College Football National Signing Day: Ole Miss Signs This Year's Annual "WTF" Class
Go back and look at the historical data in the Rivals.com recruiting database, and the top ten classes each season generally include the same cast of university characters -- some permutation of USC, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, with a generous smattering of Michigan, Auburn, and Florida State.
[Foghorn Leghorn voice:] I say boy, now that there is one hell of a recruiting class
However, every year there is seemingly one school that hasn't been on the recruiting map in a couple (or in some cases, WAY more than a couple) years, and the presence of that school makes you go "hmmmmm."
With the hay now in the recruiting barn on the class of 2013, the obvious "hmmmmm" school for this recruiting season was Ole Miss, where second-year head coach Hugh Freeze reeled in a haul that was, by all accounts, easily top ten caliber. (As of this typing, ESPN.com had the Rebels rated fifth, Rivals.com seventh.)
Considering that Ole Miss is coming off a 6-6 regular season, has never had a ranking higher than 15th overall on Rivals.com (and was 40th in 2012), and has nary a fraction of the tradition of its SEC foes, a near-top five finish is pretty remarkable. Included in the class are three 5-star studs -- wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, and overall number one player, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
Is this the beginning of the rise of a new power in college football? Well, geography makes that awfully difficult to say "yes," as Ole Miss is still part of college football's toughest division, the SEC West. History also makes it tough to answer affirmatively, if you look back at the one-off, nouveau riche top ten recruiting schools each year of the last decade.
Take a look and you'll see that the sudden risers in recruiting more often than not have ended in firings and sanctions than BCS bowls.
(NOTE: 2004 is not included in the list below because the 2004 rankings on rivals.com are inexplicably missing a handful of teams. They're simply not there. Also, I stopped the analysis at the class of 2009 as those would be this year's seniors, thus giving those players a full college career from which to assess.)
2003 MISSISSIPPI STATE (9th in Rivals rankings)
Coming off of two 3-win seasons and an 0-8 season in the SEC in 2002, Mississippi State managed to cobble together the ninth-rated class overall in February 2003, which sounds odd until I drop two little words on you -- Jackie Sherrill. Apparently, Jackie was able to find enough room under the salary cap to fit this 31-man class. Of course, a year later, Sherrill retired amidst various swirling rumors of NCAA wrongdoing.
The two 5-star crown jewels of this class were linebacker Quinton Culberson and defensive lineman Deljuan Robinson, both of whom went on to top out as journeymen undrafted free agents, Robinson with the Texans for parts of four seasons.
2005 IOWA (11th in Rivals rankings)
I distinctly remember this Iowa recruiting class because this was the recruiting season that Kirk Ferentz, on the heels of a 10-2 season and a bowl win over defending national champion LSU in 2004, absolutely cleaned up in the Chicagoland area. (As a Notre Dame grad, it was particularly painful watching about a half-dozen U.S. Army All Americans commit to Iowa at that game and, meanwhile, Notre Dame come away with wide receiver D.J. Hord and that's it.)
The crown jewel of this class was five-star offensive lineman Dan Doering who rarely saw the field to the best of my recollection. The best pros actually wound up being three 3-star guys: linebacker Pat Angerer, running back Shonn Greene, and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda.