Since we’re in “best of the decade” mode this week on ESPN.com, I opted to look back at the best recruiting classes of the past 10 years. I based this on production and impact — while factoring what percentage of the class was a success (which is why a signing class of 17 is trickier than, say, 35). Obviously, it’s hard to get a true gauge on classes from the past two or three years because in most cases, those recruits are still proving themselves — although one class has already measured up quite well.
1. USC Trojans, 2003:
This is arguably the best recruiting class of the modern era (which I define as the period in which there have been limitations on the number of a recruits a program could sign). This group’s nucleus went 48-4, won two national titles, played in four BCS bowls and included a Heisman Trophy winner. Four of the signees were selected in the first round of the NFL draft (RB Reggie Bush, DT Sedrick Ellis, OT Sam Baker, DE Lawrence Jackson) and six others ended up as second-rounders (RB LenDale White, WR Steve Smith, OL Ryan Kalil (remember this?), CB Terrell Thomas, DT Fili Moala and CB Eric Wright). CB Will Poole was a fourth-rounder, while QB John David Booty and LB Thomas Williams were fifth-rounders. The crazy part of this class is that the guy the USC staff thought would be the best was WR Whitney Lewis, who barely played and transferred to Northern Iowa.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002:
This was quite the star-crossed class. For all of the talk about the Buckeyes’ struggles in big games, the class won all four of its bowl games, won a national title and had three top-4 finishes. The first breakout star was RB Maurice Clarett, who of course had a major role on the OSU national title team. Then, um, things went haywire. The rest of the class, however, more than made up for it in the coming years. You had a three-star LB in AJ Hawk who proved to be the best Buckeyes defender of the decade, a center (Nick Mangold) who seems headed to a bunch of Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl hero (Santonio Holmes), and a Heisman winner (Troy Smith). In all, there were four first-rounders (Hawk, Mangold, Holmes and LB Bobby Carpenter) and a bunch of mid-rounders. (Clarett and DL Quinn Pitcock went in the third; OL Rob Sims and DB Nate Salley in the fourth; Smith, WR Roy Hall and DL Jay Richardson in the fifth; and OL Doug Datish in the sixth.) As with the USC class, the initial headliner of this group — LB Mike D’Andrea — never developed into a star.