freshman, Henderson helped the Vols capture the 1998 BCS National Championship. By the time he had reached the end of his senior season, Henderson had posted 165 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss and 20.5 sacks — a huge number for an interior defensive lineman — in two first-team All-American seasons. The monstrosity of a man is one of just five defensive players during the BCS Era to claim the historic Outland Trophy and was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
4. Alex Brown, Florida (1998-01)
The two-time, first-team All-American set the Gators' school record for sacks when he left school in 2001. Brown won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and helped lead Florida to the 2000 SEC title. He was a three-time, first-team All-SEC player and finished his career with 161 tackles, 47.0 for a loss and a school-record 33.0 sacks before getting taken in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
5. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011-13)
Certainly his final season left much to be desired with this freakish athlete, but no player has had a two-year start to a career like Clowney. He started his career as the SEC Freshman of the Year and also earned Freshman All-American honors after 36 total tackles, 12.0 for a loss, 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles. He refined his craft and exploded as a sophomore with 54 tackles, 23.5 for a loss and 13.0 sacks to go with three more forced fumbles, as he finished sixth in the Heisman voting a year ago. He was a unanimous All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award winner. His final season wasn’t as inspiring as anticipated but he helped South Carolina to three consecutive 11-win seasons and a 33-6 overall record during his time. He finished his career with 130 tackles, 47.0 tackles for a loss, 24.0 sacks and nine forced fumbles for a team that had never won 11 games in a season before he showed up.
6. Terrence Cody, Alabama (2008-09)
A two-time consensus All-American, Cody helped lead Alabama back to the national championship promised land in 2009 (just ask Lane Kiffin). Mount Cody finished his two-year SEC career with 51 total tackles, 10.5 for a loss and two key blocked kicks. Alabama’s defense ranked No. 3 in the nation during his first season and No. 2 in the nation during his second. He was a second-round pick by the Ravens in 2010.
7. Chad Lavalais, LSU (2000-03)
After two years working as a prison guard between high school and college, it should come as no surprise that Lavalais turned into one of the toughest lineman in SEC history. He played in nine games as a true freshman and eventually started 41 of 47 possible career games. He was the National (and SEC) Defensive Player of the Year for the 2003 BCS national champions and was a consensus All-American. He finished his career with 202 tackles and 12 sacks before getting selected in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
8. John Abraham, South Carolina (1996-99)
Unfortunately, Abraham played on bad teams and that likely hurts his overall ranking. One of the more productive ends in NFL history, “The Predator” led the Gamecocks — who won 12 games during his four years — in sacks in each of his four seasons. He posted 23.5 career sacks, good for second in school history, and was taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
9. Richard Seymour, Georgia (1997-00)
A stalwart on the defensive line as a four-year letterman, Seymour was a star at Georgia before going to become one of the most decorated NFL D-lineman in history. He started 25 of his 41 career games, finishing with 223 tackles — a huge number for an interior player — 25.5 for a loss and 9.5 sacks. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and an All-American in 2000 before being selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.
10. Marcus Spears, LSU (2001-04)
He played both sides of the ball as an All-SEC freshman on the conference championship squad of 2001 before moving full time to the defensive line. He excelled as a sophomore (46 tackles, 3.0 sacks) before earning All-SEC honors as a junior and senior. The eventual consensus All-American helped lead LSU to the 2003 BCS title over Oklahoma’s high-flying offense. Spears was a two-time SEC champ, a BCS champ and a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2005. He finished his LSU career with 152 tackles, 34.5 for a loss, 19 sacks and an absurd four interceptions (including the game-winning touchdown against the Sooners).
Just missed the cut:
11. Nick Fairley, Auburn (2009-10)
The 2010 Lombardi Award winner was a dominant force up the middle for the BCS national champs. He posted 60 tackles, 24.0 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks from his tackle spot during the ’10 title run. Fairley’s one season was as good as any in the league’s history and it led to him being the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
12. Shaun Ellis, Tennessee (1996-99)
Taken one pick ahead of Abraham in the first round by the same team (Jets) in the 2000 NFL Draft, Ellis was a horse for the Vols on the edge. He was a force for the ’98 BCS champs, posting 40 tackles and returning his only career INT for a touchdown. He finished with 104 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss.
13. Michael Sam, Missouri (2010-13)
In just their second year in the league, Missouri’s star end became the first lineman to win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honor since Dorsey in 2007. He led the SEC in sacks with 11.5 and led Mizzou to an SEC East title in ’13. He finished his career with 21.0 sacks, 123 tackles and 36.0 tackles for a loss.
14. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama (2008-10)
The three-year contributor helped lead Bama back to championship contention as a junior in ’09. Dareus posted 71 tackles, 20.0 for a loss and 11.0 sacks in 33 career games and was named Defensive MVP in the 2009 BCS title bout with Texas. He was an All-SEC performer and was the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
15. Antonio Coleman, Auburn (2006-09)
All-around performer was a three-time All-SEC pick over his final three seasons. He led Auburn in sacks and tackles for loss all three seasons, finishing with 24.5 QB takedowns and 46.5 TFL. The undersized end was the leader on a team that won 33 games in four seasons.
Best of the rest:
16. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (2008-11)
Posted 19 sacks in his final two seasons after switching to end. The consensus All-American was a first-round pick.
17. Gerard Warren, Florida (1998-00)
First-round draft pick and All-American posted 159 tackles (30 TFL) and 9.5 sacks in three seasons.
18. Anthony McFarland, LSU (1995-98)
SEC Freshman D.P.O.Y., first-team All-American and 15th overall pick in the 1999 draft.
19. Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee (1999-01)
Freshman All-American was a first-round pick and three-year starter alongside Henderson.
20. Dewayne Robertson, Kentucky (2000-02)
Two-time All-SEC pick as a sophomore and junior. Was the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
21. Peria Jerry, Ole Miss (2005-08)
First-team All-American, first-round draft pick and two-time All-SEC selection.
22. Geno Atkins, Georgia (2006-09)
Classic overachiever who posted 120 tackles, 33.5 for a loss and 11 sacks for the Dawgs.
23. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (2011-12)
In just two seasons, he posted 112 tackles, six sacks and four forced fumbles. First-round pick.
24. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (2010-12)
Consensus All-American finished his career with 26.5 sacks in just three seasons in College Station.
25. Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss, Florida (2003-06)
All-SEC, All-Americans who led Florida to the BCS title and were first-round picks.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
The ACC has gone through many changes during the BCS Era with multiple rounds of expansion. This is why some of the greatest players of the BCS Era won't be found in the ACC ranks. Miami and Virginia Tech joined in 2004, Boston College joined in '05, Syracuse and Pitt played for one season last fall and Louisville enters the league in '14. This is why Virginia Tech's Corey Moore, Syracuse's Dwight Freeney, Miami's Vince Wilfork or Louisville's Elvis Dumervil won't be found below — because they never played in the league. However, names like Aaron Donald and Mathias Kiwanuka do show up since they played at least one season in the ACC. Even without the Wilforks of the world, the ACC has an impressive list of elite defensive linemen.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina (1999-01)
From a talent standpoint, few players have ever been able to match Peppers' freakish quickness and size. As a two-sport star in Chapel Hill, Peppers was a freshman All-American in 1999 before leading the nation in sacks (15.0) as a sophomore. He capped his junior season as a consensus All-American and by winning Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Trophy honors. Peppers finished 10th in the Heisman voting in 2001. He started 33 of 34 possible career games and finished with 167 tackles and 30.5 sacks, good for sixth all-time in ACC history and second during the BCS Era. His 53.0 tackles for a loss are 13th all-time in league history as well. Peppers was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
2. Chris Long, DE, Virginia (2004-07)
The son of NFL great Howie Long entered the starting lineup as a sophomore, totaling 46 tackles, 10.0 for a loss and two sacks. As a junior, Long posted 57 tackles, 12.0 for a loss and 4.0 sacks. As a senior, he claimed ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as the Dudley and Hendricks Awards. He was a unanimous All-American after 79 total tackles, an ACC-best 19.0 tackles for a loss and ACC-best 14.0 sacks in his final season in which he finished 10th in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 182 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 20.0 sacks before being selected No. 2 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
3. Aaron Donald, Pitt (2010-13)
Donald only played one season in the ACC but it was one of the, if not the, best by an ACC defensive lineman in league history. He swept the national awards by claiming the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik as essentially the most decorated defensive player of the BCS Era not named Manti Te’o. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after posting 59 tackles, 28.5 for a loss and 11.0 sacks from his defensive tackle position. His 28.5 TFLs were second only to Keith Adams’ ACC record 33 in 1999. His career 29.5 sacks would be eighth in ACC history and his 66.0 tackles for a loss would be a new career ACC record had he played his entire career in the league.
4. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (2008-10)
The No. 1 prospect in the nation battled a knee injury during his sophomore year but still posted 58 tackles — including 11 in the ACC Championship Game win over Georgia Tech — 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. However, Bowers exploded as a senior by leading the nation in tackles for a loss (26.0) and sacks (15.5) to go with his 67 total tackles. Those 15.5 sacks were sixth all-time in ACC history. Bowers was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous first-team All-American and claimed both the Nagurski Trophy and the Hendricks Award. More knee issues cost him on draft day as he slipped to the end of the second round where Tampa Bay selected him with the 51st overall pick.
5. Mario Williams, NC State (2003-05)
In just three seasons, the physical freak from NC State posted 25.5 career sacks — good for 18th all-time in ACC history — and 55.5 tackles for a loss — good for 10th all-time. In his final season, he led the ACC with 24.0 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. As one of the most gifted athletes to ever play in any league, Williams was one of just two defensive players selected as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft during the BCS Era (Courtney Brown, 2000).
6. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State (1997-00)
Reynolds helped lead the Seminoles to three consecutive BCS National Championship Games, including the 1999 title. He was named the Lombardi and Willis Trophy winner after a 58-tackle, 12-sack season in 2000 as a senior and was a finalist for the national Defensive Player of the Year award. He was named a unanimous All-American and taken with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. His 23.5 career sacks are 24th all-time in ACC history and are the most by any Seminole during the BCS Era.
7. Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson (2003-06)
The 2006 ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished with 157 total tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss and 28.0 sacks in 46 career games. His 28.0 QB takedowns are 10th all-time in ACC history and are fourth by any player during the BCS Era. His 15.5 sacks in 2010 led the nation and are sixth-best in ACC history. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior and was taken fourth overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Sadly, Adams passed away at age 26 due to cardiac arrest in January 2010 but he will be forever remembered as one of the ACC’s greatest defensive linemen.
8. Corey Simon, DT, Florida State (1996-99)
A consensus All-American, Simon helped lead Florida State to back-to-back BCS championship games with a win in his final game over Virginia Tech in 1999. He left school with a then-record 44.0 tackles for a loss and was a finalist for the Lombardi and Outland Trophies as a senior. One of the most dominant interior lineman in ACC history was taken sixth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.
9. Darnell Docket, Florida State (2000-03)
The four-year starter for Florida State was a starter and big-time contributor as a redshirt freshman in 2000 on a team that played for the national title. Eventually, Dockett was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 as a senior. He left Tallahassee with 247 total tackles, 10.5 sacks and an ACC-record 65.0 tackles for a loss. Dockett was a third-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and has gone to three Pro Bowls since.
10. Calvin Pace, Wake Forest (1999-02)
A four-year starter for the Demon Deacons, Pace helped lead Wake Forest to a winning record in three of his four years and two of the team’s three bowl appearances between 1980 and 2005. Pace is eighth all-time in ACC history with 29.0 career sacks and is 12th all-time in ACC history in tackles for a loss with 54.0. He led the league in TFL as a senior (19.5) and was the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Just missed the cut:
11. Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College (2002-05)
A two-time All-American, Kiwanuka was a first-team all-league pick in two conferences as he helped moved BC from the Big East into the ACC. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and posted 51 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 16.5 TFL in his senior year in the ACC.
12. Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech (2007-09)
One of the freakier athletes to play in the ACC, Morgan was an instant impact guy as a freshman. By his junior season, the Jackets end was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. He posted an ACC-best 12.5 sacks that season and 18.5 tackles for a loss before leaving early to become a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
13. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (2010-12)
The Berlin, Germany, native played in all 14 games as a true freshman before becoming a dominant starter for two full years in Tallahassee. He led the ACC with 13.0 sacks and posted 18.0 TFL to earn ACC Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American honors in 2012. He was a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
14. Shawne Merriman, Maryland (2002-04)
One of the most talented athletes to ever play in any league, Merriman was a impact player as a freshman in 2002. He constantly made plays around the line of scrimmage for three seasons in College Park for two teams that won at least 10 games.
15. Greg Gathers, Georgia Tech (1999-01)
Among every ACC player during the BCS Era, no one registered more sacks than Gathers’ 31.0 — which is good for fifth all-time in ACC history. His 57.0 tackles for a loss are eighth all-time in league history and fifth among BCS Era players.
Best of the rest:
16. Calais Campbell, Miami (2005-07)
Long, rangy player led league in TFL (20.5) in 2006 and was a second-round pick in 2008.
17. B.J. Raji, Boston College (2004-08)
Missed all of ’07 but was an All-American in 2008 and a first-round pick in the '09 draft.
18. Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech (2002-05)
Finished career 17th in ACC history in sacks (25.5) and fifth in tackles for a loss (59.5)
19. Robert Quinn, North Carolina (2008-10)
Monster end led ACC in TFL (19.0) in 2009 before being picked 14th overall in 2011 Draft.
20. Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech (2004-07)
Freshman All-American finished with 19.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, 28.0 TFL and two ACC titles.
21. Ebenezer Ekuban, North Carolina (1995-98)
Only played defense for two years and led ACC in TFL in 1998 with 23.0. Was a first-round pick.
22. Andre Branch, Clemson (2008-11)
Led ACC in sacks (10.5) and tackles for a loss (17.5) for ACC champs in 2011.
23. Everette Brown, Florida State (2006-08)
Played 41 games posting 100 tackles, 46.5 for a loss and 22.0 sacks with five forced fumbles.
24. Clint Sintim, Virginia (2005-08)
Is 13th all-time in ACC history with 27.0 sacks, freshman All-American and second-round pick.
25. Quinton Coples, North Carolina (2008-11)
Finished 19th all-time in ACC in sacks with 24.0 and was a first-round pick in 2012.
The Pac-12 is known for its offensive prowess and offensive fireworks but it also owns a trophy that is presented to the league's best defensive lineman. The Morris Trophy has been voted on by fellow players since 1980 in an effort to truly determine who that season's best D-lineman. And only three players during the BCS Era have won the award twice.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2000-02)
The star pass-rusher is best known as the NCAA’s all-time single-season sack master when he totaled 24 QB takedowns in 2002. That year, Suggs was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the inaugural Ted Hendricks Award winner. The accolades didn’t end there, however, as he also took home the Lombardi, Nagurski and Willis trophies as well. He led the NCAA with 31.5 tackles for a loss (still a Pac-12 record) and forced six fumbles that year. He finished his Sun Devils career with 163 tackles, a school-record 65.5 for a loss (second all-time in league history), 44 sacks (second all-time in league history) and 14 forced fumbles. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
2. Haloti Ngata, Oregon (2003-05)
Arguably the best NFL defensive tackle of his generation, Ngata had to overcome a torn ACL in college. Once he recovered, the big interior stuffer posted 107 tackles, 17.5 for a loss and 6.5 sacks over his final two seasons in Eugene. He was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the Morris Trophy winner before being selected 12th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. He blocked seven kicks and led Oregon to a 10-win season in 2005 — just the school’s third such campaign in school history at the time.
3. Will Sutton, Arizona State (2009-13)
There are only two players in the history of the Pac-12 to win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards and Sutton is one of them (Washington’s Steve Emtman is the other) as he claimed both the 2012 and '13 honor. Sutton was an All-American after a huge junior season in 2012 before returning to help lead Arizona State to the best record in the Pac-12 and a South Division title. He won back-to-back Morris Trophies as well as the league’s best D-liner in both seasons. From his tackle spot, he finished with 19.5 career sacks and 45.5 tackles for a loss.
4. Sedrick Ellis, USC (2004-07)
Ellis was one of the big fellas up the middle who helped the Trojans to four straight conference titles and two BCS championship appearances (2004-05). He was one of three players to ever win the Morris Trophy twice during the BCS Era, earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and was a unanimous All-American in '07. Ellis finished with 144 total tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks in 48 career games for the Men of Troy. USC was 47-5 during his four years and Ellis was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
5. Stephen Paea, Oregon State (2008-10)
This strong bull in the middle is one of the greatest players in OSU history. He was a two-time Morris Trophy winner in the Pac-10, one of only five players to ever accomplish the feat in league history (three during BCS Era). Paea earned conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and was named a consensus All-American. He finished with 129 tackles, 29.5 tackles for a loss and 14.0 sacks in his Beavers career. One of the strongest players in NFL Combine history, Paea was a second-round pick of the Bears in the 2011 draft.
6. Shaun Cody, USC (2001-04)
Cody made an instant impact, earning freshman All-American honors for the ’01 Trojans. He started as a sophomore for the Orange Bowl champs before anchoring the USC defensive line on back-to-back national championship teams in 2003-04. He was a consensus All-American who earned co-Defensive Player of the Year honors in the league on a perfect ’04 squad. He finished his career with 130 tackles, 31.5 tackles for a loss, 21 sacks and four blocked kicks. Cody was a second-round pick of the Lions in the 2005 NFL Draft.
7. Rien Long, Washington State (2000-02)
The All-American who stayed in his home state is one of just four defensive players to win the Outland Trophy during the BCS Era. He was a first-team consensus All-American in 2002 after posting 13.0 sacks in 2002. He left early for the NFL Draft, where he was a fourth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans.
8. Dave Ball, UCLA (2000-03)
The Bruins' edge rusher led the nation in sacks in 2003 with 16.5 and finished with a school-record 30.5 career sacks — good for 12th all-time in league history. He was the Morris Trophy winner, Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American that season as well. His 16.5 sacks in 2003 are good for seventh-best all-time in Pac-12 history and Ball went on to be selected in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
9. Bill Swancutt, Oregon State (2001-04)
Among players during the BCS Era, only Suggs has more sacks than Swancutt’s 37.0 QB takedowns — which is good for sixth all-time in league history. The same can be said for tackles for a loss as his 59.5 rank sixth all-time and second to only Suggs during the BCS Era. Swancutt was Pac-10 co-Defensive Player of the Year with Shaun Cody in 2004. He is Oregon State’s all-time leader in sacks, tackles for a loss as well as forced fumbles (seven). He was a sixth-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
10. Kenechi Udeze, USC (2001-03)
Udeze posted 26 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks — good for second all-time to Tim Ryan (1989) in USC history and tied for second in the league during the BCS Era (Suggs) — during the Trojans' 2003 run to a shared national championship. He tied an NCAA record with 14 career forced fumbles and finished with 53.0 career tackles for a loss — a school record and 12th all-time in league history.
Just missed the cut:
11. Andre Carter, Cal (1997-00)
One of the league’s best, Carter is ninth all-time in league history with 55.0 tackles for a loss and 10th all-time with 31.0 sacks. He won the Morris Trophy in 2000 and was named a unanimous first-team All-American. The Nagurski finalist was the seventh overall pick of the 49ers in the 2001 NFL Draft.
12. Star Lotulelei, Utah (2010-12)
The man in the middle for the Utes didn’t miss a game in his three-year Utah career. Lotulelei was the 2011 Morris Trophy winner as the league’s top defensive lineman and earned All-American honors as a senior in '12. The Utah star defender finished with 107 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. He was the 14th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
13. Lawrence Jackson, USC (2004-07)
Twice Jackson led the Trojans in sacks and twice helped lead the Trojans to the BCS National Championship Game. He was a terror off the edge and finished tied for 12th in league history with 30.5 sacks and is tied for 18th in league history with 52.0 tackles for a loss. He started 51 of 52 possible career games and was an All-American in 2007 before becoming the 28th overall pick in the first round of the '08 NFL Draft.]
14. Brian Price, UCLA (2006-09)
The big defensive tackle was a freshman All-American before breaking out as a sophomore the following year (14.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks). As an upperclassman, Price was a two-time, first-team all-league performer, a consensus All-American and was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year before getting picked with the 35th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
15. Bruce Davis, UCLA (2004-07)
The hybrid end is second all-time in UCLA history behind only Dave Ball with 29.0 career sacks (17th in Pac-12 history). His 42.5 tackles for a loss rank third all-time in UCLA history behind Ball and Carnell Lake. Price totaled 33.0 tackles for a loss and 24.5 sacks over his final two seasons, earning All-American consideration both seasons. He was a third-round pick of the Steelers in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Best of the rest:
16. Nick Reed, Oregon (2005-08)
The Morris Trophy winner finished with 29.5 sacks and 51.5 tackles for a loss.
17. Riall Johnson, Stanford (1997-00)
Seventh all-time in sacks (36.0) after back-to-back seasons with at least 13 QB takedowns. Is 12th all-time with 53.0 TFLs.
18. Mike Patterson, USC (2001-04)
Anchored middle of the Trojans line on two national title teams, three-time all-conference.
19. Inoke Breckterfield, Oregon State (1995-98)
Morris Trophy winner left school as the all-time leader in TFL (55.5) and sacks (19.5). Both since broken.
20. Scott Crichton, Oregon State (2011-13)
Posted 51.5 TFL and 22.5 sacks in just three years. Freshman All-American and two-time all-league pick.
21. Mkristo Bruce, Washington State (2003-06)
Owns single-game league record with 5.0 sacks in 2006, 15th all-time with 29.5 sacks.
22. Justin Hickman, UCLA (2003-06)
A consensus All-American who led the league in sacks (12.5) and tackles for a loss (19.0) in 2006
23. Kenyon Coleman, UCLA (1997-01)
Won the 2001 Morris Trophy after returning from a knee injury. Three-time all-league selection.
24. D.D. Acholonu, Washington State (2000-03)
Is ninth all-time with 32.5 sacks and set a school record with 16.5 in 2003.
25. Dexter Davis, Arizona State (2006-09)
Played in ASU-record 50 games with 31 sacks — 10th all-time in league history.
The Big Ten is all about physical line play on both sides of the ball. Stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback is one of the quickest ways to find yourself in B1G contention at year's end.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (2003-06)
The Wolverines' terror off the edge posted 12 sacks as a senior en route to the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards as the nation’s best lineman and defensive end respectively. He was a unanimous All-American before being drafted in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Steelers. His 10 career forced fumbles are seventh all-time in Big Ten history and his work on the ’06 Michigan team that started 11-0 before losing to Ohio State in memorable fashion earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. Woodley also was a finalist for the Bednarik, Lott, Outland and Nagurski awards as well.
2. Tamba Hali, Penn State (2002-05)
A unanimous All-American and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Hali pushed Penn State to its last Big Ten championship as well as a win in the Orange Bowl following the 2005 season. He led the Big Ten with 17.0 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks and added 65 total tackles for a team that lost just once (in the final second) all season. The undersized end was picked 20th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft and has blossomed into one of the league’s top edge players.
3. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (2009-10)
The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 was dominant in his short stint in Madison. After originally signing with Central Michigan as a tight end, Watt emerged as a hidden gem for the Badgers. He posted an absurd 106 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a number of big blocked kicks (see Arizona State). He won the Lott Trophy given to the most impactful defensive player in college football in 2010 before being picked with the 11th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is arguably the best defensive end on the planet right now.
4. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (2007-10)
A beast off the edge cut from the same mold as Watt in terms of size and athleticism, few have ever been as productive as Kerrigan. The Boilermakers star is seventh all-time in Big Ten history with 33.5 sacks and his 14 forced fumbles are the most in league history by anyone (his seven forced fumbles in 2009 are tied for third all-time in league history). He was named ’10 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American. In his final season in West Lafayette, he won the Bill Willis Award by posting 70 tackles, 26 for a loss and 12.5 sacks.
5. Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin (2001-04)
“The Eraser” did it all for the Badgers during his time in Madison. He finished with 124 tackles, 25.5 for a loss, 18 sacks and seven forced fumbles. James won the 2004 Hendricks Award given to the nation’s best defensive end and the Bill Willis Award given to the nation’s top defensive lineman. The Wisconsin star was a consensus All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik award in ’04 as well. He was the 18th pick of the 2005 NFL Draft.
6. Courtney Brown, Penn State (1996-99)
The Outback Bowl’s MVP (1999) earned a long list of honors during his time at Penn State. He was a consensus All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection. In 1999, he posted 29.0 tackles for a loss, third-best in Big Ten history. His 70 career tackles for a loss also rank third all-time in conference history while his 33 career sacks rank ninth. Brown was the No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2000 NFL Draft. His lack of pro success doesn’t take away from his elite college career.
7. Will Smith, Ohio State (2000-03)
One of the most talented players to ever suit up in the Big Ten, Smith’s career had it all. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and finished his career with 167 tackles, 21 sacks and five forced fumbles in 37 starts (51 games). Smith was one of the stars on a Buckeyes defense that topped Miami for the 2002 BCS National Championship.
8. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (2009-11)
Mercilus didn’t blossom until his junior season but what a season it was. After playing every game of his first two years with little fanfare, Mercilus burst onto the national scene with one of the greatest single-seasons in Big Ten history. He led the nation in sacks (16.0, fourth all-time in Big Ten History) and his nine forced fumbles established a new conference record. He was a consensus All-American, won the Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end and the Willis Award for the nation’s best defensive lineman. The Fighting Illini rush end was named the CFPA Defensive Performer of the Year and was the 26th overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
9. Tom Burke, Wisconsin (1995-98)
One the Big Ten’s greatest sack artists helped lead Wisconsin to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl championship during his historic and record-setting senior season. Burke earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors by setting a conference record with 22 sacks (No. 2 is Lamanzer Williams with 18.5) and 31 tackles for a loss in 1998. He was a consensus All-American and third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. His five sacks against Iowa in ’98 are tied for second-best in Big Ten history. He claimed the Bill Willis Trophy that year as well.
10. Jared DeVries, Iowa (1995-98)
Only one player in Big Ten history has more sacks than DeVries’ 42 career QB takedowns and his name is Simeon Rice (44.5). Playing at the same time as Burke, the Hawkeyes' star end is the Big Ten’s all-time leader in tackles for a loss with 78 career stops behind the line of scrimmage. He was a consensus All-American and three-time, first-team All-Big Ten performer. He was a third-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
Just missed the cut:
11. Devon Still, Penn State (2009-11)
Still became one of just two defensive tackles to ever win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors when he dominated the league in 2011. He posted 55 tackles, 17.0 for a loss and 4.5 sacks during his junior season, earning consensus All-American honors in the process. Still was a finalist for the Outland and Bednarik awards and became a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft.
12. Michael Haynes, Penn State (1999-02)
Haynes was named the 2002 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after posting 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles as a senior. Those numbers were good for ninth and third all-time in league history. He was an All-American and picked in the first round by the Chicago Bears.
13. John Simon, DE, Ohio State (2009-12)
A stalwart of consistency for the Buckeyes, this workout warrior came to play every game. He wasn’t the most talented or the biggest but he was one of the best, finishing his career with 154 tackles, 42 tackles for a loss and 20.5 sacks. He was a captain, leader and played in 51 games during his time in Columbus. Simon was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
14. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa (2007-10)
It took until his third year on campus as a redshirt junior, but Clayborn became a star along the Hawkeyes' defensive line. He led Iowa to an Orange Bowl bid and was named that game's MVP as Iowa earned its first and only BCS bowl win over Georgia Tech. He was a consensus All-American and eventually was picked in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
15. Jared Odrick Penn State (2006-09)
Odrick was the first defensive tackle to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors with his dominant 2009 campaign. The two-time All-Big Ten selection posted 41 tackles, 10 for a loss and six sacks during his All-American senior season. Odrick was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Best of the rest:
16. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State (2009-11)
Freshman All-American who blossomed into a consensus All-American, starting nearly every game of his career.
17. Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan (2006-09)
Led the nation in tackles for a loss as a senior (26.0), was an All-American and first-round draft pick.
18. Shaun Phillips, Purdue (2000-03)
Seventh all-time in Big Ten history with 33.5 sacks and ninth all-time with 60.5 tackles for a loss.
19. Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State (2003-06)
Consensus All-American who helped lead Ohio State to perfect regular season, Big Ten title and BCS title game.
20. Adewale Ogunleye, Indiana (1996-99)
His 34.5 sacks are sixth all-time in Big Ten history and his 64 tackles for a loss are seventh.
21. Anthony Spencer, Purdue (2003-06)
Led the nation with 26.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles as a senior before becoming a first-round pick.
22. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota (2009-13)
Stud up the middle for a Gophers team that returned to the postseason for the first time in years.
22. Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin (1998-01)
Set Wisconsin single-game record with five sacks against Purdue in 2001. Two-time B1G Lineman of the Year.
23. Anttaj Hawthorne, Wisconsin (2001-04)
Started 41 straight games and earned All-Big Ten honors three straight years. Posted 42 TFL and 12 sacks.
25. Greg Middleton, Indiana (2006-09)
His 16 sacks in 2007 are tied for fourth all-time in Big Ten history. Peaked early in his career.
Not every recruiting class is created equal. Nor every NFL Draft class for that matter.
Depending on the state, region or position, each recruiting cycle offers different areas of strengths or weaknesses. As research about geography indicates, Louisiana, for example, has an elite collection of talent in the 2014 class.
There are many uncertainties in recruiting for obvious reasons. It cycles up and down, back and forth. Some classes may be loaded with elite linebackers. Some years all of the best talent comes from the West Coast. On and on and on.
One thing is certain, however. Every team needs at least a good quarterback to win a championship. This much is true on every level of football. But not every recruiting cycle is created equal. An in-depth examination of the modern era of football recruiting — since 2002, when Internet rankings became so prevalent — makes this painfully obvious.
While there are excellent players entering college every year, some are better than others. For example, the 2004 class of signal-callers is headlined by Brian Brohm and Pat White while the '08 class is headlined by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. All four were outstanding college quarterbacks but its safe to say Luck and Griffin are a different tier of overall talent.
So I’ve ranked each of the last 12 quarterback classes against each other and this is what I came up with…
1. Class of 2006
The Stars: Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Jake Locker, Case Keenum
The Best of the Rest: Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Greg McElroy, Todd Reesing, Nate Davis, Juice Williams, TJ Yates, Ricky Stanzi, Thaddeus Lewis, John Skelton, Scott Tolzien, Nathan Enderle
This group features six first-round picks, including two No. 1 overall selections, and two second-rounders. It registered two Heisman Trophies, three BCS national championships and featured the most prolific passer in NCAA history. And Colin Kaepernick, who was a statistical juggernaut at Nevada, led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII and nearly got SanFran back to another one in 2013. Additionally, Yates, Stafford and Dalton have all started NFL playoff games while Ponder led the Vikings to an improbable playoff berth last season. This class has long been considered the best of the modern era and it appears nothing has changed.
2. Class of 2008
The Stars: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Collin Klein, Landry Jones, Darron Thomas, Blaine Gabbert, Nick Florence, EJ Manuel, Terrelle Pryor
The Best of the Rest:, Mike Glennon, Seth Doege, Tyler Wilson, Colby Cameron, Sean Renfree, Ryan Nassib, Matt Scott, Zac Dysert, Alex Carder, Jacory Harris
When all is said and done, Luck and Griffin III might be better than anyone in the 2006 class, but the depth at the top may not be as elite. Jones is one of the most prolific passers in history while Klein, Thomas, and Pryor are electric athletes who used their legs. Manuel and Gabbert were both first-round NFL Draft picks as well. What makes this class great is its depth in the middle as names like Nick Florence, Matt Scott, Ryan Nassib and Seth Doege are underrated nationally in terms of production. In all, this group claims four first-round picks, one Heisman Trophy, multiple Heisman finalists, a bunch of conference championships, numerous BCS bowl games and one BCS title game appearance.
3. Class of 2009
The Stars: AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Tajh Boyd, Derek Carr, Taylor Martinez, Denard Robinson, Jordan Lynch, Bryn Renner
The Best of the Rest: Logan Thomas, Keith Price, Zach Mettenberger, Brock Osweiler, C.J. Brown, Kolton Browning
There is no elite, No. 1 overall type of talent in this class but there are some huge numbers. And athletes. Robinson and Lynch are the top two rushing quarterbacks in NCAA history with a combined 8,838 yards and 90 rushing TDs. Add to it Martinez' near 3,000 yards and 31 rushing TDs and you have three of the most dynamic running quarterbacks of all time. Boyd, Barkley and Murray are the most prolific passes in ACC, Pac-12 and SEC history respectively while Smith owns numerous passing records. And then there are two BCS national championship rings courtesy of McCarron (three if you count his redshirt season). The complete production, success and overall talent of this group gives it a slight nod over the established stars of the 2007 class.
4. Class of 2007
The Stars: Cam Newton, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Tannehill
The Best of the Rest:, Chandler Harnish, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Nesbitt, Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Lindley, Dan Persa, GJ Kinne
One guy gives this class a Heisman Trophy, a BCS national title and a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. But the rest of the group is underrated as well. Wilson and Weeden are NFL starters who broke all kinds of NCAA records and Wilson has already led his team to a Super Bowl. Moore is the winningest QB in history and is second only to Keenum in terms of career passing stats. Cousins is an extremely underrated leader and is the best QB in Michigan State history while Mallett, Lindley and Tannehill are all NFL players. Taylor and Nesbitt give this group plenty of athleticism as well.
5. Class of 2011
The Stars: Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan, Chuckie Keeton, Connor Cook, Rakeem Cato, Brett Smith
The Best of the Rest: Everett Golson, Jeff Driskel, Cody Kessler, Dak Prescott, Jake Rudock, Marquise Williams, J.W. Walsh, Trevone Boykin, David Ash
In just three seasons, it is hard to argue the upside of the 2011 group. Manziel has a Heisman Trophy while Bridgewater could be the No. 1 overall pick in the May NFL Draft. Miller, Mariota and Hundley all have eyes on joining Manziel as a Heisman Trophy winner while Hogan and Cook are already defending conference champs and Rose Bowl participants. All five could have their teams in the national championship hunt as well in 2014. Toss in Golson, who's already played in a BCS title game, and three mid-major superstars in Cato, Keeton and Smith, and the '11 group is as dynamic and successful as any in the modern era. And it still has another big year ahead of it.
6. Class of 2003
The Stars: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Chris Leak, Paul Smith, Kevin Kolb, Dennis Dixon, Brady Quinn, Andre Woodson
The Best of the Rest: John Beck, John David Booty, Kevin O'Connell, Tom Brandstater, Matt Flynn, JaMarcus Russell, Drew Tate
Ryan and Flacco are elite NFL passers but both were mid-level recruits and Flacco had to transfer to a FCS school (Delaware) before eventually getting taken in the first round of the 2008 draft. But both are Pro Bowl-caliber talents and Flacco has already claimed a Super Bowl MVP award. In all, there are four first-round picks, two BCS national championships and a host of players who would be among their school's greatest of all-time — Woodson, Smith, Kolb and Dixon won a lot of games with big numbers. If Russell wasn't arguably the biggest bust (literally and figuratively) in NFL Draft history, this class could make a case for being higher on the list.
7. Class of 2010
The Stars: Bryce Petty, Blake Bortles, Taylor Kelly, James Franklin, Connor Shaw,
The Best of the Rest: Tanner Price, Cody Fajardo, Devin Gardner, Stephen Morris, Tyler Bray, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, Chase Rettig, David Piland, Blake Bell, Shane Carden, Brandon Connette, Jake Heaps, Hutson Mason
Shaw is the arguably the most underrated SEC QB of all-time and is South Carolina's best signal-caller... ever. The same can be said for Bortles for UCF. Kelly and Petty return to teams eying conference championships in 2014 and could both find themselves in New York as Heisman finalists as well. Franklin rebounded from injury to prove he was an elite player for Mizzou. The '10 class has a host of big names that could still prove to be historic players for their schools should things pan out well in '14: Gardner, Mannion, Halliday, Bell, Mason. And, in case you missed it, Brandon Connette has scored more touchdowns than any player in Duke history.
8. Class of 2002
The Stars: Vince Young, Troy Smith, Colt Brennan
The Best of the Rest: Drew Stanton, Omar Jacobs, Phil Horvath, Trent Edwards, John Stocco, Marcus Vick, Jordan Palmer, Drew Olson, Tyler Palko
At the top, this class had an elite trio. Young is the most unstoppable player I’ve ever seen on a college gridiron and carried his Texas team to a national title. Smith also led his team to the national title game and claimed Ohio State’s seventh Heisman Trophy. Brennan posted huge numbers at Hawaii in getting the Warriors to their one and only BCS bowl game. Stanton and Stocco were excellent Big Ten players but the depth of the class, or lack thereof, is what keeps it from being ranked higher.
9. Class of 2005
The Stars: Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez, Zac Robinson, Dan LeFevour
The Best of the Rest: Riley Skinner, Tony Pike, Joe Webb, Sean Canfield, Mike Kafka, Levi Brown, Matt Grothe, Tim Hiller, Jarrett Brown
The top five were great players for their schools but that is about all this class has to offer. Yes, Canfield, Kafka, Webb and Pike were NFL Draft picks but all are bench players. McCoy is the real star, finishing his career with more wins than anyone in history (until Kellen Moore) and leading Texas into the championship game. Sanchez had a great team at USC and was a top pick but has very little experience. Robinson and Daniel were, at the time of graduation, likely the top quarterbacks in program history. LeFevour is a big reason why Brian Kelly and Butch Jones are coaching at Notre Dame and Tennessee respectively.
10. Class of 2012
The Stars: Jameis Winston, Maty Mauk, Taysom Hill, Trevor Knight
The Best of the Rest: Tommy Armstrong, Travis Wilson, Jalen Whitlow, Nate Sudfeld
In just two short seasons, this group already claims a Heisman winner and a BCS national title as well as three emerging stars at Mizzou, BYU and Oklahoma. Additionally, expectation levels are high for a handful of other big-time talents like Cyler Miles at Washington, Will Gardner at Louisville, Chad Voytik at Pitt, Wes Lunt at Illinois and Tyler Cameron at Wake Forest. This group could rise or fall depending on how some of the unknowns work out over the next two seasons.
11. Class of 2004
The Stars: Brian Brohm, Pat White, Brian Johnson, Graham Harrell, Daryll Clark
The Best of the Rest: Max Hall, Chad Henne, Curtis Painter, Stephen McGee, Brian Hoyer, John Parker Wilson, Erik Ainge, CJ Bacher, Mike Teel, Rudy Carpenter
None of these names ever turned out to be NFL stars but there are some elite college players in this class. Clark, Brohm, White and Johnson all led their teams to historic seasons, conference crowns and BCS bowl wins. Harrell posted elite passing statistics while Hall, Henne, Painter and Wilson all started for at least three seasons at four of the most historic quarterback programs in the nation (BYU, Michigan, Purdue, Alabama).
12. Class of 2013
The Stars: Christian Hackenberg, Davis Webb, Jared Goff, John O'Korn
The Best of the Rest: Josh Dobbs, Anthony Jennings, Sefo Luifau
Nothing is really known about this class as of yet. However, names like Hackenberg, Webb, Goff and O'Korn have already set a solid benchmark with big-time production in their first seasons. Names that could easily find their way into the "Stars" or "Best of the Rest" category in 2014 include Jeremy Johnson at Auburn, Johnny McCary at Vanderbilt, Kevin Olsen at Miami, Mitch Trubisky at North Carolina, Anu Solomon from Arizona and Danny Etling at Purdue among others. As far as true freshmen go, however, this group has already established itself as very capable.
More so than any other league in America, the Big 12 has had the most decorated wide receivers during the BCS Era. Only two players in the history of college football have ever won two Biletnikoff Awards and both of them played in the Big 12 during the 16-year BCS Era. In fact, 17 different times has someone caught more than 100 passes in the Big 12 (1996), and until 2013, no ACC player had ever topped 100 catches in a single season.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
Stats: 231 rec., 3,127 yds, 41 TDs
No player has been as productive in just two seasons as the Dallas, Texas native. As a redshirt freshman, Crabtree set NCAA records for receptions (134), yards (1,962) and touchdowns (22) and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. He also won Big 12 Newcomer and Offensive Player of the Year honors and still owns the single-season league record for receptions and yards as just a freshman. He became the first player in NCAA history to win a second Biletnikoff Award when he caught 97 passes for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns for the 11-2 Red Raiders the next year. He finished fifth in the Heisman balloting in ’08 — one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five during the BCS Era. Certainly, Mike Leach’s system inflated the two-time consensus All-American’s numbers, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout was — and still is — easily the most talented Texas Tech receiver in program history.
2. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11)
Stats: 252 rec., 3,564 yds, 40 TDs, 136 rush, TD
Similarly to Crabtree, Blackmon’s numbers are inflated due to an elite offensive system. But make no mistake, he is the one of the greatest pass-catchers to ever play. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American honors twice. The Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview product also became just the second player in NCAA history to claim two Biletnikoff Awards. Blackmon won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and capped his illustrious career with a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl MVP performance against Stanford. At a program with a long track record of elite wideouts, Blackmon has to be considered the best. He is one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five for the Heisman Trophy (5th, 2010) during the BCS Era.
3. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (2008-11)
Stats: 349 rec., 4,586 yds, 45 TDs, 97 rush, TD, 1,307 ret. yds, 2 TDs
No one in NCAA history caught more passes than the smallish local star from Norman, Okla. And it didn’t take long for him to become a star, catching seven passes for a freshman school-record 141 yards in his first collegiate game. He posted three straight seasons of at least 80 catches, 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led the nation in both receptions (131) and punt returns (34) as a junior and is the Big 12’s all-time leading receiver in all three major categories. Broyles was a two-time consensus All-American.
4. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2009-12)
Stats: 288 rec., 3,413 yds, 29 TDs, 1,031 rush, 6 TDs, 2,840 ret. yds, 5 TDs
Be it through the air, on the ground or in the kicking game, Austin was downright unstoppable. The diminutive talent won’t ever be confused with prototypical physical outside receivers, but with the ball in his hands, few were as productive. The Baltimore prospect was a two-time All-American and two-time Big East Special Teamer of the Year before moving to the Big 12. He posted back-to-back 100-catch/1,000-yard seasons and was a 1,000-yard rusher for his career. In fact, Austin’s signature performance came as a running back against Oklahoma as senior when he nearly set an NCAA record for all-purpose production with 572 yards (344 rushing, 82 receiving, 146 kick return). He scored four different ways during his unbelievable senior season and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. His 2,910 all-purpose yards set a Big 12 single-season record.
5. Roy Williams, Texas (2000-03)
Stats: 241 rec., 3,866 yds, 36 TDs, 243 rush, 3 TDs
Right out of the gate, Texas knew they had a great one in the massive 6-foot-3, 218-pound in-state star from Odessa. He was a three-time All-Big 12 selection and left school with the records for receptions, yards and touchdowns. “The Legend” never caught fewer than seven touchdowns or 800 yards in any of his four NCAA seasons. He is ninth all-time in Big 12 history in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and fifth in touchdown catches.
6. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (2007-08)
Stats: 182 rec., 2,315 yds, 22 TDs, 668 rush, 6 TDs, 2,626 ret. yds, 5 TDs
He only played two seasons but was outstanding from the first time he stepped onto the college gridiron. He was a consensus All-American both years, topped 1,000 yards receiving in both years, scored at least 10 total touchdowns in both seasons and topped 1,000 return yards in both seasons. He set an NCAA freshman all-purpose yardage record with 2,776 total yards for a 12-2 Tigers team. He posted 5,609 all-purpose yards in just two seasons, which ranks ninth all-time in league history and third among all Big 12 wide receivers, and might be the most underrated wideout of the BCS Era.
7. Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State (2000-03)
Stats: 293 rec., 4,414 yds, 42 TDs
Oklahoma State has one of the best wide receiver traditions in the nation and Woods was one of the first high-profile stars. Three seasons with at least 77 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns makes him one of the most prolific receivers in BCS history. And his NCAA-record seven touchdowns against SMU still stands today. The consensus All-American finished fourth in Big 12 history in receptions, second in yards and second in touchdowns.
8. Jordan Shipley, Texas (2006-09)
Stats: 248 rec., 3,191 yds, 33 TDs, 162 rush, 843 ret. yds, 4 TDs
Colt McCoy’s go-to target made big plays in big games and was as dependable as any receiver in Big 12 history. He was a consensus All-American in 2009 when he caught 116 passes for 1,485 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns for an unbeaten Texas team that lost to Alabama in the national championship game. He is seventh all-time in receptions, eighth all-time in yards and seventh all-time in touchdown catches, barely trailing the aforementioned Williams for all of Texas' big three receiving records.
9. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State (2007-09)
Stats: 147 rec., 2,425 yds, 29 TDs, 574 ret. yds, 3 TDs
He may not have Blackmon’s numbers, but Bryant might be the most talented Pokes wideout of all-time. He was named a consensus All-American after 87 receptions, 1,480 yards and 21 total touchdowns as just a sophomore. Had he not been suspended for most of the 2009 season, his numbers would’ve rivaled anyone’s on this list. His overall physical ability was painfully obvious and it led to him being taken with the 24th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
10. Mark Clayton, Oklahoma (2001-04)
Stats: 220 rec., 3,236 yds, 31 TDs, 221 ret. yds, TD
Jason White's No. 1 target helped Oklahoma play in two national championship games. The Sooners had many elite wideouts but Clayton might have been the most dynamic (possibly, more so than Broyles even). His unstoppable junior season gets him onto this list alone: 83 rec., 1,425 yds, 15 TDs. He helped his team to three Big 12 championships, is sixth all-time in league history in yards and ninth all-time in touchdown catches.
Just missed the cut:
11. Kendall Wright, Baylor (2008-11)
Stats: 308 rec., 4,004 yds, 30 TDs, 425 rush, 2 TDs
There are just 15 receivers with 4,000 yards in their college careers and there are just 10 wideouts with at least 300 catches. There are just three such players with both (Ryan Broyles, Jordan White). Wright's offensive system certainly helped but he was as versatile, dependable and explosive as any player during this era.
12. Wes Welker, Texas Tech (2000-03)
Stats: 259 rec., 3,069 yds, 21 TDs, 562 rush, 2 TDs, 2,102 ret. yds, 8 TDs
Welker’s ranks 5,699 all-purpose yards rank seventh all-time in league history and trail only Ryan Broyles for No. 1 all-time among wide receivers. He is fifth all-time in receptions and sits just outside of the top 10 in terms of receiving yards. The do-everything prospect was excelling at versatility long before the all-purpose position was en vogue.
13. Jordy Nelson, Kansas State (2005-07)
Stats: 206 rec., 2,822 yds, 20 TDs, 267 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Nelson was a consensus All-American after catching 122 passes (No. 3 in Big 12 history) for 1,606 yards (No. 9 in Big 12 history) and 11 touchdowns in 2007 before leaving for the NFL. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and threw two touchdowns during that memorable season. He finished just outside the top 10 all-time in league history in receptions and yards.
14. Terrance Williams, Baylor (2009-12)
Stats: 202 rec., 3,334 yds, 27 TDs, 1,342 ret. yds
The consensus All-American posted one of the greatest single seasons in league history when he caught 97 passes for 1,832 yards (second in Big 12 history) and 12 scores in ’12 (with Nick Florence under center). Depending on if bowl stats are counted or not, Williams finished sixth all-time in yards and was just outside the top 10 in receptions and touchdowns.
15. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia (2010-12)
Stats: 210 rec., 3,218 yds, 41 TDs
Like Austin, only one of his seasons took place in the Big 12, but it was a monster year. He caught 114 passes (sixth-best in Big 12 history) for 1,622 yards (seventh-best) and 25 touchdowns (Big 12 record). In fact, no Big 12 receiver has ever topped Bailey in single-season scoring and his 150 points ranks sixth all-time behind only Ricky Williams, Collin Klein and Joseph Randle among position players. His career yards would be top 10 in the Big 12 had he played all three seasons there. His 41 TD receptions would be tied for third in Big 12 history.
Best of the rest:
16. Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2007-09): 219 rec., 3,240 yds, 31 TDs, 37 rush, TD, 651 ret. yds, TD
Two monster years before leaving early for the NFL. Seventh in yards and ninth in TD receptions.
17. Todd Blythe, Iowa State (2004-07): 176 rec., 3,096 yds, 31 TDs
Tied for ninth with 31 TD receptions and is 10th all-time in yards. Holds every major ISU record.
18. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (2009-12): 252 rec., 3,117 yds, 24 TDs
One year in SEC, but did most of his damage in the Big 12. Aggies' all-time leader in most categories.
19. Adarius Bowman, Oklahoma State (2003-06): 155 rec., 2,697 yds, 25 TDs
After two uneventful years at North Carolina, Bowman starred in Stillwater with two 1,000-yard seasons.
20. Danario Alexander, Missouri (2006-09): 191 rec., 2,778 yds, 22 TDs
Uninspiring career blossomed with monster 113-catch, 1,781-yard, 14-TD senior season.
21. Quan Cosby, Texas (2005-08): 212 rec., 2,598 yds, 19 TDs, 2,103 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Steady all-around performer for a team that went 45-7 in his four seasons (with a BCS title).
22. Quincy Morgan, Kansas State (1999-00): 106 rec., 2,173 yds, 23 TDs
Played only two years but topped 1,000 yards in both with 23 TDs in 24 games.
23. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M (2008-11): 233 rec., 3,092 yds, 34 TDs
One of the conference's all-time leaders in all three categories but never seemed to reach full potential.
24. Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma (2005-08): 202 rec., 2,861 yds, 19 TDs, 1,676 ret. yds, TD
Consistent playmaker as a receiver and return man on team that won three Big 12 titles.
25. Jarrett Hicks, Texas Tech (2003-06): 198 rec., 2,859 yds, 30 TDs
Was injured his senior year or else his numbers could have been among the league’s best.
John Swofford’s league was at a crossroads and it feels like the ACC made the right choice.
A Grant of Rights has been signed, the Louisville Cardinals — and mastermind athletic director Tom Jurich — are joining the ranks (and will be showcased on Labor Day night), Notre Dame has been officially added to the schedule for half the year and, of course, the ACC will enter the College Football Playoff Era as the home of the reigning national champions.
As the ACC 2014 football schedule is now finalized, fans can tell Swofford and his collection of excellent ADs have made it clear they value rivalries and TV ratings. New season-ending games could become permanent (like North Carolina-NC State) to go along with the already juicy list of in-state and cross-conference rivalries that dot the final weekend of action.
The biggest difference, and challenge, in 2014 and beyond for ACC fans will be seeing Notre Dame five times each year and how that impacts scheduling. It means an interesting 6-1-1 crossover slate and nationally televised games on Thursday (six games), Fridays (three) and even on Monday (one game). Below are some league superlatives and a team-by-team breakdown of the ’14 football season in the ACC.
Biggest Game in the Atlantic: Florida State at Louisville (Thurs., Oct. 30)
Biggest Game in the Coastal: North Carolina at Miami (Nov. 1)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown: Oklahoma State vs. Florida State (Aug. 30)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown II: Notre Dame at Florida State (Nov. 8)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown III: Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)
League’s Toughest Schedule: Miami
League’s Easiest Schedule: Duke
Boston College Eagles (7-6, 4-4)
A sneaky good non-conference slate highlights the Eagles' early season schedule. Games with USC and Colorado State — as well as conference foe Pitt — will all take place at Alumni Stadium in the first five weeks of the season before an open date. As the calendar begins to flip from October to November, Boston College’s schedule begins to toughen. The Eagles will play a six-game stretch that includes Clemson, at Wake Forest, at Virginia Tech, Louisville, at Florida State and Syracuse. There is a bye week between Louisville and Florida State, giving Steve Addazio two weeks to prepare for the defending champs.
Best Non-Conference Game: USC (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Pitt (Sept. 5), at Virginia Tech (Nov. 1)
Upset Opportunity: Louisville (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: Syracuse (Nov. 29)
Clemson Tigers (11-2, 7-1)
Clemson isn’t going to ease into life without Tajh Boyd very easily. The Tigers will visit Georgia and Florida State in the first four weeks of the season before North Carolina comes to town to end the month of September. Should Clemson survive that run, things don’t get any easier in October: NC State, Louisville, at Boston College, Syracuse. At least, three of those four will come at home in Death Valley before an open date prepares this team for the stretch run. November will feature conference road trips to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech before ending with two non-conference games against Georgia State and South Carolina. Clemson will play in the state of Georgia twice and face three teams from the Peach State by the season’s end. Challenging for an ACC title with this schedule seems unlikely.
Best Non-Conference Game: South Carolina (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: North Carolina (Sept. 27), at Georgia Tech (Nov. 15)
Upset Alert: at Georgia Tech (Nov. 15)
Must-Win: North Carolina (Sept. 27)
Florida State Seminoles (14-0, 8-0)
The Noles will begin their title defense in style with a neutral field game against Oklahoma State in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The crowd should be big and the game is one of the best non-conference tilts on tap for 2014. The Pokes highlight what will be a challenging opening month for the national champs. Aside from Okie State, Florida State also faces Clemson at home and must travel to Raleigh to face nemesis NC State within the first month. Notre Dame comes to town in mid-October to start the toughest stretch of games for the Noles that also involves road trips to Louisville and Miami as well as a home game with lowly Virginia. The season will end, as usual, against in-state rival Florida. Not facing Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt or Georgia Tech makes a manageable schedule even better.
Best Non-Conference Game: Colorado State (Aug. 30)
Crossover Games: Virginia (Nov. 8), at Miami (Nov. 15)
Upset Alert: Utah (Nov. 29)
Must-Win: Clemson (Sept. 20)
Louisville Cardinals (12-1, 7-1)
The ACC knows how to throw a welcoming party by sending Miami to Louisville on Labor Day night to kick things off in 2014. Not only is it the first-ever ACC game for the Cardinals but it’s a meeting between two of the better teams in the league. Should the Cards get past Miami, there is a good chance Bobby Petrino’s squad is undefeated as it heads to Death Valley to face Clemson in Week 7. The month of October will be tough with road games against Syracuse and Clemson and NC State and Florida State coming to town. In fact, the ACC schedule will be over by Nov. 8 with three weeks left in the slate. Over the final four weeks, Louisville will be off (Nov. 15), face Notre Dame on the road (Nov. 22) and Kentucky at home (Nov. 29) with the ACC title game set for Dec. 6. In all, the Cardinals will play on Thursday (Florida State), Friday (at Cuse), Saturdays and Monday (Miami).
Best Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame (Nov. 22)
Crossover Games: Miami (Sept. 1), at Virginia (Sept. 13)
Upset Alert: at Boston College (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: at Syracuse (Oct. 3)
NC State Wolfpack (3-9, 0-8)
The Wolfpack went 0-for-the-ACC and 0-for-the-state with eight losses in conference and four losses to teams in the state of North Carolina. Things should be better for the Pack in 2014 as an easy non-conference slate to start the year should provide four wins before facing Florida State and Clemson in back-to-back weeks. In the second half of the season, the schedule affords some chances for home wins against Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Dave Doeren will have to pull some upsets because the road slate in the second half is brutal: at Louisville (Oct. 18), at Syracuse (Nov. 1) and at North Carolina (No. 29).
Best Non-Conference Game: at South Florida (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Georgia Tech (Nov. 8), at North Carolina (No. 29)
Upset Opportunity: Georgia Tech (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: Wake Forest (Nov. 15)
Syracuse Orange (7-6, 4-4)
The Orange’s search of a third straight bowl game will come with a quality non-conference schedule that features Maryland at home, Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium and a bizarre road trip to Mount Pleasant to face Central Michigan. Cuse then gets the three best teams in its division — Florida State, Louisville and Clemson — over a four-week span between Oct. 3 and Oct. 25. At least, the Cardinals and Seminoles must come North to play in the Carrier Dome. Over the final month of the year, Cuse fans will be on the edge of their seat in an effort to get to the postseason. NC State and Duke at home are winnable games with tricky road trips to Pitt and Boston College to end the year. The Orange will get a bye week before the final two-game road trip to cap the season.
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame (Sept. 27, MetLife Stadium)
Crossover Games: Duke (Nov. 8), at Pitt (Nov. 22)
Upset Opportunity: Louisville (Oct. 3)
Must-Win: Maryland (Sept. 20)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-8, 2-6)
Wake Forest has a good shot at being 3-1 in Dave Clawson's first month on the job in Winston-Salem. Should Wake start out strong and win on the road at Utah State (easier said than done), this team could easily be unblemished heading to Louisville to start ACC play. That, however, is where things start to get ugly. Clawson gets back-to-back road trips to Louisville and Florida State before three straight home games with bowl teams Syracuse, Boston College and Clemson. The Deacons will have a tough time winning more than one of those five. The only comfort might come in the final three weeks, where the Deacs won't leave the state. Wake Forest finishes at NC State, Virginia Tech at home and at Duke. Bowl eligibility seems highly unlikely despite an easy non-conference slate.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Utah State (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Virginia Tech (Nov. 22), at Duke (Nov. 29)
Upset Opportunity: Virginia Tech (Nov. 22)
Must-Win: Syracuse (Oct. 18)
Duke Blue Devils (10-4, 6-3)
The defending division champs don’t have as tough a trip back to the title game as fellow division contenders Georgia Tech, Miami or North Carolina have. Duke gets two easier crossover games with Wake Forest and Syracuse and will host Virginia Tech and North Carolina late in the year (Weeks 12-13). The non-conference schedule should be four wins and the off weekends are well placed after five games and just before November. First half road trips to Miami and Georgia Tech — with a bye week in between — will likely decide if the Devils return to the ACC title game. Two sneaky road trips to start November to Pitt and Cuse could cause problems but both come after a bye weekend. There is a lot to like about this schedule for Duke but also plenty of speed bumps for a team that lost four games last season.
Best Non-Conference Game: Kansas (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: at Syracuse (Nov. 8), Wake Forest (Nov. 29)
Upset Alert: at Syracuse (Nov. 8)
Must-Win: North Carolina (Nov. 20)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-6, 5-3)
Visiting Tulane isn’t an easy game but it is a must-win if Tech expects to compete in the ACC. After what should be a 3-0 start for Paul Johnson, Yellow Jackets fans won’t have to wait long to figure out their standing in the ACC. Georgia Tech will play at Virginia Tech, host both Miami and Duke and visit North Carolina in four straight games. Survive that and Tech wins the division, if not, the second half could be a long uphill battle. Trips to Pitt, NC State and in-state rival Georgia as well as a visit from Clemson make the second half of the slate no easier than the already difficult first half. Virginia at home on Nov. 1 might be the only game in which Tech is a clear favorite after Week 2.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Georgia (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: at NC State (Nov. 8), Clemson (Nov. 15)
Upset Opportunity: Clemson (Nov. 15)
Must-Win: Duke (Oct. 11)
Miami Hurricanes (9-4, 5-3)
The Hurricanes' first month of the season won’t be easy and its crossover schedule is easily the toughest in the league. Miami will travel to Louisville and to Nebraska before facing Duke at home all in the month of September. In addition to critical Coastal Division games with Duke, at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home, Al Golden will face arguably the two best teams in the Atlantic: at Louisville to open the year and Florida State at home in mid-November. Mix in a tough non-conference game with Cincinnati on Oct. 11 and Miami has one of the toughest schedules in the league.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Nebraska (Sept. 20)
Crossover Games: at Louisville (Sept. 1), Florida St (Nov. 15)
Upset Alert: at Georgia Tech (Oct. 4)
Must-win: Duke (Sept. 27)
North Carolina Tar Heels (7-6, 4-4)
The Tar Heels' ACC destiny in 2014 will be determined away from home. Conference games at Clemson, Duke and Miami, and a non-conference tilt in South Bend against Notre Dame, are extremely daunting for a team with eyes on a conference championship. North Carolina will play two games at home between Week 3 and Week 11. Both Techs — Virginia and Georgia — will have to come to Chapel Hill during that span, however, in a small bit of fortune. The season finale will now feature in-state rival NC State in crossover play and that, too, will come at home at Kenan Memorial. If the Tar Heels can make it to the month of November in contention, they will have a shot at a conference crown as the final three games are winnable (Pitt, at Duke, NC State).
Best Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame (Oct. 11)
Crossover Games: at Clemson (Sept. 27), NC State (Nov. 29)
Upset Alert: Georgia Tech (Oct. 18)
Must-Win: Virginia Tech (Oct. 4)
Pitt Panthers (7-6, 3-5)
There are a lot of winnable games in the first month of the season for Paul Chryst. Four non-conference games are highlighted by a visit from Iowa in Week 4 as two road ACC games against Boston College and Virginia will be played as well before the off date in Week 7. The break comes at a good time as the Panthers will face Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke in three consecutive games at home. A second bye week then prepares the Panthers for a tough final three weeks of the season - at North Carolina, home against Syracuse and at former Big East rival Miami. This slate isn’t all that daunting with how it is laid out and with winnable crossovers. Could Pitt actually be in contention entering that final three weeks of the season?
Best Non-Conference Game: Iowa (Sept. 20)
Crossover Games: at Boston College (Sept. 5), Syracuse (Nov. 22)
Upset Opportunity: Virginia Tech (Oct. 16)
Defining Moment: Syracuse (Nov. 22)
Virginia Cavaliers (2-10, 0-8)
Mike London enters a critical season in Charlottesville and the schedule-makers are doing him no favors. The non-conference slate involves a season opener against a potential top 10 team in UCLA at home and a road trip to BYU in Week 4 that could involve a heavy dose of revenge from the Cougars. In between is an ACC opener against Bobby Petrino and Louisville. The Cavaliers will play two home ACC games (UL, Pitt) to begin, so a brutal road slate awaits in the second half of the season. Trips to Durham, Atlanta, Tallahassee and Blacksburg loom with nasty home games against division frontrunners North Carolina and Miami mixed in. One win after Week 6 might be considered a success.
Best Non-Conference Game: UCLA (Aug. 30)
Crossover Games: Louisville (Sept. 13), at Florida State (Nov. 8)
Upset Opportunity: Louisville (Sept. 13)
Must-Win: Pitt (Oct. 4)
Virginia Tech Hokies (8-5, 5-3)
The most noticeable aspect to the Hokies ’14 slate is the road trip to Ohio State in Week 2 before hosting upstart East Carolina in Week 3. A 1-2 start to the season could be devastating as Tech’s most difficult stretch of ACC play comes between Weeks 4-9. Virginia Tech gets the important battle with Georgia Tech at home before back-to-back divisional road trips to North Carolina and Pitt. The trip to Pittsburgh will happen on a Thursday night, the first of two consecutive Thursday night games when Miami comes to town the following week. Much like UNC, should Tech make it to November in contention, things are looking positive. The Hokies will finish with four winnable games and a bye in the final five weeks of the season. The Commonwealth Cup is one of many rivalry games that the ACC is attempting to feature on the season’s final weekend. From a crossover standpoint (BC and at Wake), Tech has the clear advantage over Miami and North Carolina in the scheduling department.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Ohio State (Sept. 6)
Crossover Games: Boston College (Nov. 1), at Wake Forest (Nov. 22)
Upset Opportunity: Miami (Oct. 23)
Must-Win: Georgia Tech (Sept. 20)
In a league with elite offensive systems and big-time pocket passers, the wide receivers from the Pac-12 have remarkable statistics, records and accomplishments. National titles and Biletnikoff Awards dot the list of the best of the BCS Era, but a guy who tried to challenge the NFL tops the list.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Mike Williams, USC (2002-03)
Stats: 176 rec., 2,579 yds, 30 TDs
Fans in Los Angeles may always wonder what could have been had Williams not pressed NFL Draft eligibility rules. In his two underclass seasons for USC, Williams was extraordinary. As a true freshman, the massive 6-foot-5, 240-pounder caught 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 14 TDs. He returned to top those numbers as a sophomore with 95 receptions (third in league history at the time), 1,314 yards and 16 scores in 2003 (still third in league history). He was a consensus All-American and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. Williams declared for the draft following his sophomore season, but was ultimately ruled ineligible and couldn't return to USC either. Although he was taken 10th overall in the 2005 draft, he ended up being of the biggest draft busts in recent history, especially given the talent and potential he showed in college.
2. Marqise Lee, USC (2011- 13)
Stats: 248 rec., 3,655 yds, 29 TDs, 146 rush, 1,351 ret. yds, 2 TDs
As just a sophomore, Lee won the Biletnikoff Award, was a consensus All-American, was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and broke multiple USC and Pac-12 receiving records. He is one of just two wideouts in BCS history to finish in the top four of the Heisman voting. Lee owns the single-game Pac-12 record with 345 yards against Arizona in 2012 and is third all-time with 16 catches in that game. His 118 catches and 1,721 yards were both Pac-12 records that stood for one year until Brandin Cooks showed up in 2013. He is fourth all-time in career receptions and yards in league history and ninth in TD catches.
3. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (2011-13)
Stats: 226 rec., 3,272 yds, 24 TDs, 340 rush, 2 TDs
Cooks set the Pac-12 single-season records for receptions and yards when he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and finished third all-time with 16 touchdown receptions in 2013. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver before leaving early for the NFL Draft. Cooks is arguably the best of a long list of elite do-everything Beaver wide receivers, finishing 10th in league history in receptions and eighth all-time in yards.
4. Dwayne Jarrett, USC (2004-06)
Stats: 216 rec., 3,138 yds, 41 TDs
A two-time consensus All-American, Jarrett was a touchdown machine. He scored 13, 16 and 12 receiving touchdowns respectively while helping USC earn trips to back-to-back BCS National Championship Games. His 2005 campaign was his best — 91 rec., 1,274 yds, 16 TDs — and he finished ninth in the Heisman voting as a junior in 2006 before turning pro. In the red zone, few players have ever been as dominant as his 41 career touchdown receptions are nine more than any other Pac-12 player. He’s 15th in league history in receptions and 14th all-time in yards.
5. Troy Walters, Stanford (1996-99)
Stats: 245 rec., 3,995 yds, 26 TDs
Walters had as complete a final season as any player on this list. He won Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American and won the Biletnikoff Award in 1999, the same year that Stanford won the league championship and played in the Rose Bowl. He is still the Pac-12's all-time leading receiver, as he is the only player to top 4,000 yards in league history. He’s tied with Lee for No. 4 all-time in receptions and he is 13th in league history with 26 touchdowns.
6. Reggie Williams, Washington (2001-03)
Stats: 238 rec., 3,536 yds, 22 TDs
Williams is sixth all-time in league history in receptions and fifth all-time in yards — all in just three years. He never had fewer than 973 yards in a season and never had fewer than 55 catches. He was excellent as a freshman before exploding as a sophomore for a school-record 94 catches and 1,454 yards in 2002. The massive 6-foot-4, 220-pound consensus All-American was the ninth overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and likely would have been the league’s all-time leading receiver had he played his fourth year.
7. Mike Hass, Oregon State (2003-05)
Stats: 220 rec., 3,924 yds, 20 TDs
He may not be the most talented wideout to play during this era but Hass is one of the best. He was the first Pac-10 receiver in history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and left school with the best single game in league history with 293 yards against Boise State in 2004. He won the Biletnikoff Award in 2005 as the nation’s best wide receiver. He is No. 3 all-time in yards and top 15 in receptions while only playing three seasons in college.
8. Robert Woods, USC (2010-12)
Stats: 251 rec., 2,924 yds, 32 TDs, 142 rush, 1,547 ret. yds, TDs
Before Lee set school and league records in 2012, Woods put his name atop the Pac-12 record books with a 111-catch season in '11. Woods finished third all-time in league history with 251 receptions — more than Lee posted in the same number of years (three). Woods was a consensus All-American and finished tied for second all-time with 32 touchdown receptions. Woods was the complete package as a wideout, return man and worked hard as a blocker as well. He was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
9. Derek Hagan, Arizona State (2002-05)
Stats: 258 rec., 3,939 yds, 27 TDs
The all-time leading receiver in school history, Hagan tied Hass as the first player in league history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He is still No. 2 in the league all-time in receptions and yards while ranking 12th all-time with 27 touchdown catches. Each of his four ASU teams were ranked and three of them went to bowl games. He was as consistent as it gets in a 50-game career.
10. James Rodgers, Oregon State (2007-11)
Stats: 222 rec., 2,578 yds, 19 TDs, 1,410 rush, 9 TDs, 2,385 ret. yds, 2 TDs
There are bigger names, both literally and figuratively, at the wideout position but few meant as much to their team and community than Rodgers to Oregon State. He finished top 15 in league history in receptions and posted big numbers receiving, but what made Rodgers a rare player was his versatility. He finished with 6,373 all-purpose yards after amassing 222 receptions, 173 rushing attempts and 107 kick and punt returns. One of two Rodgers (Jacquizz, a running back) to suit up for OSU around the same time, older sibling James could do everything for the Beavers.
Just missed the cut:
11. DeSean Jackson, Cal (2005-07)
Stats: 162 rec., 2,423 yds, 22 TDs, 199 rush, TDs, 671 ret. yds, 6 TDs
The electric playmaker could score from anywhere at anytime in any game. He was an explosive return man and huge vertical threat in the passing game. He was a consensus All-American in 2006 as a sophomore when he topped 1,000 yards receiving and returned four punts for touchdowns.
12. Michael Thomas, Arizona (2005-08)
Stats: 259 rec., 3,231 yds, 22 TDs, 395 rush, 3 TDs, 1,354 yds, 2 TDs
The Pac-12's all-time leading receiver didn’t play at USC or Oregon State. Instead he was a diminutive, but durable Wildcat. Thomas posted four straight seasons with at least 50 catches, was used in the ground game on trick plays and also was an excellent return man during his final two seasons. His junior season was his best as he caught 83 passes for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns.
13. Bobby Wade, Arizona (1999-02)
Stats: 230 rec., 3,351 yds, 23 TDs
Wade has more touchdowns and yards than fellow Wildcat Thomas but he didn’t catch as many passes or else he would be the school’s all-time top pass-catcher. Wade is seventh all-time in league history in both receptions and yards. His final season set a school record with 93 receptions and was a few yards shy of setting the single-season yards record as well with 1,389 in 2002.
14. Geoff McArthur, Cal (2000-04)
Stats: 202 rec., 3,188 yds, 20 TDs
McArthur didn’t have a consistent career in Berkley but posted one of the greatest seasons ever by anyone in league history. In 2003, McArthur set Cal records with 85 receptions and 1,504 yards and added 10 touchdown catches on a team that began a bowl run for the Bears that lasted seven seasons.
15. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (2009-12)
Stats: 227 rec., 2,994 yds, 16 TDs, 631 rush, 5 TDs
Hailing from a program that doesn't lack for production from the position, Wheaton is Oregon State's all-time leading receiver by a grand total of one catch over the aforementioned Cooks. Wheaton is top 20 in league history in yards as well as ninth all-time in catches. Wheaton was used like James Rodgers before him as a versatile threat who made plays all over the field. He had 83 carries on the ground for a 7.6 yards per carry average during his time in Corvallis.
Best of the rest:
16. Dennis Northcutt, Arizona (1996-99): 217 rec., 3,188 yds, 24 TDs, 382 rush, 2 TDs, 1,568 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Do-everything dynamo for the Cats before all-purpose was en vogue.
17. Keenan Allen, Cal (2010-12): 205 rec., 2,570 yds, 17 TDs, 230 rush, 2 TDs, 658 ret. yds, TD
Electric five-star athlete who caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards in 2011.
18. Jason Hill, Washington State (2003-06): 148 rec., 2,704 yds, 32 TDs
Tied for second all-time in Pac-12 history with 32 TD catches in just three years.
19. Steve Smith, USC (2003-06): 190 rec., 3,019 yds, 22 TDs
Dependable go-to target for a team that won a national title and played for another.
20. Sammie Stroughter, Oregon State (2004-08): 164 rec., 2,653 yds, 14 TDs, 1,612 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Explosive, big-play threat in passing game and on special teams. Two 1,000-yard seasons.
21. Freddie Mitchell, UCLA (1998-00): 110 rec., 1,955 yds, 9 TDs
Consensus All-American with huge 2000 season and one horrific leg injury.
22. Danny Farmer, UCLA (1996-99): 159 rec., 3,020 yds, 19 TDs
Huge junior season (1,274 yards, 9 TDs) highlighted solid career as UCLA's leading receiver.
23. James Newson, Oregon State (2000-03): 213 rec., 3,572 yds, 20 TDs
Extremely productive career ranks sixth in league history in yards and top 20 in receptions.
24. Kareem Kelly, USC (1999-02): 201 rec., 3,071 yds, 15 TDs
Model of consistency as he recorded at least one catch in a then school-record 48 straight games.
25. Juron Criner, Arizona (2008-11): 209 rec., 2,859 yds, 32 TDs
Pass-happy offense led to Criner finishing No. 2 in league history in TDs.
Each year, Athlon Sports takes a look back at one recruiting class to figure out what happened to the best and brightest prospects in the nation.
The 2008 class was as heralded as any in modern era of recruiting rankings and was highlighted by a number of potential first round picks. The wide receiver class in particular was incredibly talented with names like Julio Jones and A.J. Green ranked in the top 10 coming out of high school.
Jones and Green weren’t the only All-Americans ranked in the top 40 as high school players though. Seven years later, here is a look at the top 40 players in the 2008 recruiting cycle as ranked by Athlon Sports, what they accomplished in college and what they are doing now.
1. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Jeannette (Pa.) High
A two-sport state champion, Pryor took to the limelight, extending his decision to sign well beyond National Signing Day. Six weeks later, the star quarterback inked with Ohio State over Oregon, Penn State and Michigan. By the fourth game of his career, Pryor was the starting quarterback, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors en route to the first of three straight Big Ten championships. However, following his junior season, his career in Columbus came to an end when an NCAA investigation discovered improper benefits and activities. He was the centerpiece of the scandal that led to the firing of coach Jim Tressel and the suspension of other key players. On June 7, 2011, Pryor withdrew from Ohio State with a 31–4 record as the starter. He was taken by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2011 Supplemental Draft.
2. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Foley (Ala.) High
One of the most coveted prospects in recent memory, Jones signed with Alabama over Florida, Oklahoma and Florida State. He caught a touchdown in four of his first five college games, quickly showing a truly rare blend of size and speed. The wideout helped lead Bama back to a national title as a sophomore and a 10–3 record as a junior. Jones finished second in school history in receptions (179) and yards (2,653) and fourth in touchdowns (15) despite playing just three years in a run-first offense. The Atlanta Falcons traded most of their draft to move up and select the star wideout with the sixth overall pick in 2011.
3. Darrell Scott, RB, Colorado
Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure
Born in Tallahassee, Fla., Scott grew up in Texas and California, where he developed into one of the best running back prospects in the nation. He rushed for nearly 6,000 yards and 79 touchdowns in his final two prep seasons at two different California high schools. He picked Colorado over Texas, Florida and LSU. After two undistinguished seasons in Boulder, he transferred to South Florida. He posted career highs in 2011 for the Bulls, rushing for 814 yards and five touchdowns. After three unremarkable seasons at two schools, Scott left early for the NFL and went undrafted in 2012.
4. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bamberg (S.C.) Bamberg-Ehrhardt
A freak athlete, Bowers excelled at defensive end, running back and kick returner his final season in high school. At Clemson, he contributed immediately as a freshman and continued to develop as a sophomore, posting 18.5 tackles for a loss in his first two seasons. As a junior, he led the nation in tackles for a loss (26.0) and sacks (15.5), earning consensus All-America honors. He took home the Nagurski, Ted Hendricks and ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards and departed early for the NFL. Major knee issues caused his NFL stock to drop, resulting in Tampa Bay selecting Bowers with the 51st overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
5. Will Hill, S, Florida
West Orange (N.J.) St. Peter’s
Hill did everything for St. Peter’s, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He picked Florida and went on to become an SEC All-Freshman in 2008 after recording 48 tackles and two INTs en route to the BCS National Championship. Hill never developed into a star, however, and finished with 144 career tackles and four career picks. He declared early for the NFL but went undrafted. In May 2012, he signed with the New York Giants and played in 12 games as a rookie.
6. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Summerville (S.C.) High
Forever linked with Julio Jones, Green signed with Georgia after a high-profile and extremely productive high school career. Like Jones, Green brought rare size, length, big-play ability and speed to the college game the second he stepped onto campus. And like Jones, he caught a touchdown in his first college game. He never posted a 1,000-yard season, but Green led the SEC in receiving yards (963) and touchdowns (eight) as a freshman. He finished his career with 166 receptions, 2,619 yards and 23 scores before leaving early for the NFL. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and has had one of the best statistical starts of any wide receiver in NFL history.
7. Arthur Brown, LB, Miami
Wichita (Kan.) East
After a long and high-profile recruitment, Brown signed with Miami over powerhouses like LSU and Florida. After struggling his first two seasons in Coral Gables, he transferred back home to Kansas State. Once back in the Sunflower State, Brown flourished, earning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2011 after recording 101 tackles. He returned for his senior season and helped lead the Wildcats to a Big 12 title and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors after another 100-tackle season. The Cats went 21–5 during his tenure.
8. Jermie Calhoun, RB, Oklahoma
Van (Texas) High
Garnering unwarranted comparisons to Adrian Peterson, the Lone Star State runner went North to Oklahoma and never realized his potential. He rushed for just 242 yards and one touchdown before transferring to Angelo (Texas) State in 2011. He rushed for 341 yards and two touchdowns in 2012 for the Rams.
9. Patrick Johnson, CB, LSU
Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely
The highly coveted prospect changed his name from Johnson to Peterson in August 2008 prior to playing a down for LSU. He played in all 13 games as a freshman, starting the final four games. His elite athletic ability was obvious, not only on defense but also on special teams. The accolades piled up as Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards as the nation’s top defensive back and top defensive player. He was a consensus All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and also racked up 1,350 yards and two touchdowns as a return man. He left LSU early and was the fifth overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
10. R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma
Fort Worth (Texas) Keller Fossil Ridge
Washington never lived up to the hype of being ranked the No. 2 defensive end in the nation. He played in 40 career games but started just six in his career, all during his senior season in 2012. His tenure in Norman ended with 57 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 7.0 sacks and one forced fumble.
11. Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
Miami (Fla.) Northwestern
The star prep nose tackle was the most high-profile member of the 2007 Miami Northwestern state championship team that sent seven prospects to Miami and Lavonte David (eventually) to Nebraska. Forston played in 12 games as a freshman and earned Freshman All-America honors. After a promising first season, Forston missed all but three games as a sophomore due to injury. Returning in 2010, the big nose guard started 12 games and posted 37 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss. However, a knee injury ended his 2011 season after just three games. His collegiate career ended when he declared early for the NFL Draft. He went unselected, but made the New England Patriots practice squad in 2012.
12. Michael Brewster, OL, Ohio State
Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater
The 6'5", 305-pound pivot is one of the greatest centers to play at Ohio State. He entered the starting lineup in the fourth game of his college career as a freshman and never let go. His 49 consecutive starts comprised the second-longest streak in school history. He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2008 and was a Rimington Trophy finalist in 2010. The star center played in 51 games and was a part of three Big Ten championships. He went undrafted in 2012 but started seven games for the Jaguars as a rookie.
13. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall
Hailing from one of the most talent-rich high schools in the Midwest, Floyd burst onto the scene at Notre Dame as a freshman by playing in 11 games and setting school freshman records for receptions (48), yards (719) and touchdowns (7). He dealt with minor injuries and off-the-field issues throughout his career in South Bend, but he rewrote the Irish receiving record book. He set school marks for receptions (271), yards (3,689), touchdowns (37) and 100-yard efforts (16) to go with the single-season record for catches (100) in 2011. He was the 13th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
14. Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla
Bradham never became the superstar the experts imagined, but he was a dependable three-year starter for the Seminoles. He became the first Noles defender to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive years since Marvin Jones did it in the early ’90s. His career culminated by being named All-ACC honorable mention in 2011. Bradham was selected 105th overall in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He started 11 games and posted 57 tackles as a rookie last season.
15. Blake Ayles, TE, USC
Orange (Calif.) Lutheran
Ayles played for three seasons at USC, catching just 14 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. He transferred to Miami and was set to contribute in 2011 before a preseason concussion ended his college career. He never played another down and went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft.
16. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Aliquippa (Pa.) High
Another big-bodied receiver in the ’08 receiver class, Baldwin made a quick impact. As a sophomore, he had 57 receptions for 1,111 yards as the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2004. He was first-team All-Big East and received some All-America recognition. He finished his three-year career with 128 catches, 2,337 yards and 16 touchdowns before leaving early for the NFL Draft. He was a first-round pick by the Chiefs in 2011 but has yet to deliver in the professional ranks.
17. DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss
Ocean Springs (Miss.) High
Fans in Hattiesburg wonder what could have been with Brown. He dominated Conference USA as a freshman, setting a school record with 67 receptions. Yet, his first season ended when he suffered a gruesome broken leg in the bowl game. From there, Brown was never the same player. He is second in Southern Miss history with 24 TD catches, third with 2,207 yards and fifth with 134 catches. He went undrafted, and his NFL career consists of a 15-day stint with the Eagles.
18. Matt Kalil, OL, USC
Corona (Calif.) Servite
Kalil was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, started all 16 games in front of Adrian Peterson and earned a Pro Bowl invite as a Minnesota Vikings rookie. With a father, Frank, and brother, Ryan, excelling as not only college stars but also NFL performers, the youngest Kalil was well prepared for life at USC. He started for two full seasons protecting Matt Barkley’s blind side without allowing a sack in 2011.
19. Richard Samuel, RB, Georgia
Cartersville (Ga.) Cass
Samuel never settled into one position while in Athens during his injury-plagued career. He played running back in his first two seasons, rushing for 528 yards before redshirting in 2010 to facilitate a move to linebacker. However, he moved back to running back for his final two seasons, rushing for just 305 yards in 2011 and ’12.
20. Dayne Crist, QB, Notre Dame
Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame
Injuries played a role in Crist being labeled a bust, but he had his chances and failed to come close to his lofty recruiting status. He played in just 17 games for Notre Dame in three years (2,327 yards, 16 TDs, eight INTs) before transferring to Kansas to reunite with Charlie Weis. As a Jayhawk, he had yet another shot at being the star but managed to throw just four touchdowns with nine interceptions in 2012.
21. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside
On one hand, Manuel dealt with injuries and inconsistency throughout his career and was never a first-team All-ACC quarterback. On the other, he is third all-time at Florida State with 25 wins in 31 starts; he led the Noles back to an ACC championship; he completed a school-record 66.9-percent of his passes; and he became the second quarterback in NCAA history to win four consecutive bowl games. He finished third all-time in school history for passing yards (7,736), third in total offense (8,563), fourth in completions (600) and seventh in TDs passes (47). Manuel was selected by Buffalo with the No. 16 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
22. B.J. Scott, ATH, Alabama
Prichard (Ala.) Vigor
Scott projected as an “athlete” because of his potential at both defensive back and wide receiver. It turns out that he wasn’t good enough at either to stick at Alabama. He transferred to South Alabama and finished third on the team with 84 tackles in 2012.
23. Tyler Love, OL, Alabama
Mountain Brook (Ala.) High
Nick Saban rarely misses on 5-star talent, but Love will end his Tide career as an afterthought on some of the most talented teams in program history. He played a total of 14 games in his four-year career and decided to step away from football after the 2011 season with one year of eligibility remaining.
24. DeAngelo Tyson, DT, Georgia
Statesboro (Ga.) High
The big in-state lineman was never a star in Athens but was a consistent, dependable member of the defense for four years and helped return the Bulldogs defense to prominence in 2010. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team by the coaches in 2008 and played in 13 games in 2009 before entering the starting lineup as a junior. He started 23 games over his final two years, posting 56 tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss. Tyson was drafted by the Ravens in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, playing in 10 games for the Super Bowl champs.
25. Mike Adams, OL, Ohio State
Dublin (Ohio) Coffman
Adams was an integral part of the highly touted 2008 Ohio State offensive line class. Playing for three Big Ten title teams, he started five games his first two seasons and earned all-conference honors in his final two seasons. Like teammate Terrelle Pryor, Adams was named in the tattoo scandal that brought NCAA sanctions to Ohio State. The Steelers made him a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
26. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder
Rudolph became the first Notre Dame tight end to start every game of his freshman season before injuries limited his sophomore and junior seasons. His final three-year stat line of 90 receptions, 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns seems underwhelming, but he showed enough to be a second-round draft pick of the Vikings after three seasons. He has established himself as one of the most dynamic players at his position in the NFL.
27. Tyron Smith, OL, USC
Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde
Smith and Matt Kalil gave USC two first-round picks in one offensive line class. Smith appeared in 10 games as a freshman and started 12 as a sophomore, earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention in the process. As a starting right tackle in 2010, Smith earned the Morris Trophy as the league’s top offensive lineman before leaving early for the NFL. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Cowboys, and he has started 31 games since.
28. T.J. Bryant, DB, USC
Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln
The cross-country trip from Florida to Los Angeles didn’t work as Bryant had planned. After a suspension in his final year at USC, Bryant transferred to Troy, where he played 10 games and picked up 22 tackles in 2012.
29. Stephen Good, OL, Oklahoma
Paris (Texas) High
Expectations were high for Good after he was a part-time starter as a sophomore, but he never locked down a starting spot as an upperclassman. He was arrested in a nightclub altercation near the end of his college career and went undrafted in 2012.
30. Aldarius Johnson, WR, Miami
Miami (Fla.) Northwestern
The second-highest rated Hurricanes recruit from Miami Northwestern, Johnson made a quick impact with the Canes, leading the team with 31 receptions, 332 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. His numbers dropped from there, and he was eventually suspended as a senior for his connection to the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
31. Matt Patchan, OL, Florida
Tampa (Fla.) Armwood
After a dramatic recruitment, Patchan had an injury-plagued career at Florida. He started his career as a defensive lineman and missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 with injuries. He returned as an offensive tackle in 2011 and missed all of 2012 due to injury. Patchan transferred to Boston College, where he’s expected to start in 2013.
32. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Ballwin (Mo.) Parkway West
A one-time Nebraska commit, Gabbert ended up as a backup to Chase Daniel at Missouri as a freshman. Becoming the starter in 2009, he threw for 6,779 yards and 40 touchdowns over the next two seasons while leading Mizzou to an 18–8 record. His marquee win over Oklahoma in 2010 was the first for the Tigers over OU since 1998 and just the second since 1983. He was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 10th overall pick in 2011 and set a franchise rookie record with 14 starts.
33. Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State
North Miami Beach (Fla.) Dr. Krop
It took a long time for Sabino to earn his starting spot, but as a senior in 2012 he was named a team co-captain and starting linebacker. Sabino finished with 119 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. He was a member of two Big Ten championship teams and was a leader on the undefeated 2012 squad.
34. D.J. Shoemate, WR, USC
Corona (Calif.) Servite
A fullback and wide receiver at USC, Shoemate played in 21 games but never had a defined role. Shoemate eventually transferred to UConn, where he played in 15 games in two years before shoulder injuries ended his career.
35. Lucas Nix, OL, Pittsburgh
Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson
The massive offensive lineman started as a sophomore, paving the way for Dion Lewis’ 1,799-yard season in 2009. Nix started 12 games as a junior and played eight games as a senior before going undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft. However, Nix earned a spot on the Oakland Raiders roster and played in one game as a rookie last season.
36. Ethan Johnson, DL, Notre Dame
Portland (Ore.) Lincoln
The cross-country recruit was never a star in South Bend but played a lot of football. He played in every game during his first three seasons with the Irish, starting 24 of 25 games in 2009-10. Johnson finished his Notre Dame career with 97 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and one blocked kick. He went undrafted in 2012 but landed on the practice squad with the Kansas City Chiefs.
37. Baker Steinkuhler, OL, Nebraska
Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest
Steinkuhler came to Lincoln with high expectations as the son of legendary Nebraska Hall of Famer Dean Steinkuhler. After a redshirt season in 2008, the younger Steinkuhler made a name for himself in a big way. He finished his career with 150 total tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and eight sacks to go with three division titles. He was a Big 12 All-Freshman selection in 2009 and second-team All-Big Ten in 2012.
38. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Manassas (Va.) Stonewall Jackson
An unexpected starter as a redshirt freshman, Williams replaced the injured Darren Evans for a record-breaking season. Williams set a single-season school and ACC freshman record with 1,655 yards in addition to an ACC-record 22 touchdowns. He capped his first season as the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, a first-team All-ACC selection and the Chick-fil-A Bowl MVP. After an injury-shortened sophomore season, Williams left school early and was drafted in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals with the 38th overall pick. The explosive tailback has missed 27 of his first 32 professional games due to injury.
39. DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State
Cincinnati (Ohio) LaSalle
A high-profile member of the heralded ’08 Buckeyes signing class, Posey played in all 12 games as a freshman before posting big numbers as a sophomore (60 receptions, 828 yards, eight TDs) and junior (53 receptions, 848 yards, seven TDs) alongside his star quarterback, Terrelle Pryor. Yet, much like Pryor, Adams and Dan Herron, Posey was implicated in the tattoo scandal that resulted in Jim Tressel’s ouster in Columbus. He played three games as a senior and was drafted in the third round by the Houston Texans in the 2012 NFL Draft.
40. Dan Buckner, WR, Texas
Allen (Texas) High
A dominant physical specimen at 6'4" and 220 pounds, Buckner showed loads of promise, playing in all 12 games as a true freshman. He then started eight games as a sophomore, catching 45 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns on an undefeated regular-season Big 12 title team that lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game. Following an arrest in College Station, Buckner transferred to Arizona, where he sat out the 2010 season. In two seasons in the desert, Buckner caught 103 passes for 1,379 yards and seven scores.
The phrase “SEC Speed” instantly conjures images of glory, victory and pride for one region in the country and thoughts of depression, agony and exasperation for every other part of the nation. But after claiming seven consecutive national championships in a row, the SEC had the right to boast that it had the best programs, players and coaches.
Yes, SEC fan bases, power boosters and administrations are more dedicated to winning — from top (Alabama) to bottom (Kentucky) — than any other conference in America. Which also means they’ll do whatever it takes to win, at times, pushing more envelopes than anywhere else in the country. Simply put, the Southeast cares more about college football than any other region of the country.
But another conference, the Pac-12, has pulled even with the SEC for the time being as elite coaching hires and a renewed financial commitment to success have totally changed the competitive balance out West. And who knows, maybe in five years on the backs of James Franklin and Urban Meyer, the Big Ten will join the fray as the nation’s best league as well.
Even now, after Florida State ended the SEC's run of national supremacy and the Pac-12 officially caught up, why is it that the SEC will continue to surge on as the nation’s premier league?
One word: Geography.
Using the last five recruiting cycles — 2010 through 2014 — and with some help from the good people at 247Sports, it is very easy to accurately project the geographic distribution of high school talent in this country.
When the College Football Playoff Era begins this fall, it will be clear where all of the best players came from. I looked at the 1,000 best players who have (or will) entered college football between 2010-14 — or the Top 200 players as ranked by the 247 composite rank over each of the last five signing classes — to determine where are the nation’s best prospects come from.
Here is what I learned…
Note: Of the 1,000 players used, 162 of them were considered “five-star” recruits in the composite rankings.
The Big Three Still Dominate… Duh.
This isn’t news. California, Texas and Florida have been and will always be the most fertile recruiting states in the country. Of the 1,000 players studied, 404 of them hail from one of these three states. Of the 162 five-star signees during the span, 71 come from either The Sunshine, Lone Star or Golden States. So a staggering 40.4 percent of Top-200 talents come from these three states and 43.8 percent of five-star recruits come from The Big Three. The SEC can claim both Texas and Florida as “footprint” states and is this is why many are so bullish on Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M as a sleeping giant. Florida tops all states with 156 top-200 prospects and 31 five-star talents over the last five cycles. Texas is second in both categories with 132 and 24 respectively.
Georgia is closing the gap
If fans want to point to one state in particular that has helped keep the SEC stocked with elite players, it is the Peach State. Georgia has delivered no less than 13 top-200 prospects and at least two five-stars in each of the last five classes. In all, Georgia ranks fourth in the nation with 78 top-200 players over the last five — well ahead of Ohio, which ranks fifth with 47 signees. The 13 five-star prospects to come from The Peach State are just three behind the state of California (16) despite having a significantly smaller population base. California is the biggest state in the nation with an estimated 2013 population of over 38 million people while Georgia is ninth with an estimated ’13 population of just less than 10 million. Of those 78 top-200 players, 58 of them have (or will) signed with the SEC with two still left undecided from the ’14 class. Of the 13 five-stars from Georgia over the last five years, 11 of them have inked with an SEC school.
SEC footprint overachieves
The State of Alabama is ranked 23rd nationally in projected 2013 population. Louisiana is projected to be 25th. Yet, Alabama is sixth nationally in terms of producing elite football prospects with 39 top-200 recruits over the last five years and Louisiana is seventh with 37 such recruits. Each boasts the highest percetnage of five-star talent as well with 20 combined (10 each) five-stars out of those states over the last five years. Additionally, South Carolina is ranked 24th in population and Mississippi is 31st — behind Puerto Rico. But both of those states overachieve as well, ranking 14th and 15th with 24 and 22 signees respectively over the last five years. The SEC footprint boasts five of the top seven states for talent but only three of the top 16 states in terms of population. Would you like to know why Virginia and North Carolina are atop the Mike Slive’s wish list of states in which to expand? Because those two territories rank eighth and ninth respectively in producing talent AND are two of the 12 biggest states in the nation in terms of population. Let me be the first to welcome Virginia Tech and NC State to the SEC family.
The Big Ten has upside
There is no secret about the major population decline in the state of Pennsylvania over the last few decades and how that has hurt Midwest football as a whole. As jobs have left the state, so too has the elite football talent. Having said that, the one league in America that has the natural recruiting base to potentially press the SEC is the Big Ten. Jim Delany's league already makes the most money of any league in America based mostly on huge populations and cities. But while the Big 12 depends too much on the state of Texas for everything, the Big Ten, post expansion, can now claim six of the top 16 states in talent production. Ohio is fifth nationally with 47 top-200 recruits over the last five cycles while The Keystone State (30, 10th), Illinois (26, 11th), New Jersey (25, 12th), Michigan (24, 13th) and Maryland (21, 16th) each feed a Big Ten school. There is a reason Delany went after the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights and why he would be interested heavily in schools like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech or Miami for expansion. Which brings us to...
The battle for Virginia and North Carolina
As previously stated, both the SEC and Big Ten are looking hard at both North Carolina and Virginia for expansion for a reason. Not only are they two unique markets for both leagues as neither has a school in either state, but both are two of the more talent-rich areas in the nation. Virginia is eighth nationally with 36 top-200 signees over the last five years and The Tar Heel State is ninth with 32. The two states have combined to produce 13 five-star prospects and both states boast powerful athletic institutions: North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State and Duke are all very attractive options for expansion. This is why John Swofford and the rest of the ACC are grasping tightly to its Grant of Rights agreement because they realize how valuable this real estate could be in the future landscape of college football.
How has the Pac-12 done it?
Certainly, having a foundation like the state of California to work with helps, but the Pac-12 has made a rise to the top of the college football landscape without the help of a natural recruiting base. Just look at where the league has found its star quarterbacks. States like Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Washington and Oregon have some quality players but no other state in the Pac-12 footprint ranks inside the top 15 in terms of talent production. Arizona (16th) has developed 21 top-200 recruits and three five-stars over the last five years. Washington produced 10 (22nd), Colorado seven (24th), Oregon seven (24th) and Utah just six (28th). Can the Pac-12 sustain its current high level of success without a deep and rich recruiting base from which to cull talent?
No. 1 in the nation
Leonard Fournette is a running back from New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine and he is the No. 1 player in the nation for the class of 2014. He is scheduled to sign with the LSU Tigers in a few weeks on National Signing Day. He is the fifth consecutive No. 1 overall-rated player in the nation to sign with an SEC school. What is more impressive, however, is that all five hail from a different state and all five signed with a different SEC school. Robert Nkemdiche was the top player in the 2013 class and he hails from Georgia and signed with Ole Miss. Missouri landed Dorial Green-Beckham in the 2012 signing class and he came to the SEC from Springfield, Mo. Jadeveon Clowney, from Rock Hill, S.C., signed with the Gamecocks as the unanimous No. 1 overall-rated prospect in 2011. That means each of the last four No. 1 players hail from a different state — each of which is within the SEC’s mighty footprint. Ronald Powell hails from California and signed with Florida as the No. 1 guy in the ’10 class.
The top 1,000 recruits in the nation over the last five seasons have come from 40 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska, both Dakotas, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia and Maine are the only state that didn’t produce a single top-200 recruit over the last five years. Not surprisingly, all 10 of those states are ranked 38th or worse in terms of overall population. Nebraska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho and New Mexico each produced just one elite prospect over the last five cycles.
Below is a chart of the last five recruiting classes and where the top-200 recruits in each class came from (five-star athletes are in parentheses).
|1.||Florida||30 (4)||36 (10)||32 (5)||28 (7)||30 (5)||156 (31)|
|2.||Texas||28 (5)||27 (4)||27 (5)||28 (5)||22 (5)||132 (24)|
|3.||California||26 (4)||21 (2)||23 (4)||23 (3)||23 (3)||116 (16)|
|4.||Georgia||18 (3)||13 (2)||15 (2)||17 (4)||15 (2)||78 (13)|
|5.||Ohio||8 (1)||10 (2)||12 (1)||10||7||47 (4)|
|6.||Alabama||8 (1)||6||10 (3)||8 (2)||7 (4)||39 (10)|
|7.||Louisiana||5 (1)||10 (3)||3 (1)||7||12 (5)||37 (10)|
|8.||Virginia||8||6 (1)||6||9 (3)||7 (3)||36 (7)|
|9.||N. Carolina||3 (2)||6||8 (3)||6||9||32 (6)|
|10.||Pennsylvania||7 (1)||5||7 (2)||8 (1)||3||26 (4)|
|11.||Illinois||4 (1)||5||3||7 (1)||7 (1)||26 (3)|
|12.||New Jersey||1||8 (1)||4 (1)||7||5 (1)||25 (2)|
|13t.||Michigan||5 (1)||5||5||5||4 (1)||24 (2)|
|13t.||S. Carolina||9 (1)||5 (1)||2||3||5||24 (2)|
|15.||Mississippi||5||6||4 (1)||4 (2)||3||22 (3)|
|16t.||Arizona||2||5 (1)||4 (1)||3||7 (1)||21 (3)|
|16t.||Maryland||1||6 (1)||7 (2)||5 (2)||2 (1)||21 (5)|
|18t.||Tennessee||2||2||2||4 (1)||4||14 (1)|
|20.||Indiana||3||2||3 (1)||3 (1)||2||13 (2)|
|21.||Missouri||3||0||5 (1)||1||3||12 (1)|
|22.||Washington||3||2||3||1 (1)||1||10 (1)|
|24t.||Oregon||3 (1)||2||1 (1)||1 (1)||0||7 (3)|
|27t.||New York||1 (1)||1 (1)||2||0||2||6 (2)|
|30.||D.C.||1||0||1 (1)||1||1 (1)||4 (2)|
|31t.||Minnesota||1 (1)||0||0||0||2||3 (1)|
|31t.||Nevada||1 (1)||1||1||0||0||3 (1)|
|37t.||New Mexico||0||1||0||0||0||1 (0)|
The SEC has had some elite true wide receivers, in particular, three of the top six from the 2008 signing class. But the best pass-catcher of the bunch from the nation's toughest league is probably a guy who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards rather than the league's lone Biletnikoff winner.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Percy Harvin, Florida (2006-08)
Stats: 133 rec., 1,929 yds, 13 TDs, 1,852 rush, 19 TDs
If Peter Warrick invented the all-purpose position in the late '90s, Harvin glorified it in the mid-2000s. A true dual-threat offensive talent, Harvin burst onto the scene as the SEC Freshman of the Year. He played a key role in the Gators' 2006 BCS National Championship run, totaling 82 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against Ohio State. He capped his college career with 14 touches for 171 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma. Few have combined speed, strength, production and winning like Harvin did. He nearly topped 2,000 yards both rushing and receiving, and, if not for nagging injuries his entire career, the Virginia Beach prospect might have been more decorated nationally.
2. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (2010-2013)
Stats: 262 rec., 3,759 yards, 24 TDs
No player in the history of the SEC has had a more productive career or single season than Matthews. Matthews has caught more passes (262) for more yards (3,759) than anyone in SEC history and it’s not really even close. Earl Bennett is No. 2 in receptions (236) and Terrence Edwards is No. 2 in yards (3,093). No player in the SEC has ever caught 100 passes and Matthews posted 112 receptions as a senior with mediocre quarterback play. His 1,477-yard season is third in league history trailing only Josh Reed (1,740) and Alshon Jeffery (1,517). He helped the Dores to three straight bowl games and was the singular focus of every defense he faced yet still managed to destroy every major SEC receiving record.
3. A.J. Green, Georgia (2008-10)
Stats: 166 rec., 2,619 yds, 23 TDs, 105 rush
Based on raw talent alone, Green is the one of the greatest receivers to play the game. In a league not known for big passing numbers, Green led the SEC in yards and touchdowns as a true freshman. His rare blend of size, speed, vertical ability and red zone ball skills makes him one of the game’s most uncoverable targets. One of the best three-year starts to an NFL career (260 rec., 3,833 yards, 29 TD) justifies his No. 4 overall draft status in 2011, his lofty recruiting ranking in 2008 and his place among the SEC’s best.
4. Josh Reed, LSU (1999-2001)
Stats: 167 rec., 3,001 yds, 17 TDs, 63 rush, TD
The numbers weren’t huge for Reed, but he was the nation’s best in 2001. He was a consensus All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner after catching 94 passes — seven for touchdowns, good for third all-time — for an SEC single-season record 1,740 yards. He is one of the SEC’s greatest wide receivers and is the conference’s only Biletnikoff winner. His 1,860 all-purpose yards in ’01 is one of just five in the top 20 all-time in SEC history posted by a wide receiver (the other 15 were posted by running backs). His 3,001 career yards are fourth all-time in the SEC record books and his 293 yards against Bama on 19 catches were both single-game SEC benchmarks (Cobi Hamilton broke the yards mark in 2012).
5. Julio Jones, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 179 rec., 2,653 yds, 15 TDs, 139 rush, 2 TDs
From a talent standpoint, there may not be a more gifted name on this list than the superstar from Alabama. The school’s most talented pass-catcher helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship in 2009 and played on three teams that went 36-5 overall. Despite playing in a run-heavy offense, he is 16th all-time in yards and 20th all-time in receptions in league history — a tribute to his big-play ability. His 78 receptions and 1,133 yards as a junior are both Alabama single-season records and it led to the Falcons mortgaging their entire 2011 draft to select him with the sixth overall pick.
6. Randall Cobb, Kentucky (2008-10)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,661 yds, 1,313 rush, 22 TDs, 689 pass, 5 TDs, 1,700 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Was he a true wide receiver at Kentucky like he has been for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? Maybe not, but he played wideout more than any other position and is one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers to ever suit up. His 2,396 all-purpose yards in 2010 are an SEC single-season record and is the only such campaign posted by a wide receiver in the top 12 (the rest are by running backs). He scored 22 rushing touchdowns, threw for 542 of his 689 passing yards as a true freshman while getting plenty of snaps under center and posted an 84-catch, 1,017-yard, 7-TD receiving season as a junior. He also scored on two punt returns in his career. There is nothing this guy couldn’t do on an SEC field.
7. Terrence Edwards, Georgia (1999-2002)
Stats: 204 rec., 3,093 yds, 30 TDs, 285 ret. yds
When he graduated from UGA, Edwards was the SEC’s all-time leading receiver in yards and was No. 2 in receptions. Both records have since been broken but Edwards’ legacy is unchanged as one the league’s best pass-catchers. He is still No. 2 in yards and is No. 5 in receptions. He is one of just two players with 30 touchdown catches in league history, trailing Chris Doering’s SEC mark by one score. As a senior in 2002, he posted career highs with 59 receptions, 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns while leading the Bulldogs to their first SEC Championship Game appearance and its first subsequent championship since 1982.
8. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (2009-11)
Stats: 183 rec., 3,042 yards, 23 TDs
One has to wonder, if Jeffery had been playing for an NFL contract like he did in the NFL in 2013, what his college numbers could have been? His 3,042 yards receiving are No. 3 all-time and he is one of just two players in league history (Reed) to top 1,500 yards in a single season. He was consistently a scoring threat throughout his career but his junior season (49 rec., 762 yards, 8 TDs) was extremely disappointing after his monster sophomore campaign (88 rec., 1,517 yards, 9 TDs). He was a huge part of the rise of South Carolina football and helped lead his team to its first ever SEC Championship Game berth in 2010, but fans are likely still left to wonder what could have been.
9. Dwayne Bowe, LSU (2003-06)
Stats: 154 rec., 2,403 yds, 26 TDs
Much like Green or Jones, Bowe's raw talent makes him one of the greatest of his generation. He played sparingly on the '03 national championship team but was a scoring machine the rest of his career — catching all 26 touchdowns in three SEC seasons — finishing ninth in the SEC all-time. Bowe possessed elite physical tools and played for a team that went 44-8 during his time and played in two BCS bowls. He was drafted 23rd overall in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
10. Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt (2005-07)
Stats: 236 rec., 2,852 yds, 20 TDs, 586 ret. yds
Until fellow Dores wideout Matthews broke the record, Bennett was the SEC’s all-time leading receiver with 236 catches in just three seasons. He never missed a game, never caught fewer than 75 passes and never posted fewer than 830 yards receiving. Bennett never played in a bowl game but helped build the foundation for Vandy’s 2008 bowl team — the school’s first since 1982. He was a fundamentally sound player who was as consistent as any in the history of the conference.
Just missed the cut:
11. Sidney Rice, South Carolina (2005-06)
Stats: 142 rec., 2,233 yds, 23 TDs
After redshirting in 2004, Rice exploded for two of the best seasons by an SEC wideout in history. As just a freshman, Rice set South Carolina records with 70 receptions, 1,143 yards and 13 touchdowns. All but the touchdowns mark was broken by Jeffery in 2010. He backed that up with another stellar season in 2006 with 72 receptions, 1,090 yards and 10 more touchdowns.
12. Jabar Gaffney, Florida (2000-01)
Stats: 138 rec., 2,375 yds, 27 TDs
One of only two consensus All-American wide receivers to play in the SEC during the BCS Era (Josh Reed is the other), Gaffney put together as good a two-year run as anyone in any league. In 23 career games, Gaffney caught 27 touchdowns passes, good for seventh all-time in SEC history. Both seasons he topped 1,100 yards (one of only three SEC players to do that) and is the league’s all-time leader in yards per game (103.3 ypg).
13. Mike Evans, Texas A&M (2012-13)
Stats: 151 rec., 2,499 yards, 17 TDs
Playing with Johnny Manziel as his quarterback, Evans took advantage of Kevin Sumlin's offense to post big-time numbers in just two seasons. Evans, along with Matthews and Gaffney, is one of just three players to ever have two 1,100-yard seasons. His 96.1 yards per game average is third all-time in SEC history.
14. Craig Yeast, Kentucky (1995-98)
Stats: 208 rec., 2,899 yds, 28 TDs, 125 rush, 1,256 ret. yds, 4 TDs
He did it all for the Wildcats. When he finished his career, Yeast was the SEC's all-time leading receiver (208 rec., now third), was second all-time in yards (now seventh) and was fourth in touchdowns (now sixth). His 85-catch, 1,311-yard, 14-TD senior season were all Kentucky records while also being a big weapon on special teams too. His 269 yards in '98 against Vanderbilt was an SEC record at the time.
15. D.J. Hall, Alabama (2004-07)
Stats: 194 rec., 2,923 yds, 17 TDs
All of the records Julio Jones broke later on were set by Hall at one point or another. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as a junior and senior during the forgotten Mike Shula era of Bama football. His 2,923 yards are seventh all-time in SEC history.
Best of the rest:
16. Robert Meachem, Tennessee (2004-06): 125 rec., 2,140 yds, 17 TDs
His 1,298 yards (71 rec.) in 2006 were the fourth-most in SEC history at the time.
17. Michael Clayton, LSU (2001-03): 182 rec., 2,582 yds, 21 TDs
First Tiger to top 700 yards in three straight seasons and owned numerous school records.
18. Kenny McKinley, South Carolina (2005-08): 207 rec., 2,781 yds, 19 TDs
Not as talented as Rice or Jeffery but consistent and the school’s leader in nearly every receiving category.
19. Peerless Price, Tennessee (1995-98): 147 rec., 2,298 yds, 19 TDs, 122 rush, TD, 484 ret. yds, TD
Never had a huge year but posted best BCS performance by any WR during BCS Era.
20. Anthony Lucas, Arkansas (1995-99): 137 rec., 2,879 yds, 23 TDs
A stellar junior season highlighted a great career — without benefit of Bobby Petrino offense.
21. Derek Abney, Kentucky (2000-03): 197 rec., 2,339 yds, 18 TDs, 160 rush, 3,357 yds, 8 TDs
All-purpose dynamo who is eighth all-time in receptions, third all-time in AP yards (5,856).
22. Keenan Burton, Kentucky (2003-08): 189 rec., 2,376 yds, 25 TDs, 1,805 ret. yds, TD
Elite big-play machine who returned the Cats to the postseason (twice).
23. Fred Gibson, Georgia (2001-04): 161 rec., 2,884 yds, 20 TDs, 866 ret. yds, TD
Eighth all-time in yards and helped UGA win an SEC title in 2002.
24. Jarius Wright, Arkansas (2008-11): 168 rec., 2,934 yds, 24 TDs
Sixth all-time in yards.
25. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (2009-12): 175 rec., 2,854 yds, 18 TDs
Sixth-best season in yards (1,335) and is only player in SEC history with 300-yard game (303).
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Championship Weekend:
5-10: Peyton Manning’s record against Tom Brady
Brady has had the better of Manning over the course of their career head-to-head matchups. But when it counted the most in what could be their final meeting, Manning cemented his legacy as arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns on 32-of-43 passing in the relatively easy 26-16 win over New England on Sunday. He moved to 3-1 in AFC Championship Games in his career with his first victory also coming against Brady and the Pats in the 2006 playoffs. He beat the Jets in 2009 to face the Saints in the Super Bowl and lost to Brady at the end of his '03 season one game shy of the Super Bowl. Brady fell to 5-3 in AFC Championship Games in his career.
4: QBs to lead the NFL in yards and TDs and advance to the Super Bowl
Dan Marino set a historic passing record in 1984 as the first player to ever top 5,000 yards. His mark (5,084) stood for more than 20 years and his 48 touchdown passes stood for two decades. Marino also led Miami to the Super Bowl that year, losing to San Francisco 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX. Before Sunday, only two other players had led their teams to Super Bowls while also leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns. Kurt Warner threw for an NFL-best 4,830 yards and 36 TDs in 2001 and lost to New England 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI. Tom Brady led the league with 4,806 and 50 in 2007 while going unbeaten but failed to convert in the big game against the New York Giants (XLII). Manning became the fourth such player by setting new NFL benchmarks with 5,477 yards and 55 TDs this season while leading his team to the Super Bowl.
12-3: Manning’s record when throwing for at least 400 yards
Manning has thrown for at least 400 yards in a game 12 times in the regular season and three times in the postseason. His team is 10-2 in regular season play when he tops 400 yards and, after 400 yards exactly against New England, 2-1 in the postseason. However, Manning moved to 5-0 this season when throwing for at least 400 yards in a game. His single-game high of 472 came in a loss to Kansas City in 2004.
7: Consecutive NFC title games decided by seven points or less
The Seahawks held on in dramatic fashion to earn a sport in the Super Bowl by defeating the 49ers 23-17 in Seattle on Sunday. Simply put, it was a fantastic game. However, greatness is the status quo for for the NFC Championship Game. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the NFC has produced seven consecutive championship games decided by seven points or fewer. The 49ers, obviously, have been involved in the last three, losing twice and winning once. Many can complain about Super Bowls being boring (although, not as much lately), but the NFC title game has been delivering dramatic finishes for nearly a decade straight.
3: Fourth-quarter turnovers by Colin Kaepernick
During the regular season, Jim Harbaugh turned to his running game in the fourth quarter. He rushed more times (178) for more yards (780) in the final period than any other quarter in the game (by a healthy margin). Subsequently, the 49ers threw the ball dramatically less in the final quarter (50-for-95) than in any other quarter of the game. Through three quarters against Seattle, Colin Kaepernick had completed just 7-of-13 passes for 83 yards. In three fourth-quarter possessions, Kaepernick threw 11 passes, was sacked once and turned the ball over three times. He had 13 total turnovers in the first 18 games of the season.
27-9: Russell Wilson’s win-loss record as a starter
Wilson won an NFL-record 24 games in his first two seasons as a starter in the league. He has also won a playoff game in each of this two seasons in the NFL. Overall, the talented leader of the Seahawks offense is 27-9 as a starter in the NFL. After topping the Niners at home, Wilson moved to 17-1 at CenturyLink Field. He was 16-of-25 for 215 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers to lead Seattle to just its second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
6: Coaches who led two teams to the Super Bowl
In leading the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl, head coach John Fox joined an elite NFL fraternity of guys who have taken two different teams to the biggest game of the year. Don Shula (Baltimore Colts, Miami), Dick Vermiel (Philadelphia, St. Louis), Bill Parcells (NY Giants, New England), Mike Holmgren (Green Bay, Seattle) and Dan Reeves (Denver, Atlanta) are the only other coaches to lead two different franchises to the promised land. Fox took the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII at the end of the 2003 seasons. No coach has ever won the Super Bowl with two different teams.
2: Coaches who have won a Super Bowl and a NCAA championship
Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson are the only two coaches in history to have won a college football national championship and a Super Bowl. Switzer won three national titles at Oklahoma (1974-75, ’85) and then claimed victory in Super Bowl XXX for the Dallas Cowboys over the Steelers. Johnson won the ’87 national title with Miami before winning two Super Bowls with the Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII). Paul Brown also won an AP college football championship in 1942 with Ohio State before moving to the NFL and claiming three NFL championships (1950, ’54, ’55) but never coached in a Super Bowl. Pete Carroll, who won a share of two national titles at USC in 2003-04, has a chance to become just the third coach to ever accomplish this exclusive double dip.
Surprisingly, the ACC has a long list of excellent wide receivers as nearly 30 players have topped 2,500 yards receiving in their ACC careers. For some perspective, Desmond Clark, Eron Riley, Donovan Varner, Dwight Jones, Rich Gunnell, Stefon Diggs, Jacoby Ford, Quinshad Davis, Owen Spencer, Erik Highsmith, Dez White and Scottie Montgomery all failed to make the Top 25.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (2004-06)
Stats: 178 rec., 2,927 yds, 28 TDs, 40 rush, TD
Appropriately nicknamed Megatron, no player has demonstrated the combination of size and speed that Johnson brought to the Ramblin Wreck offense. The Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek prospect was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2004 before earning back-to-back All-American honors in 2005-06. He owns school records for receiving yards and touchdowns during his time at Tech and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as well as ACC Player of the Year honors in 2006. He is one of 13 wide receivers to finish in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting during the BCS Era (10th). He is simply a freak of nature.
2. Peter Warrick, Florida State (1995-99)
Stats: 207 rec., 3,517 yds, 32 TDs, 188 rush, 4 TDs, 937 ret. yds, 6 TDs
The phrase all-purpose wasn’t en vogue when Warrick broke onto the scene so the Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast superstar might deserve credit for the invention. And if not for an incident at Dillard’s Department Store that resulted in a two-game suspension, Warrick likely would have won the Heisman Trophy. The two-time consensus All-American could do it all. His joystick, open-field moves made him dynamic in the passing game, on special teams and he was one of the first wideouts used in the running game. His Sugar Bowl MVP performance — and touchdown catch — in the 1999 national championship game (six rec., 163 yds, three total TDs) will go down as one of the greatest national title performances in NCAA history.
3. Sammy Watkins, Clemson (2011-13)
Stats: 240 rec., 3,391 yards, 27 TDs, 339 rush, TD, 1,399 ret. yards, TD
Watkins did it all at Clemson. A freakish athlete with the ability to score on any play from anywhere on the field, Watkins helped lead Clemson to a 32-8 record during his three seasons. He finished No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 240 receptions, No. 3 all-time with 3,391 yards receiving and tied for eighth all-time with 27 receiving touchdowns. And he did all of this in just three seasons, while bringing an ACC title back to Clemson for the first time in decades. His 5,129 all-purpose yards are ninth all-time in league history. His 101 receptions in 2013 would have been a single-season ACC record if not for Duke’s Jamison Crowder and his 108 catches this fall. His 1,464 yards in his final season is second all-time to Torry Holt (1,604) and his 82 catches and 12 TDs in 2011 were both ACC records for freshmen.
4. Torry Holt, NC State (1995-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 3,379 yds, 31 TDs, 119 rush
One of the greatest receivers to ever play the game on any level, Holt capped his outstanding Wolfpack career with an ACC Player of the Year award in the first year of the BCS. Over his final two seasons in Raleigh, the Gibsonville (N.C.) Eastern Guilford receiver caught 150 passes for 2,703 yards and 27 touchdowns (he also threw a 45-yard TD pass), finishing eighth in the Heisman voting in 1998. Holt set all types of NC State and ACC records during his college career and he went on to become one of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers. No one ever had a better game during the BCS Era than Holt when he posted 255 yards against Baylor in 1998.
5. Jerricho Cotchery, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 200 rec., 3,119 yards, 21 TDs, 102 rush, TD, 300 ret. yards, TD
Following in Holt’s footsteps in Raleigh, Cotchery nearly duplicated his predecessor’s production. The Wolfpack playmaker is tied for second in ACC history with 15 100-yard receiving games, posted the fourth-best single-season yardage total in 2003 (1,369) and, at the time, was No. 2 all-time with 86 receptions that same year. Cotchery is ninth all-time in league history with 200 receptions and sixth all-time with 3,119 yards, the first of which is still an NC State record.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (2010-12)
Stats: 206 rec., 3,020 yds, 27 TDs
His teammate Watkins garnered all of the attention but Hopkins was virtually unstoppable at Clemson as well. He finished tied with Watkins (and the great Herman Moore) for eighth all-time in ACC history with 27 touchdown catches, including a magical 2012 season that featured the ACC’s single-season record of 18 and then-No. 2 yardage total of 1,405 yards. Hopkins, in just three seasons, is eighth all-time with 206 catches and seventh all-time with 3,020 yards. He posted 12 100-yard games in his career and was a first-round pick of the Houston Texans.
7. Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina (2006-08)
Stats: 181 rec., 2,840 yards, 21 TDs, 43 rush, TD, 235 ret. yards
Much like Hopkins, Watkins and Megatron, Nicks’ ACC star shined briefly but brightly. In three seasons, he set single-season and career North Carolina school receiving records in every major category and proved to be one of the most explosive offensive threats in college football. He led the ACC in receiving in 2008 (1,222) and posted 10 career 100-yard games while at Chapel Hill. Nicks was the 29th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
8. Conner Vernon, Duke (2009-12)
Stats: 283 rec., 3,749 yds, 21 TDs, 570 ret. yds
When it comes to career accomplishments, no one in the ACC can match Vernon’s production at Duke. He is the ACC’s all-time leading receiver in yards and receptions by a fairly wide margin. Watkins trails his 283 receptions by 43 and Warrick trails his 3,749 yards receiving by over 200 yards. He posted three straight seasons with at least 950 yards and 70 receptions from 2010-12 and helped Duke return to the postseason for the first time in 18 years. He wasn’t overly gifted or explosive but was a model of consistency and a huge part of the David Cutcliffe rebuild in Durham.
9. Billy McMullen, Virginia (1999-02)
Stats: 210 rec., 2,978 yards, 24 TDs
When McMullen left Charlottesville, he was one of the most prolific players in league history. When he graduated, McMullen was second all-time to only Desmond Clark by six receptions and fourth all-time in yards. Since, he has dropped to fifth and eighth respectively. Like Vernon, he was a consistent force for his team for four full seasons and his numbers portray it. He also helped his team to three bowl games in four years under two different coaches — which is much easier said than done at Virginia these days.
10. Marvin Minnis, Florida State (1997-2000)
Stats: 115 rec., 2,098 yds, 17 TDs
"Snoop" didn’t do a whole lot playing behind Peter Warrick for the first three years of his career in Tallahassee. But this changed in a big way during this senior season. As one of just two consensus All-Americans from the ACC at wide receiver (Johnson), Minnis caught 63 passes for a then ACC-record 1,340 yards — an absurd 21.3 yards per catch — and 11 touchdowns in ’00. He played on four ACC title teams and for a team that went to three straight BCS title games with a championship in ’99.
Just missed the cut:
11. Koren Robinson, NC State (1999-2000)
Stats: 110 rec., 1,914 yards, 15 TDs, 110 rush, 872 ret. yards, 2 TDs
Robinson only played two seasons but was a huge success in his short time in Raleigh. In just 22 career games, he posted 14 100-yard games — which trails only Clarkston Hines, Cotchery and Jermaine Lewis in ACC history. Robinson’s big-play ability was evident on special teams as well and it got him drafted ninth overall in the 2001 NFL Draft.
12. Kelly Campbell, Georgia Tech (1998-01)
Stats: 195 rec., 2,907 yards, 24 TDs, 152 rush, 3 TDs, 1,415 ret. yards
The smallish do-everything player is Tech’s all-time leading receiver with 195 catches. He was used all over the field and is top 15 in ACC history in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He went to four bowls and was one of Joey Hamilton’s top targets.
13. Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech (2007-09)
Stats: 120 rec., 2,339 yards, 15 TDs
From a talent standpoint, Thomas is one of the league’s best of all-time. Unfortunately, he played in the triple option offense and no one will ever know what his numbers would have been if he had Philip Rivers or Tajh Boyd as his college quarterback.
14. Chris Givens, Wake Forest (2009-11)
Stats: 163 rec., 2,473 yards, 21 TDs, 238 yards, 2 TDs, 798 ret. yards
From an speed and explosiveness standpoint, few can match Givens' all-around ability. He was dynamic in the receiving, running and return games. His 1,330 yards in 2011 are sixth all-time in ACC history and his brief NFL career has verified his excellent college production.
15. Aaron Kelly, Clemson (2005-08)
Stats: 232 rec., 2,733 yds, 20 TDs, 417 ret. yds
Before Watkins passed him this year, Kelly was No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 232 receptions. He is top 20 in yards and touchdowns and his 88 catches in 2007 are fourth-best in ACC history.
Best of the rest:
16. Greg Carr, Florida St (2005-08): 148 rec., 2,574 yards, 29 TDs
Tied for fourth all-time in ACC history with 29 TD catches.
17. Rashad Greene, Florida St (2011-pres.): 171 rec., 2,465 yards, 22 TDs, 373 ret. yards, 2 TDs
All-around production, NFL ability, championships and longevity.
18. Torrey Smith, Maryland (2008-10): 152 rec., 2,215 yds, 19 TDs, 2,983 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Big-play machine is eighth all-time in ACC history with 5,264 all-purpose yards.
19. Rod Gardner, Clemson (1997-00): 159 rec., 2,404 yards, 12 TDs
Led the ACC in receptions (80) in 1999 and was a first-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.
20. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida St (2012-13): 84 rec., 1,506 yards, 19 TDs
Freakish clone of Megatron is one of six ACC players to ever catch 15 TDs in one year.
21. Jamison Crowder, Duke (2011-pres.): 198 rec., 2,597 yards, 17 TDs, 1,493 ret. yards
Will be top five in ACC in receptions, yards and AP yards with third 1,000-yard season in ‘14.
22. Derrick Hamilton, Clemson (2001-03): 163 rec., 2,218 yds, 15 TDs, 340 rush, 2 TDs, 2,187 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Fourth in ACC history among wide receivers with 4,745 all-purpose yards.
23. Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest (2010-13): 229 rec., 2,506 yards, 14 TDs, 238 rush, 2 TD,s 984 ret. yards, TD
Tied ACC single-game record with 16 catches (2012) and is No. 4 all-time in receptions.
24. Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech (2008-11): 184 rec., 2,884 yards, 18 TDs
Tech’s all-time leader in receptions and yards on two ACC title teams.
25. Kenny Moore, Wake Forest (2004-07): 139 rec., 1,458 yards, 7 TDs, 829 rush, 5 TDs, 657 ret. yds, TD
Set ACC single-season record with 98 catches in ’07 (since broken). All-purpose dynamo.
What defines a great play?
Degree of difficulty? Gravity of the moment? The greatness of the players involved and their place in NFL history? Entertainment factor? How about all of the above.
Game-winning touchdowns, heroic out-of-body experiences, historic moments and even some hilarious gaffes — looking at you Garo Yepremian — all make the Super Bowl the greatest sporting event of the calendar year. Hall of Fame careers are made and broken in the final football game of the season and trying to narrow down nearly 50 years of action to the 15 best individual plays is virtually impossible.
1. Super Bowl XXXIV: One Yard Short
The Titans and Rams put on a second-half show for the fans in Atlanta. Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes to go in a tie game to take the lead. Steve McNair then whirled his way down the field to the St. Louis 10-yard line to set up the final play of the game. Mike Jones then made the play of his career by tackling Kevin Dyson just 12 inches shy of the game-tying touchdown. It would have been the first and only overtime game in Super Bowl history.
2. Super Bowl XXXII: John Elway’s helicopter run
It was the defining moment of what many believe is the best Super Bowl ever played. It was third-and-six from the Packers' 12-yard line with the game tied 17-17 in the second half. One of the game’s greatest players drops back to pass, scrambles right and then dives head-first despite being surrounded by three Green Bay defenders. Elway gives up all regard for his body and wills himself to a first down. Terrell Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later, as Elway goes on to win his first Super Bowl.
3. Super Bowl XXV: Scott Norwood’s wide right
There have been many game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history — but none on the final snap with one team trailing and the chance to win the game. Adam Vinatieri’s kicks were clutch but those games would have gone into overtime had he missed. No, Norwood became the only true goat of a Super Bowl when his 47-yard field goal sailed just inches wide right. The miss capped an extraordinary drive that capped an extraordinary game stacked with Hall of Fame players and coaches.
4. Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana to John Taylor
The 10-yard pass to Taylor with 39 seconds left wasn’t in and of itself a miraculous play. It wasn’t all that difficult and it wasn’t all that remarkable. But it represents all that Montana was as an NFL Hall of Famer. He got the ball with 3:10 left on the clock down 16-13 on his own eight-yard line and all he can think about is John Candy. This touchdown pass stood as the latest game-winner touchdown in Super Bowl history for nearly 20 years.
5. Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning to David Tyree (and Plaxico Burress)
In terms of degree of difficulty, few plays in any game much less the Super Bowl can match this one. Manning's Houdini act in the pocket to avoid getting sacked is nearly as impressive as Tyree’s duct tape and chicken wire helmet catch in traffic 32 yards down the field. Four plays later, Manning floated a 13-yard game-winning touchdown to a wide open Plaxico Burress to give the Patriots their one and only loss of the season. After three extremely slow quarters, Super Bowl XLII ended in extraordinary fashion.
6. Super Bowl XLIII: Big Ben to Santonio Holmes
The Cardinals entered the fourth quarter trailing the Steelers 20-7. Kurt Warner then proceeded to score 16 straight points to take a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with just over two minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger then marched his team to the Arizona six-yard line where, with unbelievable accuracy and some magic toes at his disposal, he somehow connects with Holmes with 35 seconds left to play.
7. Super Bowl XVIII: Marcus Allen's 74-yard run
It is likely the most impressive run in Super Bowl history. After twisting and changing directions in the backfield, Allen split the heart of the Washington Redskins defense for the longest run in Super Bowl history (later broken by Willie Parker). The play capped the third quarter and put a fork in the ‘Skins' hopes. Allen finished with 191 yards rushing and was named the MVP.
8. Super Bowl XVII: The Diesel’s fourth-and-one gallop
The Redskins were trailing 17-13 with 10 minutes to go, facing a fourth-and-one on the Miami 43-yard line. Joe Gibbs leaves his offense on the field and calls ’70 chip’ for his star running back John Riggins. The burly runner, nicknamed The Diesel, breaks a tackle, bounces the play off tackle and races 43 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The play epitomized who Riggins was as a ball carrier.
9. Super Bowl X: Lynn Swann’s Magical Reception
When it comes to acrobatic, spectacular catches, David Tyree might not even be able top the grace of Swann. From deep in his own territory, the eventual game MVP reeled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that changed the game. Mark Washington is in perfect position to make a play on the ball for the Cowboys, but somehow Swann out leaps the defender, bobbles the ball and hauls in the pass as he is falling to the ground. Swann finished with four receptions for 161 yards and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown catch as well. This clash of the titans was won with style and grace.
10. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath’s Called Shot/Finger Wag
It wasn’t technically one play, but Broadway Joe’s guarantee and subsequent finger wag will go down in Super Bowl lore. It was likely the most important Super Bowl ever played. It also was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And the moment could have only been made possible by a brash personality like Namath.
11. Super Bowl XLIV: Saints onside kick to start second half
Possibly the ballsiest call in Super Bowl history, head coach Sean Payton calls for the onside kick to start the second half. The Saints recover and the gutsy call sets the tone, as New Orleans dominates Indianapolis and the second half to win the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy.
12. Super Bowl XXXVI: Adam Vinatieri Part I
Vinatieri Part I capped Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s coming out party as they upset the heavily favored Rams with a 48-yard game winner.
13. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Adam Vinatieri Part II
An underrated Super Bowl ended with Vinatieri Part II when he broke the 29-29 tie as time expired against the Panthers.
14. Super Bowl XXVII: Leon Lett chased down by Don Beebe
The game wasn’t close and the play didn’t really matter, but no one will ever forget little Beebe embarrassing big Lett at the goal line.
15. Super Bowl I: Max McGee one-hander
A hungover, second-string McGee makes a spectacular one-handed catch to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Best of the Rest:
16. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw to Lance Stallworth for the 73-yard game winning touchdown.
17. Super Bowl XX: William Perry steals Sweetness’ touchdown.
18. Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning completes 38-yard sideline fade to Mario Manningham to open eventual game-winning drive agianst New England.
19. Super Bowl XIII: Jackie Smith is "the sickest man in America."
20. Super Bowl XXXI: Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return TD.
As Super Bowl XLVIII approaches (Feb. 2), it seems like the perfect time to look back at Super Bowls of the past and the great players who made those games so memorable.
In selecting an all-time Super Bowl team, it is important to establish clear criteria. While there is nothing more subjective than all-time teams, this criteria certainly includes individual statistics, but performance that leads to team success carries more weight. Multiple game appearances help, so longevity counts too.
Athlon Sports' All-time Super Bowl Team
Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco
This is one of a couple of positions where there is no argument. With four Super Bowl wins, Montana has a career passer rating of 127.8, the best ever. Joe Cool tossed 11 touchdown passes to six different receivers with no interceptions. During his Super Bowl career, he threw 28 passes on third down, completing 19 of them for 14 first downs and one touchdown. There has been no one better in the big game.
Honorable Mention: John Elway, Denver; Tom Brady, New England; Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh; Kurt Warner, St. Louis and Arizona
Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh
There is no shortage of candidates at running back. Harris rushed for 354 yards in Pittsburgh’s four Super wins in the 1970s and had another 114 yards receiving. In the four games, Harris had 18 touches on third down resulting in 10 first downs and three touchdowns. And Harris is the only runner with more than 100 carries in history.
Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco
In three Super Bowls for San Francisco, all wins, Craig amassed 413 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns, including 101 yards receiving in Super Bowl XXIII.
HM: Larry Csonka, Miami; Emmitt Smith, Dallas; Terrell Davis, Denver; John Riggins, Washington; Marcus Allen, LA Raiders
Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh
Fans who saw him in the Super Bowl probably remember flying, acrobatic catches. But Swann meant more to the Steelers than just a couple of circus catches. He is second all-time with 364 receiving yards, all coming in three Super Bowls. In his first Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers, Swann was limited to punt return duty.
Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco
Rice is another no-brainer. Let’s see: most Super Bowl receptions in a career (33), most yards receiving in a career (589) and game (215), most yards from scrimmage in a career (604), the only player to score three TDs in a game twice. Oh, and he earned an MVP. And 77 of his receiving yards and a touchdown came at age 40 for Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.
HM: Deion Branch, New England; John Stallworth, Pittsburgh; Andre Reed, Buffalo; Isaac Bruce, St. Louis; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
Jay Novacek, TE, Dallas
One of quarterback Troy Aikman’s favorite clutch targets, Novacek scored the first Dallas touchdown in Super Bowls XXVII and XXX. In three wins he totaled 148 yards and two scores on 17 catches.
HM: Shannon Sharpe, Denver/Baltimore; Marv Fleming, Green Bay/Miami
Jon Kolb, LT, Pittsburgh
The only constant along the Pittsburgh offensive line during their run of four Super Bowls in the 1970s, Kolb led the way for Franco Harris’ running and protected Terry Bradshaw in the passing game.
HM: Mark Tuinei, Dallas; Matt Light, New England
Nate Newton, LG, Dallas
Emmitt Smith became the all-time leading NFL rusher thanks in large — and we do mean large — part to Newton. In Newton’s three Super Bowls, the Cowboys scored 52, 30 and 27 points.
HM: Bob Kuechenberg, Miami; Russ Grimm, Washington
Jim Langer, C, Miami
Langer anchored the line during Miami’s back-to-back titles in the 1970s. In Super Bowl VIII, Miami rushed 53 times for 196 yards, most of it straight up the middle with bruiser Larry Csonka.
HM: Ray Mansfield, Pittsburgh; Mike Webster, Pittsburgh
Joe Andruzzi, RG, New England
In three New England wins, the Patriots rushed for 372 yards, and Andruzzi helped protect MVP Tom Brady allowing him to stay comfortable in the pocket.
HM: Jerry Kramer, Green Bay; Gerry Mullins, Pittsburgh; Larry Little, Miami
Erik Williams, RT, Dallas
The heart and soul of the Cowboys’ offensive machine was the offensive line. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were the beneficiaries of the hard work done by the likes of Williams.
HM: Forrest Gregg, Green Bay; Norm Evans, Miami
Charles Haley, DE, Dallas/San Francisco
Haley was more of an outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 alignment. He is the only player to win five Super Bowls.
Richard Dent, DE, Chicago
The Monsters of the Midway had a stacked roster of defensive stars but Dent won the MVP in Super Bowl XX with 1.5 sacks as the Bears gave up a total of 10 points to New England.
HM: Richard Seymour, New England; Reggie White, Green Bay; Dwight White, Pittsburgh; Willie Davis, Green Bay
Joe Greene, DT, Pittsburgh
As the heart of the front of the Steel Curtain, Greene intimidated quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen. In four Super wins, opponents averaged less than 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh as Greene made life miserable for Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton and Vince Ferragamo.
Russell Maryland, DT, Dallas
The offense received much of the credit, but Dallas recorded eight interceptions and held teams to less than four yards a carry in their three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. Maryland was a load up front in all three games.
HM: Jethro Pugh, Dallas; Manny Fernandez, Miami; Alan Page, Minnesota
Jack Lambert, LB, Pittsburgh
Lambert was in the middle of all things defensively for the Steelers for 11 seasons, including four trips to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh would not have been 4-0 in the most important game of the season without him.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore
Lewis is one of two linebackers to win a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV) and nearly a decade later posted seven tackles in winning his second Lombardi Trophy with the Ravens. It was his final game in the NFL.
Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas
This Cowboy is one of two at his position to ever win an MVP (V) and is the only player to win an MVP for a losing team in Super Bowl history. He also won a Super Bowl the following year with a big performance (INT, fumble recovery) in Dallas' win over Miami in Super Bowl VI. He played 13 years with Dallas.
HM: Tedy Bruschi, New England; Mike Vrabel, New England; Rod Martin, Oakland; Jack Ham, Pittsburgh; Keena Turner, San Francisco; Ray Nitschke, Green Bay; Nick Buoniconti, Miami
Herb Adderley, CB, Green Bay/Dallas
Adderley was a member of Green Bay’s first two title teams, returning an interception 60 yards for a score in Super Bowl II. He played in two more for Dallas, winning one and losing one.
Mel Blount, CB, Pittsburgh
Blount played for four winners, and contributed with an interception in Super Bowls IX and XIII.
HM: Ty Law, New England; Larry Brown, Dallas; Deion Sanders, San Francisco/Dallas; Tracy Porter, New Orleans
Jake Scott, S, Miami
Scott intercepted Billy Kilmer twice in Miami’s hard-fought 14-7 win in Super Bowl VII, earning MVP honors.
Ronnie Lott, S, San Francisco
Instrumental in the Niners’ four Super Bowl wins, Lott played corner in the first two before moving to safety. None of his nine postseason interceptions came in the Super Bowl, probably because quarterbacks avoided him.
HM: Cliff Harris, Dallas; Dick Anderson, Miami, Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay; Willie Wood, Green Bay; Charlie Waters, Dallas; Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Mike Wagner, Pittsburgh
Desmond Howard, KR/PR, Green Bay
Earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXI with a kick return for a touchdown, but also had two punt returns of more than 30 yards.
Adam Vinatieri, K, New England/Indianapolis
Never has there been a more clutch kicker in the Super Bowl.
Larry Seiple, P, Miami
Always a threat to take off and run (also played some tight end), Seiple kept the Redskins and Vikings bottled up in Super Bowls VII and VIII.
Chuck Noll, Head Coach, Pittsburgh
An easy choice, Noll is the only coach to win four. He won with defense, running and passing. His Pittsburgh teams were complete and dominant.
HM: Vince Lombardi, Green Bay; Bill Belichick, New England; Bill Walsh, San Francisco, Tom Coughlin, NY Giants; Jimmy Johnson, Dallas