In Part 1, I compared the Gators recruiting classes from 1990 to 2006 based on wins, winning percentage and championships won, in attempts to designate one class a clear-cut “Best of All Time,” a definitive benchmark for this and future year’s recruiting classes to shoot for. The classes of 1990-1994, and 2005-2006 rose to or near the top depending on which metrics were used, but no class definitively stood out as the best based on just these metrics.
In Part 2, I compared class contribution in terms of the number of lettermen and starters each class produced, the years of lettermen and starters, the percentage of signees to letter or to start, and the number of selections to the All-SEC and All-American teams. This threw a spotlight on some new classes, but the scope of top UF recruiting class of all time is ultimately taking shape with class of 1992 leading class of 2006.
In our third different look at signing class comparisons, I’ll focus on one of the strengths of any strong recruiting class: star power. To start from the top down, I looked at the end game for star players: NFL impact. The numbers bear out an interesting but not so esoteric fact: putting the most players in the NFL doesn’t necessarily equate to putting the most wins on the board or championships in the trophy case.
Looking at number of first rounders, number and percentage of total draft picks and total NFL players (including free agents), and total years in the NFL, the signing class that came in first in every category was the class of 1994. With four first rounders (Fred Taylor, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony & Mo Collins), 9 draftees and total NFL players (adding second rounders Quez Green and Mike Peterson, third rounders Tony George and Travis McGriff, and fifth rounder Terry Jackson – that’s an amazing 50 percent of the class) and 68 combined years of NFL experience, this class swept all the metrics in Part 3 of the analysis.
This class also had the highest number of early NFL entries with four (three of them first rounders), tied with the class of 1997 (Darrel Jackson, Big Money Gerard Warren, Kenyatta Walker and Travis Taylor). That class however had no first round selections and came in second in most of the NFL metrics. The only other classes that registered on the leader board with nine NFL players were the classes of 1999 (the signing group that included Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney and Lito Sheppard), 2003 (the class of Reggie Nelson, Jarvis Moss and Marcus Thomas) and 1992. The common thread between all these classes except for 1992 is that none of them ranked highly when aggregating all the other measures of success. It should be noted however that of the nine NFL players from the class of 1992, only Jeff Mitchell had a strong career in the league, with eight years as a starting center and a Super Bowl championship ring to show for it. Danny Wuerffel managed to hang on in the league for six seasons, and had a handful of nice efforts coming off the bench, but two disastrous games for New Orleans were his only action as a starter. Jason Odom lasted four years before disc injuries finally ended his career, and no other member of the class collected an NFL paycheck for more than two years.
The next measure of star power is individual awards. I looked at elite awards (Heisman, Thorpe, Maxwell, Jacobs, etc.), major awards (SEC or various national Player of the Year awards), significant awards (Academic AA, Fergie Ferguson, Ray Graves, Championship Game MVPs), and total awards. Again the classes of 1992 and 2006 scored the highest and in this column the rest of the classes weren’t even close.
Players from 1992 earned 13 elite awards, 14 majors and 49 total, while members of the 2006 class garnered 10, 11 and 31, respectively. The next closest were the class of 2007 with three elite awards (but only four total), and the class of 1999 with no elites, five majors and 11 total. Awards won by 1992 signees include a Heisman, a Maxwell, a Draddy, a Thorpe, a Unitas, two Sammy Baughs, two Davey O’Briens and three Jacobs Trophies. The 2006 class tallied a Heisman, a Davey O’Brien, a Campbell (formerly Draddy), two Sullivans, two Maxwells and a Wuerffel Trophy, coincidentally an award named after the player that won most of the hardware for the 1992 class. You’ll notice that most of these awards were won by one person from each year — Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow — further validating the premise I put forth in previous Postulations: one special player can make the difference for a class and program for three or four years, and those players are very, very rare (and they are usually a quarterback or running back).
The final set of metrics I will look at is the records: 45s, 78s and 331⁄3s. Those would be the Florida records, SEC records and national records, respectively, with school records broken down by career, season and game high-water marks. To this point in the analysis, the class of 1992 just about has the belt locked up, but in a Rocky-type comeback, the 2006 signees came out slugging in the last round.
The classes of 1992 and 1999 hold four national records each (thank you Danny and Rex), while the 2006 class has just one. But the boys from Tebow’s cohort claim 20 SEC records and a ridiculous 50 total UF records (with the most career, season and game records in the mix). Behind their 20, the next most SEC records come from the class of 1992 with only three; second place 1999 has less than half of the 2006 class’s UF records. And I cannot close this analysis without mentioning this little finding that further validates my recent analysis that showed how poorly signing day rankings predicted signing class performance: the class with the fewest records — a total of absolutely zero national, SEC and UF benchmarks combined, and the only class from 1990 to 2006 to log zero in every category — was the class of 1995. That class was the consensus No. 1-ranked class in the country.
So the statistical conclusion of this three-part analysis, measuring and comparing signing classes by every significant metric in the game, is that the signing class of 1992 is the best Gators football signing class of all time.
The class of 2006 has a valid claim to the title as well. It just depends on what metrics you prioritize as most important. But it is clear that both classes have set the bar nearly as high as it can be set by any measure, and both serve as a benchmark for every future class to sign with the Orange & Blue. These are the targets that the class of 2013 will be eyeing as they take to the weight room, practice field and the battle turf of the Swamp, the erstwhile Gator Bowl, enemy stadiums, the Georgia Dome and BCS bowl and title game venues across the country.
Given the talent that is coming in — and the talent brought in with the 2012 class to trigger the inescapable axiom of the grouped class effect — this class will have its shot at the title of greatest Gators class ever. When you consider what previous classes have accomplished, it’s hard to believe their marks can be surpassed. But every year it seems in the sports world, one or more records that seemed immortal go by the wayside. It will be fun to see what they do and how close they come to matching or eclipsing the heady achievements of the past. We’ll start to know in a few years what their chances are. Until then, remember that every day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.