Although they do not always contribute from day one, dominant high school recruits are the lifeblood of a major college football program. College football coaches have two jobs: one on the field and one on the recruiting trail. It's actually hard to say which one is more important than the other and the very best coaches are skilled at both aspects of their job. This list is a ranking of the top recruiting commitments by school for 2011. It awards the most credit for impact signings at positions of need, rewards stockpiling top talent, and also accounts for superior depth since it tends to be very important for the future. If you would like a more detailed breakdown of a particular class or wish to add it yourself, please leave a comment or post in the Forum! So, without further ado, let's take a look at the best recruiting classes in 2011:
1. Florida State
Welcome back Florida State! Last year's class, Jimbo Fisher's first official recruiting group, was very impressive too but this group is absolutely superlative. It showcases the return of a program that dominated the 1990s and early 2000s before tailing off the last half decade or so. Of course, that tail off period seems to have been forgotten and this class should set the Seminoles up for YEARS of BCS title contention. Five star defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and top safety prospect Karlos Williams will anchor a strong defense and Fisher also added contributors in many other areas of need. Keelin Smith, Tyler Hunter, Lamarcus Brutus, cornerback Nick Waisome, offensive tackle Bobby Hart, offensive tackle Jordan Presswood, and tight end Nick O'Leary could all become stars and this group should lead Florida State to a BCS title. It's official: I'm predicting it.
The rich get richer. Already the nation's top program, Alabama “re-stocked” the roster with an impressive array of talent. Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, a consensus top five player nationally, should fortify the offensive line (Nick Saban's favorite positional area) and defensive end Jeffrey Pagan, speedy receiver Bradley Sylve, safety Ha'Shean Clinton-Dix, defensive end Xzavier Dickerson, and outside linebacker Trey dePriest should all be key contributors down the road. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn under Alabama's star coaches and players and, when the times comes, many of them will shine. Read more about Alabama Crimson Tide Football.
3. Notre Dame
Notre Dame had a consensus top ten class but I loved it so much that I ranked it top three. Why? Because, after years of offense-dominated, underachieving Charlie Weis classes, new coach Brian Kelly recognized the importance of defense and signed the school's most balanced class in recent memory. Notre Dame has fielded a poor defensive line for the last decade but that should change with the additions of defensive end Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt. Ishaq Williams, and Anthony Rabasa will both fit as athletic outside linebackers in Notre Dame's 3-4 scheme and should completely revolutionize the program's defensive front. Plus, even though the offense hardly needed an upgrade, Kelly added tackle Matthew Hegarty, tight end Ben Koyak, and receiver Devaris Daniels. Ultimately, the offense could be truly elite in 2011 and, if the defense improves again as expected (it was abysmal in 2009 but improved significantly in the latter half of 2010) then the Irish could earn their first BCS berth in years.
Auburn will not be the same without Cam Newton. Personally, I was not a fan of the iconic Auburn Heisman-winner because, despite his electric style, his Heisman victory tarnished the award forever. That said, he was a marvel on the field and he will be missed by the 2010 BCS National Champions. Still, Auburn coach Gene Chizik parlayed the championship into a top 5 2011 class. Five star offensive tackle Christian Westerman should be an exceptional blindside protector from day one and quarterback Kiehl Frazier is the school's successor to Newton. The team also added top athlete Quan Bay and center Reese Dismiskus (to replace the departed Ryan Pugh). Plus, the Tigers added several defensive talents as well including linemen Angelo Blackson, Jabrian Niles, and Keymia Harrell and safety Erique Florence. As a result, Auburn should be very good for years and could be the new force in the SEC. Learn more about Auburn Tigers Football.
Texas cleaned out in Texas. Attempts at alliteration aside, that more or less describes the Longhorn's 2011 class. Despite a poor 5-7 season in 2010, Texas was still able to recruit the best talent in the state and there is no reason that Mack Brown and the Longhorns should not bounce back in 2011. Five-star running back Malcolm Brown should add an explosive running attack to the Texas offense and guard Sedrick Flowers should help fix the offensive line. Ultimately, however, the best talent influx comes on the defensive end where cornerback Quandre Diggs, defensive tackle Desmond Jackson, and inside linebacker Steve Edmond should help fix a defense that was tortured repeatedly in 2010.
Urban Meyer's second retirement hurt this class but not as much as you might think. Florida added five-star quarterback Jeff Diskel (who will step in if Brantley struggles for the second straight year), vertical threat receiver Ja'Juan Story, running back Michael Blakely, and safety Jabari Gorman. Plus, don't forget that Florida's 2010 recruiting class was historically good and its players should be ready to lead a Gator resurgence in 2011. Read more about Florida Gators Football.
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7. Ohio State
I'm going to start calling these types of classes "the Jim Tressel" after Ohio State's coach. So starting next year, when a school recruits a class like this, I will just write one line: "they signed the Jim Tressel." Ohio States' 2011 class is excellent but it does not quite have enough elite talent to really make the Buckeyes title favorites. Still, this was an excellent class that filled most of the team's major needs. Ohio State secured quarterback Braxton Miller, a talented Ohio native, defensive end Steve Miller, cornerback Doran Grant, guard Michael Bennett, linebacker Ryan Shazier, and safety Jeremy Cash. Ultimately, with the talent they already have in place, the Buckeyes could be title contenders in 2011 if they can survive a tough five game stretch to start the season while quarterback Terrelle Pryor is suspended.
8. South Carolina
South Carolina-yes South Carolina-managed to sign defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The nation's top rated recruit, considered an absolute phenomenon, could really elevate South Carolina into another echelon because the Gamecock's offense is already elite. The class also contained a few other notable contributors including four-star safety Kadetrix Marcus and tight end Drew Owens. If their defense improves even marginally with Clowney's arrival-and it should-then great things might happen in South Carolina this year. Learn more about South Carolina Football.
Les Miles' 2011 class is not deep but it has top notch impact talent at positions of need. The Tigers have been very, very good but not great recently and this talent might push them over the top and back in the BCS Title hunt. Five-star defensive tackle Anthony Johnson should prove a presence on the talented Tiger's defensive line while top receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Kenny Hillard will add pop to last year's weak offense. Read more about LSU Football.
This was not Bob Stoop's best or deepest class but he got the players he needed at the right positions. Trey Metoyer is the deep threat that the Sooners need, Danzel Williams is a versatile elite athlete, and defensive lineman Nathan Hughes and Jordan Wade should shore up the weakest positional area on the squad and turn it into a strength.
On pure talent, this is a top five class. However, the uncertainty regarding USC's future and pending sanctions against the program loom as major threats. The sanctions could force USC to trim the number of scholarship players from this class, which would hurt its impressive depth, or they could stop USC from recruiting a full complement of players in coming years. All of that said, Lane Kiffin's first class is undoubtedly impressive. Kiffin's inventive offensive mind should make good use of the nation's top receiving recruit, George Farmer, and the country's third-rated quarterback Max Whittek. Plus, Kiffin's father Monte, a famous defensive line guru, should use massive defensive tackle Antuan Woods and defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. to good effect. Ultimately, this class could end up protecting the program and seeing it through two years of sanctions.
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The 2010 BCS runner-ups turned in their best recruiting performance in years. Coach Chip Kelly continued to add pieces to his offense with top-rated athletes DeAnthony Thomas and Devon Blackmon and wide receiver Tacoi Sumler. Plus, this class would not have been complete without a new quarterback but Kelly picked up Jerrard Randall whose tools and smarts make him an ideal fit for Kelly's complex offensive scheme.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini seems to breed great defensive players so I gave his 2011 class more credit than most. Running back Aaron Green could revolutionize this offense by adding a dynamic running back and freeing up versatile quarterback Taylor Martinez. Plus, cornerback Charles Jackson should be able to replace (though of course not replicated) Prince Arakamura and Bubba Starling could be the team's dynamic quarterback of the future.
Lately, Georgia has not gotten it done on the field but their 2011 class certainly adds more than enough firepower to turn things around starting this year. Five-star running back Isaiah Crowell should fire up a dormant offense while fellow top recruit Ray Drew should energize the defensive line. The Bulldogs also added several other prospects who could exceed their recruitment billing eventually including quarterback Christian LeMay, tight end Jay Rome, and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley. Learn more about Georgia Football.
I gave Clemson less credit than some because their sometimes highly touted recruiting classes have never led to exceptional seasons. That said, the Tigers landed some major talent. Tony Steward, the top linebacker in the nation, should improve a solid defense immediately and wide receivers Charon Peake and Sammy Watkins should add a serious vertical threat to what used to be a fairly tame offense. Finally, Clemson also added speedster back Mike Bellamy who should add a dimension to this offense that left with C.J. Spiller.
16. Boise State
Boise State's class was not ranked by many pundits. That said, every class reassessment always gives Boise State more credit so I thought I would jump the gun and assign credit where it is due. The class is filled with hard-nosed recruits like linebacker Blake Renaud, defensive end Sam Ukwuachu, defensive tackle Jeff Worthy, and quarterback Jimmy Laughrea. Plus, their contributions are not needed right away so these guys should have time to apprentice, learn, and prepare themselves to contribute when the time comes. Call me crazy with this ranking but, three years from now, they may even rank higher than sixteenth. Recruiting is not always winning after all, teaching players is just as important.
Despite Lane Kiffin's very public exit, Tennessee managed to recruit its best class in years. New coach Derek Dooley proved he can recruit and should be a keeper after Kiffin's volatile one year tenure. Quarterback Justin Worley, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, headlines the class and could help found a new era of Volunteers football. He might be helped by ultra talented DeAnthony Arnett, a steal from several major northern schools, running back Marlin Lane (who must overcome injuries but is as talented as anyone) and guard Marcus Jackson. The defensive, historically a strong suit, should only get better with the addition of outside linebacker Curtis Maggitt, inside linebacker A.J. Johnson, and safety Patrick Martin. Read more about Tennessee Football.
18. North Carolina
North Carolina's 2010 season was supposed to be exceptional. This was due mainly to the team's elite talent along the defensive line but several suspensions destroyed the school's 2010 hopes. Coach Butch Davis added talent to both sides of the ball with this group, however, so hope springs anew. Tight end, a weak position in 2010, was upgraded with Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb and the Tar Heels also added promising quarterback Marquise Williams. Of course, North Carolina would never neglect its defense and also added linebacker Travis Hughes and defensive end Tyler Albers to an already talented group.
Like their last two classes, the 2011 group is filled with talent. Whether this talent translates into more wins than the last two classes have produced remains to be seen but California now has one of the best collections of talent in the nation. Upgrades to their weak defensive line-including four-star recruits Todd Barr and Villami Moala-should be very helpful and safety Avery Wells could be the last necessary piece to create a strong secondary. But will all this talent prove more than fluff?
The loss of Ryan Mallett will hurt but Arkansas parlayed their first BCS bowl appearance into a lot of impact talent. Since most of it is on the offensive side of the ball, the Razorbacks will remain an incomplete, defensively challenged team but their offense should remain elite. In particular, Arkansas fortified its offensive line with top guards Mitch Smothers and Brian Cook while also fixing a position of need by adding tight end Demetrius Dean. The defense was again neglected but defensive lineman Lonnie Gosha and cornerback Tevin Mitchell should help. Learn more about Arkansas Football.
Everyone who predicted that the Cardinal would fall off the map in 2011 has now been proven wrong. With Andrew Luck staying, the team should contend again this year and their top 25 2011 class should help to ensure that they remain relevant even after his departure. The class is built on superior depth-fifteen three-star commitments-but it also has top talent in a few critical areas. Outside linebacker James Vaughters, safety Wayne Lyons, and wide receiver Ty Montgomery can all become future cornerstones. However, Stanford recruiters could not lure a top quarterback to learn under Andrew Luck, which knocks the strength of this class down more than a few notches.
22. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys landed top talent at three areas of need and also added a lot of necessary depth with their 2011 class. Four-star commits quarterback J.W. Walsh and running back Herschel Simms are the future of the offense while outside linebacker Nick Ornales and cornerback Josh Stewart should help defensively.
The Cardinals have not been a good football team for years but this could be the beginning of a resurgence. Coach Charlie Strong took advantage of coaching turnover at Miami and Florida to sign some impact talent late. Four-star recruits quarterback Terry Bridgewater and wide receiver Eli Rodgers could become the cornerstones of an elite offense while top safety recruit Gerod Holliman and cornerback Andrew Johnson should form a strong secondary tandem in the future.
The Rebels get credit here for addressing their poor defensive line and adding a vertical passing threat. Mississippi signed four-star defensive ends C.J. Johnson and Serderius Bryant to address the line and Tobias Singleton to add a vertical threat. Plus, quarterback Maikhail Miller and wide receiver Donte Moncrief are both raw talents with major upside potential. Read more about Mississippi Football.
Very few rankers had Michigan on their top twenty five lists. However, I think that, while Michigan did not get any five star impact talents, their best recruits came at critical positions of need on the defensive side of the ball. Even with a change in philosophy, Michigan has more than enough talent on offense (and almost no impact players from 2010 graduating) to produce at an elite clip in 2011. It was the defense that was abysmal last year and needed serious work and new coach Brady Hoke seems to have closed in on enough talent to improve the Wolverine's defensive performance fairly significantly in 2011. Michigan got TWO highly regarded four star cornerbacks in Blake Countess and Delonte Hollowell and four star defensive end Brennan Beyer. The team also signed hard-nosed, four-star running back Justin Hayes to help quarterback Denard Robinson. Moreover, it got some hard working three star contributors in outside linebacker Kellen Jones, defensive end Chris Rock, tight end Chris Barnett, outside linebacker Antonio Poole, and offensive tackle Tony Posada. Overall, Michigan's horrible secondary was its worst performing area in 2010 and its defensive line was not far behind so this class should help improve the Wolverines' on field performance in 2011 and beyond.
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