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Alabama photo by Robert Sutton / Alabama linebacker Christian Harris (8) is flanked by linebacker Shane Lee (35) and defensive back Jordan Battle (9) during a fumble return in October's 48-7 rout of Arkansas. Harris, Lee and Battle were true freshmen last season.

There have been different measuring sticks used throughout the years in judging college football signing classes.

Four-year productivity is certainly one that has been employed.

Notre Dame's 1946 class under first-year Irish coach Frank Leahy wound up going 36-0-2, with eventual three-time All-American and 1949 Heisman Trophy winner Leon Hart leading that surge. Yet it can be argued that Georgia's 1980 class headed by running back Herschel Walker and containing tight end Clarence Kay, defensive end Freddie Gilbert and defensive back Terry Hoage had an even larger impact, given that the Bulldogs were a more modest 20-13-1 in the three seasons before its arrival.

Georgia's 1980 class wound up going 43-4-1 with three Sugar Bowl appearances and one Cotton Bowl trip, winning three Southeastern Conference titles and the 1980 national crown along the way.

Winning multiple national championships is another gauge, with Florida's 2006 class topped by quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes winning two BCS titles in a three-year stretch, and with Alabama's 2008 class that had running back Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and linebacker Dont'a Hightower providing the foundation for the Nick Saban era that includes BCS titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012, as well as College Football Playoff titles in 2015 and 2017.

The lasting effect of Alabama's 2008 class makes that one hard to top.

Then there is success from an NFL standpoint, which not only scores points for Alabama's 2008 contingent but also Miami's 1999 class that had running back Clinton Portis, receiver Andre Johnson and offensive tackle Vernon Carey. Ohio State's 1998 crop under John Cooper contained just 16 players, leaving that class ranked outside the top 10 on national signing day, but 11 of those 16 Buckeyes wound up cashing NFL paychecks.

Since 2000, online recruiting services have placed numerical values on players and classes, but that still leads to a quality-versus-quantity debate. When it comes to quality, or the highest-rated classes on a per-signee basis, here are the top five according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings at the time of their signings:

 

1. Ohio State (2017) — Urban Meyer's next-to-last recruiting class in Columbus was topped by defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah, who are projected as top-10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft. It also contained running back J.K. Dobbins, who rushed for 2,003 yards this past season and had 4,459 in his three-year career. This Buckeyes class has assembled a 38-4 record with trips to the Cotton, Rose and Fiesta bowls, though the Fiesta loss to Clemson in late December served as its lone CFP appearance. Two of the more notable signees in this class have transferred to Sunshine State programs: receiver Trevon Grimes (Florida) and quarterback Tate Martell (Miami).

 

2. Alabama (2019) — Two of the Crimson Tide's top signees from a year ago didn't contribute as freshmen, as running back Trey Sanders suffered a season-ending foot injury in August and defensive tackle Antonio Alfano entered the NCAA transfer portal in September, then announced in November that he was headed to Colorado. Defensive injuries resulted in several freshmen being pressed into starting service, with that category including DJ Dale, Justin Eboigbe and Byron Young up front, Christian Harris and Shane Lee at inside linebacker and Jordan Battle in the secondary.

 

3. Ohio State (2018) — There have been four 247Sports classes in the past two decades that have included a whopping 20 four-star signees, and this was one of them. Two of the four-star talents were from Tennessee — Franklin offensive tackle Max Wray and Murfreesboro running back Master Teague.

 

4. Southern Cal (2005) — Pete Carroll's tenure with the Trojans was at the height of its dominance when quarterback Mark Sanchez, receiver Patrick Turner and linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga came aboard. USC went 46-6 from 2005 to 2008 and ended each season in the Rose Bowl, though NCAA sanctions would later strip the Trojans of all 12 wins in 2005.

 

5. Georgia (2018) — Kirby Smart's third signing class in Athens contained an astounding seven of the nation's top 25 prospects. Four of them should be starters or at least play significant minutes in 2020 — running back Zamir White, guard Jamaree Salyer, outside linebacker Adam Anderson and cornerback Tyson Campbell — but the other three have since transferred: quarterback Justin Fields (Ohio State), outside linebacker Brenton Cox (Florida) and offensive lineman Cade Mays (Tennessee).

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

 

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