Ranking the 2008 SEC Recruiting Classes Four Years Later
Each year, a heavy emphasis is placed on recruiting rankings in college football. Rightfully so. Recruiting has evolved into a big business in its own right, and the money-making machine that major collegiate athletics has become is fed by talent. Without it, you're left out of the financial puzzle. Access to it provides you a chance to win, and to win big. Why else would a program like Texas A&M, that's gone 26-25 over the last four seasons, be invited to the SEC?
Easy answer: access to a fertile recruiting base and a strong desire for cash from monetizing the SEC brand in the state of Texas.
Despite the high priority placed on scouting and signing talent, college football recruiting and evaluation isn't infallible. Some high school stars bust, and some players who don't receive much attention at the prep level mature into the cornerstones of championship squads in college.
The phrase "tell me what they've done in four years" is thrown around by fans on National Signing Day. Typically, those are fans of schools who don't recruit that well, but there's some truth to the argument that it's not where a player starts, but where he finishes, that matters.
With that in mind we've taken a look at the SEC Classes of 2008. Where did they finish then on Signing Day, and where did they finish in 2011 on the scoreboard? Who busted and who racked up? Obviously, some players from this crop are still in school (redshirt seniors, players who received medical redshirts, etc.)
But for the most part, the hay is in the barn for this group.
So who won and how accurate were the recruiting rankings?
Let's find out.
In order to see how each program stacked up, we took a sampling of final recruiting rankings. Obviously, OKTC wasn't around then, so we've listed the final rankings from two other national services and compared those rankings against overall performance.
Here's how it looked then versus now:
2008 Recruiting Classes
Rivals Ranking: 1
Scout Ranking: 1
National Average: #1
Four-year record: (48-6, 1 SEC title, 2 National Titles)
Busts of the Class: Tyler Love and Burton Scott - Love was projected as a franchise LT but never logged significant playing time, while Scott was the lynchpin of the class as one of the first big commitments of the Saban era. He never found a position, though, and eventually transferred out of the program.
Evaluation: Alabama's class of 2008 will go down as perhaps the best in school history. The group made good on its No. 1 national recruiting ranking winning two titles and playing in 3 BCS bowls in 4 seasons.
Rivals Ranking: 20
Scout Ranking: 18
National Average: #19
Four-year record: (35-17, 1 SEC Title, 1 National Title)
Stars of the Class: Onterrio McCalebb, Darvin Adams, T'Sharvan Bell
Busts of the Class: Raven Gray and DeRon Furr - Gray was a cant-miss DL prospect out of Junior College who never materialized before leaving Auburn. Furr was rumored to be a problem in the locker room and left the program for Memphis.
Evaluation: To categorize this group as "up and down" would be an understatement. Much of the class became the victim of attrition, and the group started with a 5-7 record in Tommy Tuberville's final season on the Plains, but they also won the school's first unanimous national title since 1957 - providing some unforgettable moments in 2010.
Rivals Ranking: 36
Scout Ranking: 24
National Average: #30
Four-year record: (34-17, 1 BCS Bowl appearance)
Evaluation: This group improved dramatically over the course of their career, finishing with a BCS bowl appearance in 2010 and an 11-2 season (and brief #3 BCS ranking) in 2011. The only two losses? At LSU and Alabama, the two participants in the national title game. In other words, in any other season, this could have been a national title team. As upperclassmen, they provided two of the best seasons in modern school history.
Rivals Ranking: 3
Scout Ranking: 12
National Average: #8
Four-year record: (41-13, 1 SEC Title, 1 National Title)
Busts of the Class: Janoris Jenkins and Dee Finley - Jenkins never disappointed on the field, and he'll be a high draft pick in April - he just didn't spend enough time on the field in Gainesville to matter in the long run, transferring out of the program to North Alabama. Dee Finley was widely regarded as a major steal for the Gators, who landed him up from Auburn's backyard, but Finley was eventually arrested and left the program.
Evaluation: It's hard to argue with a class that produces two separate 13-1 seasons right out of the gate, but honestly, how much of that was a result of this group and how much was Tim Tebow and the upperclassmen from 2008-09? The answer: almost all of it. Again...it's not how you start, it's how you finish, and 15-11 over the last two seasons was nothing short of disastrous.
Rivals Ranking: 7
Scout Ranking: 5
National Average: #6
Four-year record: (34-19, 1 Eastern Division Title)
Stars of the Class: AJ Green, Brandon Boykin, Cordy Glenn, Bacarri Rambo
Busts of the Class: Toby Jackson - Jackson signed with UGA as a heralded DE prospect, but wound up not qualifying and enrolled at Navarro JC. He eventually signed with Central Florida.
Evaluation: This group was largely disappointing, winning an Eastern Division title in its final season, but sporting a losing record the year before. Even during the run to Atlanta this year, the team was unimpressive, losing against the four best teams on its schedule. Coming in as a Top 5 class, there's no other choice but to say it was underwhelming.
Rivals Ranking: Unranked in Top 50
Scout Ranking: 53
National Average: #53
Four-year record: (25-26, 3 Bowl appearances)
Evaluation: A losing record over four years is nothing to write home about, but three bowl appearances during that run has to be considered above average for Kentucky. For that reason alone, this class was a pleasant surprise, relatively speaking.
Rivals Ranking: 11
Scout Ranking: 7
National Average: #9
Four-year record: (41-12, 1 SEC Title)
Bust of the Class: Deangelo Benton - Benton actually signed with LSU twice and was originally a part of the class of 2007, but couldn't qualify academically and went to prep school. Ultimately, he wound up at bitter rival Auburn. Losing Benton three times hurt bad enough. Losing him at the eleventh hour to Auburn hurt worse.
Evaluation: This class ultimately became a part of a team that may go down as LSU's best ever. The 2011 squad was on the verge of being in the discussion as the best team of the BCS era before losing in a rematch to eventual national champion Alabama. Still, though, this class improved each year, adding to its win total in all four seasons.
Rivals Ranking: 44
Scout Ranking: 33
National Average: #39
Four-year record: (25-25, 2 Bowl wins)
Busts of the Class: Templeton Hardy - Hardy was rated as one of the top DL in the country out of high school, but never saw extensive, meaningful action for the Bulldogs. He eventually became a reserve OL, appearing in two games in 2011.
Evaluation: Not much was expected out of this group, but it did manage to win two bowl games. Going .500 over 4 seasons, it was neither overly impressive nor unexpectedly awful. (ACCURATE)
Rivals Ranking: 25
Scout Ranking: 31
National Average: #28
Four-year record: (36-17, 2 Big XII North Co-Championships)
Stars of the Class: Blaine Gabbert
Bust of the Class: No significant busts
Evaluation: Gabbert led the SEC's newest group of Tigers to two divisional titles before departing for the NFL Draft. Two 10-win seasons highlighted the run for this class, and it was respectable each year. (ACCURATE)
Rivals Ranking: 29
Scout Ranking: 38
National Average: #34
Four-year record: (24-26, 2 Bowl wins)
Bust of the Class: Enrique Davis - Davis didn't completely flame out of the program as some others did, but he never reached the potential many saw in him coming out of prep school. He had offers from several high-major programs, but never gained more than 337 yards in any single season at Ole Miss.
Evaluation: Two Cotton Bowl wins in 2008 and 2009 are a bit misleading, as this is another example of a core group of upperclassmen carrying a team and then leaving a program for dead. Jevan Snead, Michael Oher, Peria Jerry, Mike Wallace and John Jerry were the reasons Ole Miss came out hot under Houston Nutt. Ultimately, though, Nutt couldn't recruit with the same success as his predecessor, Ed Orgeron. The class of 2008 was the first real evidence of that, as it finished up with four-and-two-win seasons. (Highly Overvalued)
Bust of the Class: Chaz Sutton - Sutton never became the presence along the defensive front that he was projected to be for a couple of reasons. First, South Carolina had so much other talent up front in players like Melvin Ingram and later, Jadeveon Clowney, that it was difficult for Sutton to ever make an impact. More importantly, though, he was plagued by nagging injuries throughout his career.
Evaluation: When you consider that classes like the ones at Ole Miss and Tennessee were ranked near the Gamecocks in 2008, and then you compare the results, it's hard to say this class for Carolina wasn't extremely successful. The 2011 squad was among the best in school history, finishing 11-2. This class also took the program to its first appearance in the SEC Championship game, breaking through the glass ceiling and ending the stranglehold that Florida, Tennessee and Georgia held over the division for almost two decades. (Slightly Undervalued)
Rivals Ranking: 35
Scout Ranking: 35
National Average: #35
Four-year record: (23-27, 2 Bowl appearances)
Bust of the Class: Montori Hughes - Hughes showed great promise in his first two seasons, but was dismissed from the program prior to the 2011 season. His departure left a gaping hole on the defensive front. Taking his recruitment at face value, he was actually one of the pleasant surprises of the class of 2008 because he was relatively unknown when he arrived, but his untimely exit was a big disappointment after he showed flashes of brilliance early.
Evaluation: Three losing seasons in four years at Tennessee is unacceptable, regardless of how much coaching turnover has taken place. Results matter, and being four games under .500 is not indicative of a program that's among the 35 best in the nation. (Slightly Overvalued)
Rivals Ranking: 16
Scout Ranking: 15
National Average: #16
Four-year record: (26-25, 1 Big XII South Co-Championship)
Bust of the Class: Derrick Hall - A promising recruit out of Beaumont, Hall never panned out and played two years in Junior College before winding up at Tulsa.
Evaluation: This class had some wild swings, going 4-8 in its freshman season and claiming a share of a division title three years later. Still, though, this group's performance helped lead to the dismissal of Mike Sherman, and at only one game over even, it never materialized into a Top 15 group as projected. But hey...it was good enough for the SEC to still be interested. So, there's that. (Highly Overvalued)
Rivals Ranking: Unranked in Top 50
Scout Ranking: 74
National Average: #74
Four-year record: (17-33, 2 Bowl appearances)
Stars of the Class: Casey Hayward
Bust of the Class: No significant busts
Evaluation: The 'Dores showed signs of promise in 2011, but most of the key contributors on that team weren't members of this class. Two 2-10 seasons were bracketed by bowl years, so there were good and bad moments. Ultimately, there weren't high aspirations, and the results were about what you'd expect. (ACCURATE)
The Top 10 Players from the Class of 2008 (based on college performance and pro potential)
1. AJ Green
2. Mark Ingram
3. Joe Adams
4. Julio Jones
5. Randall Cobb
6. Brandon Boykin
7. Blaine Gabbert
8. Marcell Dareus
9. Jeff Fuller
10. Cordy Glenn
Most Overvalued Class: Ole Miss and Texas A&M (tie)
Most Undervalued Class: Arkansas
Best Class: Alabama
Worst Class: Vanderbilt